Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival 2014: New festival vibe and recommendations for the final weekend

The Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival's vibe is different this year. I am not really sure how to describe it–maybe a veneer of professionalism. Less rough and tumble, more polish, less scrappy local flair, but still the clear commitment to the diversity of the film world. One thing remains, unlike big festivals, there are no press conferences with visiting filmmakers and actors, but rather a cozy Q&A in the cinema. They did however add the logo-laden backdrop common at big festivals to the area behind the  panelists.  As I chatted with the staff, one clear technical change this year is that there are no 35mm prints being shown. Last year there were six. The year before, I remember one filmmaker worried about the safe projection of his 16 mm film. Shipping of 35mm prints is extremely expensive, so a world of film options is open in this brave new world of technology. The world is officially 100% digital.

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THEATER REVIEW | We Theater's "The Shadow War:" Descendants of Hmong soldiers and CIA operative illuminate history

Gregory Yang and Song Kim. Photo credit Scott Pakudaitis.

The Shadow War focuses on the years leading up to, during, and after the Vietnam War, when the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Army Special Forces developed a secret army made up of Hmong and Lao fighters to combat the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. Playwright Amy Russell, who created the play based on her experiences growing up in Laos as the daughter of CIA operative, explained that this became a workshop project as she developed it with the Hmong community and the actors themselves, including producer and actor Sandy ‘Ci Moua.

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THEATER REVIEW | "Steel Magnolias" packs an emotional punch at Old Log Theater

A private moment in Steel Magnolias. Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theater

Steel Magnolias is an extraordinary play about ordinary and sometimes terrible events that people live through. Seeing the Old Log Theater's excellent new production will not make you want to go out and change the world, but it will make you laugh a great deal and might make you hug a loved one tightly when you get home. This is a play that resonates with audiences because of its veracity and encapsulation of real life and its rhythms – a drama that resonates with its down-to-earth authenticity and lands very close to home.

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MUSIC REVIEW | Eric Whitacre charms Orchestra Hall with a Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale concert

Photo couresty Eric Whitacre

An unusually age-diverse crowd filled Orchestra Hall for a Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale concert led by Eric Whitacre. The program featured works by the well-known choral composer, supplemented here and there with some of his own favorite pieces by other composers. Soprano soloist Hila Plitmann and cellist Anthony Ross rounded out the evening's musical offerings.

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THEATER REVIEW | Minnesota Opera showcases the magic in Mozart's "The Magic Flute"

Photo credit Robert Millard

To call the Minnesota Opera's current production of The Magic Flute "a reimagining" would be a gross understatement and a disservice. "Outstanding" would be a better word, "revelatory" another, and "hopeful" maybe the best yet. A friend working on the production told me that at the final dress rehearsal last Friday a huge crowd of students "screamed at the end like it had been a One Direction concert." I think Mozart would have been very proud to see this production, even if he wouldn't know who Harry Stiles is.

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THEATER REVIEW | Six Elements Theatre reworks Arthurian legends in "Tales from Camelot"

Morgan le Faye (Emily Knotek, behind) seduces Nimue (Tamara Koltes, front) into participating in Merlin's demise in Broceliande: The Death of Merlin, the first half of Six Elements Theatre's Tales from Camelot; photo by Teresa Townsend

Jenna Papke’s Six Elements Theatre and phillip andrew bennett low’s ongoing exploration of the Arthurian legends of England are such a perfect fit in retrospect I’m surprised a production like Tales From Camelot didn’t happen sooner. As it is, this new iteration of Tales From Camelot brings out the best in both. Tucked away in a gallery space in the art-saturated Northrup King Building in Northeast Minneapolis is a delightfully intimate evening with larger-than-life human beings.

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Dan Schneidkra​ut's "Old Man" screens at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Fest

The power of filmmaking can sometimes take hold and lift us into an escapist retreat from our entire life, and other times it can be a wondrous experience of dealing with an emotional turbulence, strange melancholy, or a genuine belly laugh that can make your head hurt from laughter. One of those films I experienced all of these feelings were in local filmmaker, Dan Schenidkraut's newest film, Old Man, which screens Monday, April 14 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Anthony Main Theater as part of the 2014 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF). Dan Schneidkraut's film opens with Andy Schneidkraut walking out of his record shop in Boulder, Col.—Albums on the Hill, the last standing record shop in Boulder today. The record store is the subject of the documentary, but it's also about Schneidkraut's relationship with his father.

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THEATER REVIEW | Children's Theatre Company's "Balloonacy" appeals to all ages

Photo by Dan Norman featuring Robert Dorfman

Theater for children's audiences is often a hit-and-miss proposition: fun for the kids and less so for the adults who chaperone them. The play Balloonancy breaks this mold and is a delight for young children and their parents. Its mix of puppetry, wordless situational comedy, and Chaplin-esque physical humor is a winning combination.

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Melissa Birch's "Flying Nuns" move as live art

Last May when I covered Bedlam’s Tenfest, I was most mesmerized by the piece by Melissa Birch that involved linen and white-cotton-clad movers–dancers/characters who connected and climbed over each other and implied inequality, power games, gender games. They functioned like moving pieces of a puzzle that would come together to make a statement–only to disperse again and start the next collection of pieces that would re-converge and show you a new puzzle and statement. 

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