Two visionaries bring breathtaking work to MSUM

Titicut Follies film screening – Friday, April 26 | 7:30 p.m. | Fargo Theatre
Titicut Follies: The Ballet – Saturday, April 27 | 7:30 p.m. | Hansen Theatre

James Sewell Ballet comes to Fargo-Moorhead Saturday, April 27, for a regional premiere of Titicut Follies: The Ballet, a work created by Sewell and based on a documentary by Academy Award winning filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, who will also visit campus.

A day earlier, on Friday, April 26, a free screening of Wiseman’s Titicut Follies documentary takes place at The Fargo Theatre, followed by a question and answer session with Wiseman. The ballet and screening are the result of collaboration between MSUM’s Cheryl Nelson Lossett Performing Arts Series and MSUM’s School of Media Arts and Design.

MSUM film professor Tom Brandau described Wiseman as a “uniquely original” filmmaker. “We couldn’t be more excited at the prospect of exposing our students to Mr. Wiseman and his incredible documentaries. Such opportunities rarely present themselves,” Brandau said.

Wiseman’s documentary, shot in a Massachusetts prison for the criminally insane, was set to premiere in 1967, but was banned by the state of Massachusetts (except in academic settings) until 1991, when a superior court judge ruled that the film could be released to the public since most of the inmates had died. The judge also ruled that First Amendment concerns trumped privacy concerns.

Like Sewell’s production of Inferno, which premiered on the MSUM campus in 2015, Titicut Follies: The Ballet is a powerful, fascinating work that is not suitable for young children. The ballet interprets Wiseman’s candid look at the lives of psychotic people and the often cruel treatment they received in prison. But though the subject matter is challenging, it is not grim, said Sewell.

Titicut Follies spans such a huge breadth of humanity, from things that are tragic and horrifying to things that are humorous and tender,” said Sewell, who premiered the work two years ago at New York University’s School of Dance. “One of the great challenges with Titicut was how to find beauty within such great ugliness in our society. It’s been a life and career-changing honor to grapple with this material.”

Sewell said he and Wiseman have become great friends through their collaboration. “It was inspiring to meet such a pure vision, to meet someone who would never bend to someone else’s view.”

The ballet features a soundtrack created for the ballet by composer and saxophonist Lenny Pickett. Picket is the leader of the Saturday Night Live band, and performed the music live at the NYU premiere.

“It will be a wild ride,” said Sewell. “I think people will be touched and horrified, and have a large emotional journey.”

Both the ballet and the film start at 7:30 p.m. To purchase tickets to the ballet on April 27, go to or call the MSUM Box Office at 218-477-2271 Monday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are also available at the door. Admittance to the April 26 screening of the documentary at the Fargo Theatre is free and open to the public. Frederick Wiseman is also leading a masterclass on documentary filmmaking on Thursday, April 25, at 1:30 p.m. in King Hall on the MSUM campus. The masterclass is free and open to the public.

For more information, call Rebecca Sundet-Schoenwald at 218-477-2178, or email her at