Cologne: From the Diary of Ray & Esther

Cologne is a wonderful documentation of a time and place.

A fourteen minute film shot by Cologne, Minnesota residents, amateur filmmakers Ray and Esther Dowidat in 1939 and added to the National Film Registry in 2001, I recently discovered it, and I find myself returning to it time and again for inspiration of one kind or another. Ray and Esther give this snapshot of a town and its people a boundlessly gleeful, hapless tone, a brief window into a place with big cars, bigger carnivals, and free soup.

As a documentation of a time before our own, for me, it acts as a reminder to slow down and appreciate that first sip of beer in my local tavern. It invites all of us to take a look around our towns. Notice the train as it passes by, the shape of that dilapidated barn on the interstate, and the big, bright smiles on our neighbors’ faces.

The National Film Registry was created to preserve films like this one which encapsulate what it means to be an American. Though this is a folk turn at the art form, Cologne is a sterling filmic example of the kind of spirit it took — and in some manner, still does take — to make it in America.

For more on Cologne and other films selected to the National Registry, watch the film These Amazing Shadows, available now on Netflix.