Dynamic duo wins directing award at Fargo Film Festival

A smaller, online version of the festival is underway this week, and “The Planters” again is one of the featured titles.

Hannah Leder and Alexandra Kotcheff star in their film, "The Planters," part of the Fargo Film Festival. Special to The Forum

FARGO — Making an independent movie can be a struggle as budget constraints force the filmmakers to be resourceful.

Few people know that as well as Hannah Leder and Alexandra Kotcheff. The writer/director/actors served as the only on-set crew for their dark comedy, “The Planters.”

The hard work paid off. The pair earned an award for best directors and an honorable mention for narrative feature from Fargo Film Festival judges. They were set to accept their awards in person and screen the film in March, but concerns over COVID-19 caused organizers to shelve the festival.

A smaller, online version of the festival is underway this week, and “The Planters” again is one of the featured titles. Due to a distribution issue, "The Planters" is only available Friday, Aug. 28, and Saturday, Aug. 29, and only to viewers in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The movie follows Martha (Kotcheff), a depressed telemarketer whose real pleasure is burying stolen treasures in the sand. After meeting free-spirit Sadie (Leder), she discovers her new friend’s three personalities may be too many to handle.


“We learned so much,” Leder says, from her home in Los Angeles, about making the film, which included shooting for about 130 days near Salton Sea, Calif. “We learned perseverance, endurance, makeup, hairstyling and interesting ways to set up equipment. It was basically like film school.”

Being their only crew and often shooting only themselves and the films desert setting has brought some who have seen the movie to say it’s oddly appropriate to watch during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I don’t think it’s something we were looking to do,” Leder says.

She says she can’t compare the struggles of making a movie with social distancing because of the pandemic, but still felt separated from the rest of the world during shoots.

“We felt so isolated,” she says. “We were missing out on a lot with our friends in this two-year shoot, we missed weddings, birthday parties and so much. But we learned we were capable of great things together. It was fun spending years going out into the desert and making art,”

Her relationship with Kotcheff made them uniquely capable of handling the pressure as the two have been friends since grade school.


They are already working on their next feature, a dark comedy about a mother and daughter and a nail salon that they wrote before “The Planters.”

While it’s another dark comedy, they won’t follow the same blueprint for the new movie as the one they used on “The Planters.”

“We made ‘The Planters’ as a template and it somersaulted into a much larger situation,” Kotcheff says.

The movie was intended to show what the filmmakers were capable of and it worked. “The Planters” will go into limited release in September and will be available on iTunes later this year.

“It’s a little light in the tunnel,” Leder says

“As long as people are safe and happy with how they’re watching it, we’re happy,” Kotcheff says.

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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