FOR ITS 27TH YEAR, THE MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (MSPIFF) is on us again -- that sprawling, sometimes sloppy, but consistently fascinating collection of world films. With 140-plus films on hand, it's not so much a festival as it is a smorgasbord in which the discerning cineaste can create their own mini-festival composed entirely of, say, documentaries, or horror films, or films out of Asia, or whatever suits their fancy. There's so much to see that all you can really do is pick through the schedule and make plans for whatever looks interesting; it's what I'll be doing, and reporting back on. I've already started, with screeners of local films, which always pique my interest first.
Bully to the organizers of MSPIFF for recognizing that Minnesota has a small but active community of independent filmmakers, and then for making room for a sampling of these films in what is, otherwise, a festival with anything but a regional focus. MSPIFF defines "Minnesota made" unexpectedly broadly, however-a film need only have a Minnesotan involved somehow to be considered for inclusion. So there are a few selections in this festival considered "local" only by virtue of having a castmember or producer who hails from the area.
Hence, among the Minnesota Made films, we have a werewolf satire, Audie and the Wolf, shot entirely in Los Angeles and which mostly pokes fun at Hollywood, but whose lead actor is from the Twin Cities. Also included the mix of local films is Lo, a strangely stagy Faustian parable which has a Minnesota-born producer. Neither of these are great films, although they are amusing genre exercises; it's hard not to wonder if they would have been accepted into the festival were it not for their loose Minnesota roots.
But, then again, this generous definition of "Minnesota made" is also responsible for the inclusion of Pride of Lions, a terrific documentary about the aftermath of the civil war in Sierra Leone: from what I can tell, this film's sole local connection is simply that co-director John Woehrle attended the University of Minnesota. Nonetheless, I'm glad the doc's included in the line-up -- it's a heartbreaking, but ultimately optimistic look at efforts to rebuild a country where the scars of war are still visible. (See the trailer here.)
The Minnesota documentarians who actually make films in and about their native state are responsible for some of the best of the festival's regional offerings this year. Director Chris Strouth's Unconvention retells this past year's Republican National Convention entirely using footage shot by independent and grassroots news media, often filmed on digital cameras outside the convention center.
No One Said It Would Be Easy is a lovely, intimate look at the band Cloud Cult, focusing on how their sweetly trippy music is a product of heartbreak, and how this fact has created an unusually intimate relationship between the band and its fans.
Dawn Mikkelson and Melissa Koch's film, Red Tail, examines the aftereffects of the Northwest Airlines strike, tracking the company's outsourcing of jobs to China.
First-time filmmaker John Denn is responsible for Mysterious Ways, a thriller in which a couple in a strained marriage must contend with a killer in their house. Denn served as both writer and director, and he displays some real skill in lensing the story; but the film's writing suffers both from too much and flatly written dialogue. By comparison, White Man's World, a mockumentary by Jason Page and Carrie Boberg, has comic dialogue that's liable to draw shocked gasps. Page and Boberg play themselves, two aspiring filmmakers in Duluth. But their on-screen iterations are as petty, self-involved, and occasionally monstrous as any character I have ever seen. Page, in particular, plays himself as an abrasive egomaniac; when he sets out to make a film about Native Americans, his ignorance and shallowness guarantee a travesty. The film is often uncomfortably hilarious. But more than that, White Man's World is fearless.
About the author: Max Sparber is an arts writer and playwright, as well as being the editor of the MnSpeak section of Secrets of the City (http://www.secretsofthecity.com/talk/). Max is an active blogger, and most of his own projects, as well as his arts writing, can be found on his blog at http://www.sparberfans.blogspot.com/.
FILM DETAILS AND SCHEDULE: Click here for the full line-up of Minnesota Made films on screen in this year's film festival. Keep in mind that most of the films in this category will only screen once, so it's wise check the schedule well ahead of time.