The premiere of our film, “The Tom Coleman Story” was held in Cambridge, MN, on April 22, 2017. The Richard G. Hardy Performing Arts Center has 710 seats and every chair was filled. We even had to turn away a few people, unfortunately. During the first hour of the event I showed pictures and film clips from various projects, interspersed with music from the American Swedish Institute’s Spelmanslag and the musician, Frezgi Hiskias, and his choir from Ethiopia. Tom and his children, Judy and Bill, were also on the stage and spoke about their time in Ethiopia. The show was a tribute to Tom Coleman who also turned 95 years old that weekend. The premiere event was a great success; I don’t think that I have ever experienced such joy and appreciation at a film premiere before.
I first med Tom Coleman in the small town of Mora, one hour north of Minneapolis, MN. I think it was in 2007. Our friend, Gordon Hallstrom, had asked several Swedish-Americans to meet at the home of Elwood Ostrom to share their stories about their Scandinavian heritage. That was the first time I heard Tom Coleman tell a story told in the Orsa dialect, which is quite different from proper Swedish. We became good friends and over the years I filmed Tom as he told me many stories about his background and his Swedish heritage from Orsa in Dalarna, Sweden. I used those stories in the series, “Pretty Much 100% Scandinavian.”
Whenever I met Tom he would ask if I didn’t want to film his stories from his time working as a surgeon in Ethiopia for the film series I was making about Scandinavian emigrants to the USA. He even showed me pictures of horrible injuries and diseases he had treated in Africa. I answered each time that I didn’t think those stories would fit in the film. When I finished the series in 2013, however, I felt like I needed to learn more about Tom Coleman and his stories from Africa.
I was working on a film about the oldest man to ever ski the Swedish Mora race (Vasaloppet), Allan from Flaskhall. We brought Allan to the USA to visit his relatives in Seattle, stopping over in Minnesota on our way home to Sweden. I also brought Allan to meet Tom in Cambridge. Allan, who was born in 1918, became very good friends with Tom who is only four years younger. Allan was fascinated with Tom’s ability to speak perfect Swedish even though he was not born in Sweden. They were like two teenagers laughing at each other’s jokes and comparing scars from various injuries incurred during life. Allan won, of course, since he lost his left arm in a battle with a threshing machine. It was during that visit that I decided that Tom’s story needed to be documented on film.
In the three years that followed I made several visits to Minnesota and to Cambridge. I learned to know Tom’s wife, Elaine, and their children, Judy and Bill, who also have amazing stories from growing up in Ethiopia. At that time both Judy and Bill were living and working in California but flew to Minnesota to be interviewed. Judy has recently retired and moved to Cambridge to live with and help her parents. I admire the courage of the Coleman family to open up and share their lives for me and my film camera. Even if they had seen several of my films, I was still a relative stranger.
Ten years after I first met Tom Coleman we premiered “The Tom Coleman Story,” a tribute to a great man. I realized as we prepared for the premiere that Tom and his wife, Elaine, are greatly loved. People from all over the USA, Sweden and Ethiopia wanted to be a part of this tribute or send their greetings. It was a premiere with much laughter and tears of joy.
Here are a few of the comments we’ve received after the film:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 15 or 20.”
What a blessing it was to be at the “Tom Coleman Story” on Saturday. The music, testimonials, discussions and film were all superb. It was truly a day we will never forget…”
The film flows beautifully. It is an incredible film.
Many thanks to Tom, Elaine, Judy and Bill for sharing your lives and your amazing stories with us. You will always be in our thoughts.