I feel like a bad film geek. An especially bad film geek. Here I am every week extolling the virtues of films from around the world in my Throwback Thursday column, and yet I didn’t know there’s an annual festival right here in town that celebrates the diversity of films from around the world. To make up for this grave oversight, I’d like to share with you some information about the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. It’s been going on 35 years, and if you love film, there’s something there for everyone.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with MSPIFF director Eric Wilson for a quick chat about the MSP Film Society and the festival. The Film Society has been around for 50 years as a nonprofit organization and seven years ago found a permanent home at the St. Anthony Main Theatre. The cinema has screenings every night, so if you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path than what you would find at the other theaters, it’s a perfect fit. They also hold a number of different film festivals throughout the year—besides the International Film Festival they also focus on Polish films in August and Latino films in November. Eric has been with the organization for the last six years, and he definitely knows a thing or two about films.
The MSPIFF is the largest spring arts event in the region, and this year it runs from April 7 through 23. They show approximately 200 films from all over the world, and 150 of those typically have the filmmakers in attendance. Besides the film screenings, there are after-parties and panels each weekend. The panels focus on everything from women in filmmaking to how to make a documentary, what type of camera to use, how to film in a specific country, and many other topics.
Since a majority of these films are far from the mainstream, I asked Eric how he curates the festival. How can you possibly find so many brand-new films when usually these are independent filmmakers without distribution (yet)? He answered that he has “a team of really great programmers who travel around the world to other festivals and see a lot of films—they try to choose films that are increasingly relevant to Minnesota’s newest immigrant populations and important to Minnesotan interests more broadly.” With the Twin Cities having a huge arts community that tackles a lot of topics on its own, that means there’s quite a diversity to the curated lineup. Besides seeking out films, the festival also receives over 1,000 submissions each year.
If you’re worried that all independent films are going to be dark and depressing, or slow and boring, I’m here to let you know that small, low-budget films can also be fun. As an example, last year, one of the major films that came through was a single-shot film (no cuts or edits) that follows a Spanish woman in Berlin who gets involved with a crime, and it’s probably one of the highest energy films you can possibly think of. Victoria won a number of awards and is out now on Blu-ray and DVD—I definitely recommend checking it out.
With over 1,700 members in the MSP Film Society, and the festival open to the general public, the MSPIFF has expanded to four different venues around the cities. For the length of the festival, all five screens at St. Anthony Main are dedicated to its showings, and Uptown Theater, Metro State, and McNally Smith College of Music are also hosting.
What does this film festival have to do with my geek loves, you may ask? Well, besides general film geeks, fans of more “genre” tales will also find films of interest to them.
MSPIFF’s Dark Out series features late-night presentations that tend to be a little more “out there.” Genre, horror, guts, ’n’ guns: these films remind us that sometimes it’s good to be afraid of the dark.
The Alchemist Cookbook (Joel Potrykus, USA, 2016)
Young outcast Sean has isolated himself in a trailer in the woods, setting out on alchemical pursuits, with his cat, Kaspar, as his sole companion. Filled with disdain for authority, he’s fled the daily grind and holed up to escape a society that has no place for him. But when he turns to black magic to crack nature’s secrets, things go awry, and he awakens something far more sinister and dangerous than he planned. From the mind of acclaimed American filmmaker Joel Potrykus (Buzzard, Ape).
Alena (Daniel di Grado, Sweden, 2015)
Alena is from a poor background but is being transferred to an elite boarding school. Her posh classmate Filippa despises everything about her and quickly turns all the other girls against her; what begins as verbal bullying soon turns towards physical abuse. The only person Filippa is dying to befriend is Fabienne, one year her senior—trendy and rich. But Fabienne has taken an interest in Alena. This relationship is not only a grievance for Filippa, but also to Alena’s jealous friend from the past, Josefin. As the rivalries escalate among the girls, Josefin’s initial help and protection turn to be a greater threat than Alena could foresee, not only for Filippa and Fabienne, but for herself as well.
