Mike Scholtz Interview


Interview by Greg Carlson

Every time I have the opportunity to interview my friend Mike Scholtz, I like to provide full disclosure that we have known each other since childhood. I do this mostly as an excuse to share that Mike invited me to my first birthday sleepover party when I was eleven or twelve, and that the three movies we rented that night were “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Eraserhead,” and “The Making of Thriller.”

Mike’s latest documentary, “Lost Conquest,” has been selected to open the 2016 Fargo Film Festival on Tuesday, March 15 at 7 p.m. at the Fargo Theatre. Tickets are available at the Fargo Theatre box office and can also be purchased at the door.

Mike will be joined by producer Valerie Coit and “Lost Conquest” cast members to take questions from the audience following the screening.


Greg Carlson: When we were growing up, Viking identification in Minnesota was a big deal. Since you weren’t into the NFL team, what did you think of Norse culture and mythology as a kid?

Mike Scholtz: Norse culture and mythology were a huge part of my childhood. I don’t even think you have to be a fan of the football team to be affected by it.

My mom grew up in Kensington and my dad grew up not far from there. I like to call that part of Minnesota the “Viking Belt.” So my family was always talking about Viking stuff and visiting museums with Viking stuff and reading Viking stuff. Even more so than most families, I suspect. My dad always had Hagar the Horrible cartoons hanging up all over the house.

And one of my favorite comic books was an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If…?” that imagined what might have happened if Jane Foster possessed the hammer of Thor. I read it hundreds of times. So I was raised in a Viking-rich environment. I loved it.


GC: I was obsessed with Odin when I was little. I could not get my head around a guy willing to pluck out his eyeball in exchange for knowledge. Who is your favorite Norse deity?

MS: Thordis. That’s what Jane Foster called herself when she picked up the hammer of Thor.

In that same issue of “What If…?” she ended up marrying Odin. Which is pretty icky, now that I think about it.


GC: “Lost Conquest” is about the nature of belief but also about denial in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. How difficult was it to balance the range of opinions that turned up?

MS: I thought it would be a lot more difficult than it turned out to be. I was very up-front with everyone I interviewed that I was a skeptic… about everything.

But I also told them I was sympathetic to their cause because the idea of Vikings in Minnesota is pretty romantic to me. I really wish it was true. I just don’t think that it is.

As it turned out, I don’t think people really cared what I believed. Or maybe they just quickly forgot what I believed. Faith doesn’t really work if you leave any room for doubt. Or for doubters. It’s human nature.

I’m exactly the same way. For example, I choose to believe I live in a world without Donald Trump voters. And I have no idea how he keeps winning elections without voters.


GC: Some people interpret the humorous tone as condescending to some subjects – like you are laughing at them rather than with them. How do you respond to that?

MS: Well, y’know, I’m from Minnesota. So I’m extremely nice to everyone. Even so, I always seem to get a small handful of comments back from my test screenings that complain I’m laughing at my documentary subjects. Which is ridiculous.

The people who appear in my documentaries are doing me a huge favor by sharing their time and their opinions. I respect them for that. So I’m always very respectful of their views while I’m talking to them. And I’m even more respectful of their views while I’m editing them.

But, at the same time, I do try to edit my films to be funny. And I do edit them to have a specific point of view that’s slightly bemused, slightly skewed and slightly absurdist. Because that’s my point of view. I have to respect that, too.


GC: What is the one thing you wish you were able to put in the movie but didn’t?

MS: We staged three historically inaccurate re-enactments. Then we invited an archaeologist on set to tell us everything we were doing wrong on-screen. This was my half-clever way to comment on how little we filmmakers tend to get right about history.

Anyway, I really wanted to re-enact a story about my favorite Viking of all time, Freydis Eiriksdottir. She was an early feminist icon who went into battle eight months pregnant and topless, beating her own exposed breast with her sword in a berserker rage.

She’s awesome. But I never talked to anyone who believed she visited Minnesota, so I couldn’t really justify shooting it and including it in the film.


GC: Do you prefer your Viking helmets with horns or without horns?

MS: I prefer my Vikings helmets with horns. I know it’s historically inaccurate. But it’s an iconic image. Thanks for that, Richard Wagner.


GC: What did you learn about Vikings and Minnesota that you did not know before you started the project?

MS: Does everyone know runestones are rocks with old Viking writing all over them? Anyway…

I’d always thought the Kensington Runestone was the only runestone that had been discovered in Minnesota. But our state is actually full of them. Of course, none of them are real.

My favorite fake runestone is the Setterlund Runestone. It’s displayed at the Grant County Historical Museum in Elbow Lake. A guy named Victor Setterlund faked it in 1949 just to mess with people. Even though it’s a hoax, it’s still a beautiful piece of folk art and a fascinating part of Minnesota history.

I wish people felt the same way about the Kensington Runestone. It doesn’t have to be a real Viking artifact just to be one of our state’s coolest relics. Either way, it’s still pretty awesome.


GC: Vikings have such a bloodthirsty reputation, but apparently to Scandinavian-Americans of Minnesota and the Dakotas, comedy equals tragedy plus time. Why do you think we romanticize violent marauders?

MS: Sure, they were violent marauders, but they also had an amazing sense of design. Just look at their boats. Or their runestones. Or their swords. I think great design buys a lot of goodwill with people.


GC: Who would you rather face in battle:

Beowulf or Grendel’s mom?

MS: Grendel’s mom. Purely out of curiosity, to settle the debate about what she looks like.


GC: Hiccup or Hagar?

MS: Hagar. Because he is fat and drunk. Easy.


GC: Lucky Eddie or Honi?

MS: Lucky Eddie. I have to confess I haven’t read a Hagar comic strip in years, but I assume Honi must be a shieldmaiden by now. She’d be formidable, no doubt.


GC: Kirk Douglas or Ernest Borgnine? 

MS: Kirk Douglas. In “The Vikings,” he only has one eye. I’m pretty sure I could beat him by hiding in his blind spot.


GC: Erik the Red or Freydis Eiriksdottir?

MS: Freydis Eiriksdottir. I just love her so much. It would be an honor to be killed by her.


GC: Tasu Leech and Kanjiklub or Bala-Tik and the Guavian Death Gang?

MS: Guavian Death Gang. I’m not messing with the guys who starred in “The Raid.”

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