BEMIDJI, Minn. — Growing up in an artistic family, David Brandvik seemingly had plenty of options when it came to a career path.
He could follow in the footsteps of his father, Paul, the former Director of Choral Activities at Bemidji State and an accomplished composer.
Or of his mother, Mary Lou, a former English teacher, writer and author of several books.
Or of his sister, Ahna, a professional actor and elementary school theater teacher.
But Bemidji native Brandvik, 49, found his own niche in the film industry, and that was affirmed in earnest last month when he won an Emmy Award for a promotional video for International Women’s Day.
Brandvik’s company, Thinker Feeler, produced the winning video for DreamWorks Animation as part of a brand image campaign, using the creator and voice actors from the animated film “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” to promote International Women’s Day. Brandvik was the director. The 2½-minute video also includes four young girls who share their thoughts about being inspired by the She-Ra princesses.
The Emmy was presented virtually. Brandvik found out about it while he was working in the dining room of the Winona, Minn., home that he shares with his three daughters.
“I heard my daughters upstairs going, ‘Dad, you won,’” Brandvik recalled. “They were more than a little enthused.”
That might be because of the video’s powerful message about women. Brandvik said the young actors were all fans of the film.
“Everything they said was extemporaneous,” he said. “Nothing was scripted. We just kind of put them in a room and talked to them. We had prompts, but what they say is what they’re feeling.”
Brandvik grew up in Bemidji, graduating from Bemidji High School in 1989. He sang in the choir and a boys quartet, and also acted in plays during his high school years.
He spent the next year as an exchange student in the Netherlands, then returned to Minnesota to major in English literature at St. Olaf College. He taught English for one year in Poland, and said both of his experiences in Europe taught him important life lessons.
“I felt pretty worldly,” Brandvik said. “I had traveled with my parents. But it definitely opened my eyes about the world. My understanding of who lived in the world expanded greatly.”
That’s when he decided to pursue a career in film. He was accepted into graduate school at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Three years later he received his Master of Fine Arts degree and began a film career working with promotions, commercials and television programming. He has written, directed and produced several award winning short films and documentaries.
“I came to film making as a process of elimination,” Brandvik said. “Music was definitely a big part of my life. I thought that might be a path I would take. English literature — Mom was an English teacher; writing was important to me — I thought that might be a path I would take. My sister is an actor. I love theater. I love photography and I love visual arts.
"Interestingly enough, cinema exists at the intersection of all of those.”
He said It all goes back to his childhood, growing up in a creative family.
“I’ve always enjoyed creating things and finding ways to tell stories,” Brandvik said. “I really like making people laugh, or making people feel something. It’s kind of how I connected to people. I also like listening a lot.
"When everybody was in North Dakota at my grandparents’ house I’d be the kid sitting in the kitchen listening to my aunts, my grandparents, and great aunts telling stories. I really like connecting to people and understanding the world in that way.”