Fan guide to follow Minnesota's (few) Academy Award connections


Bob Dylan, Prince, Jessica Lange, Joel and Ethan Coen. These familiar Minnesota-born performers and film insiders have all given winner's speeches at the Academy Awards ceremonies in the past.

This year, the Minnesota connection to the Oscars, frankly, is not so star-studded. But there are a few local connections to look for as you watch the 87th annual ceremony honoring Hollywood's best. (This list looks at film professionals who are not nominees, necessarily, but may have been part of the team that created movies that are nominated.)

The University of Minnesota's College of Liberal Arts Facebook page brags about Megan Bartel, who graduated from the U. in 2008. She co-produced The Dam Keeper, nominated for an Oscar for best animated short film. Bartel was recently profiled in the Filmmaker's Spotlight.

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Writer Cheryl Strayed, who was born and raised in Minnesota, will walk the red carpet alongside Best Actress nominee Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon stars in the film version of Strayed's autobiography, "Wild." Strayed, who now lives in Portland, Ore., shared her plans to wear a dress created by a local designer with The Oregonian.

The St Cloud Times published a Sunday story on Justin Weber, a 29-year-old native of rural Sauk Rapids and graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. An animator for The Walt Disney Co., Weber worked on "Big Hero 6," which is nominated for best animated feature. He previously worked on "Frozen," which won multiple awards.

The Star Tribune had a story about Kevin Thompson and Eric Helman. Both of the Minnesota natives worked on the art design on the film "Birdman," which has multiple nominations.

The Star Tribune also profiled Sandra Oltz. The 50-year-old Sartell resident was diagnosed with an early onset Alzheimers. She met and then advised actress Julianne Moore for her performance in "Still Alice." Moore is considered the front runner to win the Best Actress statue.

Forum News Service reports that a documentary about the Bakken oil field in North Dakota is nominated for an Academy Award for documentary short subject. “White Earth,” a 20-minute film, is told from the perspective of three children and an immigrant mother experiencing the economic boom. The documentary was shot during several wintry months in 2012 and 2013; it began as the director's thesis project for his film program at Stanford.

Underwhelmed by these connections? MPR News compiled an exhaustive list of Minnesotans who have earned the prized statue through the years, including performers (Jessica Lange, Gig Young) producers (the Coen Brothers, Bill Pohlad's River Road Productions) and technicians.

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