May 1, 2009

Recap: 27th Annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival

The curtains came down on the 27th MSPIFF last night, and though I didn't attend any of the closing night festivities, I really enjoyed this year's festival for the most part. My decision not to get a $225 Gold Pass was well founded as I only ended up seeing 15 films on site, and my careful selections of films resulted in no regrets.

As I did with last year's recap, I'll list some highlights and lowlights of the last two weeks:


  • The official MSPIFF website. From the day it popped up in March to today, it's been extremely user un-friendly and updates have been slow in coming. If you're going to make a point to tell people to go to the website multiple times before every screening, and if it's where you're making last-minute updates known, it should frankly be much more convenient to navigate.
  • Not volunteering and paying $9 for every movie. That added up quickly, and painfully.
  • A/V issues with a few of the films, particularly Three Monkeys and A Walk to Beautiful. And seeing Tokyo Sonata on video instead of 35mm.
  • A surly staffer at St. Anthony Main one night.
  • The primitive balloting system. I say just move this whole process online. I know it's tradition to have throngs blocking the way in and out of every theater, but what's the point of this "careful" voting if we never see the results, and why not make one ballot for the whole festival and allow people to do it all at once? Moreover, why not create more awards, even if in name only (i.e., Best Documentary Feature, Audience Award, etc., etc.)? Even the "Best Narrative Feature" is limited to a few films, and the results unknown.
  • No secret screening. Last year it was The Wackness and it was sold out (or close to it). There wasn't really a similar movie like The Wackness that might have worked this year, but even the promise of a secret captures people's attention.
  • Speaking of missing movies, where were all the comedies? This was one of the most bleak and depressing lineups in years! So goes the state of the world, I guess.

  • Free parking at the St. Anthony Ramp. This is just an amazing perk. That ramp (or the building owner, even if it's the same as the theater) could have made thousands and thousands of dollars over the last few weeks. But they did not. Thank you.
  • Reviewing seven of the films for the Star Tribune. They weren't all choices I would have made during the festival, but I'm glad I got to see them if for no other reason than to immediately cross them off the schedule and make my planning easier.
  • Film Goat gatherings. On consecutive Fridays, Kathie Smith and I met at Pracna to compare thoughts, recommendations, and complaints with others who stopped by before or after screenings. The first Friday was particularly nice sitting outside on the patio, and we even had a visit from Louis Lapat, director of Win or Lose (my review still on the way). Hopefully we're starting some kind of tradition that extends outside of the festival.
  • Finally, the films, which I'll list below in categories of preference. These are both films that I reviewed beforehand and also that I saw at the festival:
Highly recommended:
Three Monkeys (brief thoughts)
The Necessities of Life (my review)
Food, Inc. (brief thoughts)
The Song of Sparrows (brief thoughts)
Jerichow (brief thoughts)
Tokyo Sonata (brief thoughts)
A Walk to Beautiful
Blind Loves (brief thoughts)

Moon (brief thoughts)
Lion's Den (brief thoughts)
Heart of Fire
Wounded Knee (my review)
Liberation Day (Munyurangabo) (brief thoughts)
Song from the Southern Seas (my review)
Mutum (my review)

Eh, mostly decent:
Jerusalema (my review)
Shakespeare and Victor Hugo's Intimacies (my review)
Rumba (brief thoughts)
Letters to the President (brief thoughts)
Il Divo

The Infinite Border
Horn of Plenty (my review)

The "Best of the Fest" continues this week at the Oak Street, though that title is both untrue (since a number of the titles didn't even play at MSPIFF) and inaccurate (since it should be called the "best" films we could keep our hands on, regardless of quality). Get a real voting system in place and this extended week would be a lot more enticing. I don't plan on seeing any of them, but if you somehow didn't see anything at MSPIFF, here's your chance to at least see something other than, oh, I don't know, X-Men Origins: Wolverine or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. (Best of Fest schedule)

But to end on a high note, congrats to Al Milgrom and Ryan
Oestreich for a successful festival with a number of great films. Will the festival happen again next year? I'm tired of the neverending speculation, doubts, and assurances, so I'll just say: I really hope so.


  1. Couldn't agree more about the official website; gratingly annoying.

    The balloting system: ditto. And ditto again.

    Bleak House indeed; a tough year to find a comedy, or anything heart-warming like Young @ Heart last year … except for the awesome free parking like you said, which was quite uplifting.

    I loved Tokyo Sonata, and A Walk to Beautiful.
    Moon has also really stuck with me, planning to see it again this summer.
    Blind Loves was definitely my favorite though; I feel grateful to have seen that film. What a wonderful and unique work of art.

  2. Yeah I forgot about Young @ Heart (although I didn't even see it there last year). Same goes for The Visitor and OSS 117 last year.

    I really liked Blind Loves, too, and I'd even like to see it again. I hope to write a little bit more about it, and I fear it's not coming back anytime soon.

    Was it "Best of the Fest"? Would be nice to know, but the ballots apparently just disappear into a black hole. By the end of it I didn't even bother voting.


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