Artists and athletes know that feeling when every move seems right. They call it “being in the zone.”
Twin Cities filmmaker Joe Brandmeier found his zone in an unexpected spot: the tiny Minnesota town of Greenbush, population 719.
Brandmeier was inspired after reading a Star Tribune story about the champion robotics team of Greenbush Middle River High School, a David that regularly slays Goliath.
“Two days later, I was in a car filled with camera equipment, heading north,” he said. “I’m telling you, it’s never happened that way before. Some sort of spiritual energy was pulling me to do this.”
Seventy days of creative fever later, he completed a documentary short, “Small Town Robot,” that chronicles the team’s trip to the world championship in Detroit, where it would compete in an arena full of screaming fans against more than 300 teams from around the world.
The film will have its premiere at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Roso Theater in Roseau, Minn.
Brandmeier’s film is a warm, inspiring look at how this team — a collection of self-admitted geeks — has brought the town together. In a community where the only grocery store may soon be closing, their success means more than it might in a bustling Twin Cities suburb.
From the old guys at the American Legion hall who have raised thousands of dollars to bankroll the team’s travels, to the farmers who donate livestock for meat raffles, Brandmeier paints a picture of a small town brimming with pride for its overachieving kids.
Knowing nothing about robotics, Brandmeier said he was amazed at the spirit of camaraderie among the teams, unlike the angry competitive fire of many athletic events.
“This sport is so different,” he said. The prevailing ethos is, “by helping others, you’re helping yourself.”
“It’s a great story,” he added. “There are so many negative things out there.”
The veteran filmmaker, who has won awards at numerous film festivals, said his all-in approach to this project was completely out of character.
“Everybody in the business who knows me, knows that everything I do is 80 percent preparation, 10 percent shoot and 10 percent edit. This was the exact opposite,” he said. And the change felt good.
“When you get into that place, that’s a really cool place as a creative person,” he said. “The best thing to do is get out of the way and let it happen.”
Spoiler alert: Greenbush Middle River doesn’t win the world championship, although they do well. But weeks later, they traveled to Minneapolis and won their second Minnesota state high school championship in three years.
John Reinan • 612-673-7402