Recapping the 2016 MSP International Film Festival

I was lucky enough to have some free time in my schedule and attend a few screenings during the recent 35th annual MSP International Film Festival. Running for 17 days on multiple screens across the Twin Cities, it’s impossible to take in everything, but I wanted to point out some highlights. Feel free to read my initial write-up here.

Fairly well organized and staffed by a ton of volunteers who all seemed very willing to help, most of the screenings I went to went off without a hitch. As the festival wore on, people learned the queuing system for waiting in lines but, initially, it was hard to tell where the lines started and ended. The mild confusion did promote talking to strangers (to make sure you’re in the right place), which worked for me but could be stressful for those with social anxiety. After the first day, I took a page out of Fringe bingeing and brought a book to read while standing in lines. I never opened it, however, because I ended up talking to friendly people about the films they’d seen. Overall, the system for herding all the bodies around worked well. Once again, kudos to the volunteers for all of their help and time.

It’s worth it to buy the printed souvenir program: it’s a much easier way to scan the film descriptions and times than opening a ton of windows on your computer browser. The daily grids illustrated what I could see and which films I could jump into after each showing. I later learned that there is a similar grid on the the MSPIFF website which would have helped me beforehand if I had done due diligence. Instead, I was so intent on getting tickets as they went on sale for the general public that I was scrolling through show times on multiple screens, clicking on the description, and getting tickets that way. Learn from my mistakes folks: that’s what I’m here for.

Speaking of rookie mistakes, I also rushed out of work one day to catch a 4:45 showing, which for some reason I had stuck in my head as being at St. Anthony Main. I realized too late that my screening was actually at the Uptown Theatre. Totally on me. But it just goes to show, ya need to read the details.

Despite my personal planning issues, I did see a lot of films (though not as many as I wanted). I recommend these four.


It’s a shame that all the “horror” films were late at night: I’m a homebody, and during the work week I hate to be out late. (It would be great if the film society could curate a separate “DARK OUT” festival with more realistic hours for us non-vampires.) Admittedly, most of the films that fell into this category started by 10:00 p.m., but I’m old and curmudgeonly. Alena is a Swedish horror film that is extremely well shot, directed, and acted, but it has a little too much of a been-there-done-that vibe. I figured out how the plot was going to go five minutes in, but it was still entertaining, and the girls were extremely well cast. You root for Alena to get through all of the bullying and her burgeoning love of a classmate.

The Alchemist Cookbook

If you’re looking for a psychological horror film with a non-white lead (as every other horror movie out there still casts whites for everything), this one is a refreshing change. With Ty Hickson playing a young hermit who might or might not be crazy and attempting to summon a demon, it’s a slow-burn film. Be warned: the first half is very methodically paced, but then the last half cranks into high gear and doesn’t let go. Hickson is definitely someone for whom to keep a lookout: he holds together the entire movie on the strength of his performance.

The Last King

Coming out of Sweden is this Norwegian tale set in 1204. It details the story of two men at arms who are protecting a young baby—the true King of Norway. If you ever felt you were missing epic fight scenes set on 13th century downhill skis, then this is the film for you. If you didn’t know you were missing that in your life, this is the film for you, too.

Sing Street

This is the film that affected me the most. Directed by John Carney, it’s a coming-of-age dramedy set in Dublin, Ireland, in 1985. I saw this film the day after Prince died, and it encapsulated a lot of what I was feeling. It’s about a kid who, to woo a girl, forms a band. But really, it’s about the joy of creation, about making art, collaborating, falling in love, and being willing to take risks. If you liked the film Once (also directed by Carney), then you’ll like this: it’s almost as if this is the pre-story of the street busker from that film. It’s sweet, poignant, joyful, and sad all at the same time. Plus, the soundtrack is ’80s-style music. This film got picked up for distribution by the Weinstein Company and opened at the Uptown Theatre last week. Go see this film.

Hopefully this gives you a little taste of the joys of the MSPIFF. I hope to see you—and more films—next year.

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