Preston, Idaho, is still a tourist stop 20 years after ‘Napoleon Dynamite’

Jan 25, 2024, 7:46 PM | Updated: Jan 26, 2024, 11:20 am

PRESTON, Idaho — “Napoleon Dynamite” is now 20 years after getting its premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival.

Cast members and director Jared Hess just celebrated that in Salt Lake City and Park City this week and the film’s success is still making an impact in Preston, Idaho. Many of the scenes were shot at the local high school.

“Personally as assistant superintendent. I’m nostalgic. I love it,” Brady Garner said. He was also a student back when Pedro was running for president, in a little independent film he never thought would get much attention.

Brady Garner

Brady Garner in now the assistant superintendent but he was a student at the school when “Napoleon Dynamite” was being shot. (KSL TV)

“That’s one regret I do have. I wish I would have. You know, when they’re asking for extras, I wish I would’ve come over instead of doing driver’s ed and participating in sports,” Garner said.

But Dakota Atkinson did seize that opportunity.

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“I was down there being one of the extras and just snagged it off the locker and asked John Heder and Efren Ramirez if they’d sign it, and they did it,” Atkinson explained.

He keeps the unique souvenir from the set in his classroom. He never imagined it would be this big a deal.

Tourists still visit the high school and many other parts of Preston, Idaho where  'Napoleon Dynamite' was shot. (KSL TV) Dakota Atkinson was an extra for the movie. He is now a teacher at the school and he had John Heder and Efren Ramirez sign the Pedro for President poster. (KSL TV) Dakota Atkinson was an extra for the movie. He is now a teacher at the school and he had John Heder and Efren Ramirez sign the Pedro for President poster. (KSL TV) Napoleon Dynamite's locker at the school. (KSL TV) Napoleon Dynamite's locker at the school. (KSL TV)

Atkinson said, “No, I don’t think any of us did. I think we were all like, ‘Oh, it’s just a silly little film. We don’t know if it will go anywhere.'”

People still come to see Napoleon’s locker and the auditorium where he did that dance.

Tourism has slowed down a bit over the decades, but it’s still enough so that when people come in and ask for directions at the local gas station, they just hand them a map. The gas station employees are not the only ones to offer that sweet brochure.

Preston High auditorium

The auditorium at Preston Senior High School where Napoleon showed off his sweet dance moves. (KSL TV)

“And I have had people, as you can see, come from all over the United States,” Kim Cannon said. She’s even had folks from Canada and the U.K. come into her gift shop, drawn by that shirt in the window.

“‘Tina, you fat lard. Come get some dinner,’” Cannon read. “One of the best quotes ever from the movie. We usually have a sticker that says that also.”

She’s working on getting an actual black llama for the anniversary of the film’s theatrical release this May.

Kim Cannon

Kim Cannon stands next to a board showing what she called the best quote in the movie. (KSL TV)

You can see the Deseret Industries where Napoleon shopped and his house just a few miles away. The film is part of the town’s culture, as much as the town is part of the film.

“It’s relatable,” Preston City Councilman Todd Thomas said. He said his kids swore the movie was about him.

Preston City Councilman Todd Thomas

Preston City Councilman Todd Thomas (KSL TV)

“My high school senior picture. I look like Napoleon. I don’t have hair now, but I had a big bushy hair then, and I was skinny and geeky, and I had moon boots,” Thomas said.

But Garner said a lot of people see the film in themselves too, even the kids who were born well after the film went big.

“And it kind of gives our small town community a feel of, ‘Hey, I can achieve something great if I try,’” Garner added.

The Sundance Film Festival’s 40th edition continues through Sunday in Park City and Salt Lake City.

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Preston, Idaho, is still a tourist stop 20 years after ‘Napoleon Dynamite’