Demon (Marcin Wrona, Poland/Israel, 2015)
“A wedding party goes strangely awry when the bridegroom receives an unwanted spiritual guest on his big night. Peter and Zaneta are about to embark on a new chapter in their lives as a happily married couple with a new house, but at their wedding reception, Peter starts to come unhinged, much to the embarrassment of his father-in-law. Is Peter crazy, or does this have something to do with the human remains he found near his new house? A contemporary take on the dybbuk of Jewish folklore (a malevolent wandering spirit that possesses the body of a living person), this distinct ghost story is told with both humor and atmosphere.”
Therapy for a Vampire (David Rühm, Austria/Switzerland, 2014)
Vienna, the early 1930s. One night, Sigmund Freud has a new patient on his couch: a mysterious count who can no longer bear the “eternally long” relationship with his wife. The vain countess incessantly complains about not being able to look at herself in a mirror, the professor hears from the count. Unaware of the fact that the count and his wife are vampires, Freud introduces his mysterious patient to a young painter, Viktor, who paints portraits that express more than a mirror ever could. While visiting the painter, the count takes an instant shine to Viktor’s girlfriend, Lucy—more so than either Viktor or the countess would like.
What We Become (Bo Mikkelsen, Denmark, 2015)
“The Johansson family’s idyllic summer is brought to a sudden halt as deaths stack up from a virulent strand of the flu. The authorities start off by cordoning-off the neighbourhood, but soon panic and force the inhabitants into quarantine in their hermetically-sealed houses. Isolated from the rest of the world, teen Gustav spies out and realises that the situation is getting out of control. He breaks out, but soon the family of four comes under attack from the wild, blood-thirsty mob who forces them to the extreme to escape alive.”
Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone, Italy, 2015)
“Once upon a time there were three neighboring kingdoms each with a magnificent castle, from which ruled kings and queens, princes and princesses. One king was a fornicating libertine, another captivated by a strange animal, while one of the queens was obsessed by her wish for a child. Sorcerers and fairies, fearsome monsters, ogres and old washerwomen, acrobats and courtesans are the protagonists of this loose interpretation of the celebrated tales of Giambattista Basile.”
Adama (Simon Rouby, France, 2015)
“Twelve-year-old Adama, voiced by French-Malian child actor Azize Abdoulaye Diabaté, lives in an idyllic village sheltered by cliffs. When his brother Samba defies their elders and flees to join the ‘Nassara’ (colonialist French army), Adama follows in an attempt to bring Samba home. Experimental animation combining laser-scanned sculptures of clay and sand with painterly animated scenes bring magical realism to Adama’s journey north from West Africa to Europe’s Western Front in 1914. A heroic odyssey mixes elements of mysticism and allegory with action, adventure, and a little known historical African narrative.”
If you’re looking to expand your boundaries of cinema, Eric’s personal recommendation is The Idol, which is set in the Gaza strip and follows a person on Arab Idol (the Arabic version of American Idol). Otherwise, just pick a time you would like to come and just explore what will be playing. You’re going to see something that is amazing and you wouldn’t expect. You might even meet a filmmaker.
Besides these standouts, remember there’s a little something for everyone. You can check out the full lineup here. Tickets for members went on sale on March 17 and will open to the general public on March 24. Eric recommends “getting tickets in advance for a screening; you can choose to get an all-access pass or focus on individual films.” He particularly recommends a six-pack, “which can be shared among multiple people—one person can go see six films, or six people can go see one film each.” Ticket info is here. Panels are free to pass holders; some of the filmmaker after-parties are ticketed, but a lot are free and open to the public. They’ve even added a trivia night this year: Monday, April 4, at Williams Pub and Peanut Bar in Uptown.
I plan on checking out a few of the films in their huge lineup and will report back my thoughts, but this is a way to get out and experience independent cinema at it’s finest. Enjoy!