2013 Minneapolis Underground Film Festival lineup is a mixed bag, but with one must-see


When I asked Minneapolis Underground Film Festival (MUFF) program director Mark Hanson to mention one of the biggest challenges in gearing up for the sixth annual MUFF, he said, “Well, our mascot is this big gorilla costume and its head may not fit in any of the cars we’re using for the festival.”

I laughed, as did Hanson, but then he replied, “We’re having the festival at St. Anthony Main again, but our festival last year was in August, and we’ve moved it to October, where I think it’ll be for the years to come.” He mentioned the theater went going through some remodeling. “We didn’t know when we could get in there, so we were waiting to find out, when we could have the festival, and once we got our dates, we were racing to get everything put together.”

Yes, putting a film festival together has its ups and downs. MUFF, which takes place October 3-6, started as a “word-of-mouth” festival and has now brought in some top-notch “underground” films to Minneapolis. What’s “underground”? Hanson explained that his definition of underground is “content that would be trickier material for the mainstream and fits into a certain ‘D.I.Y.’ sub-culture with limited budgets—[but] that actually looks great production-wise.”

With over 300 submissions sent to MUFF this year, the lineup will feature close to 70 films: 46 short films, 11 music videos, and 19 feature-length films. About 15 filmmakers will be present for screenings. Hanson hopes that MUFF doubles its entries next year, as they would like to have MUFF signed up on “Withoutabox,” an online application service where independent filmmakers worldwide can submit their film(s) to various film festivals; even the biggest film festival in the world (Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, AFI) all use the service in discovering new talent.

As for the program itself, it features an diverse slate of experimental shorts, Minnesota-made features, narrative, and documentaries—along with local music videos, international documentaries, and what always seems to be the standout of MUFF’s programming: late-night genre films with plenty of laughs, blood, and, this year, disco! 

Hanson also mentioned that “many of the films in the festival this year, are really informative, exciting, and entertaining. I knew nothing about the World’s Fair and what its status is today until I saw Where’s the Fair? The same goes for something like, United States of Hoodoo, about African spirituality. I think audiences will be surprised [at] our lineup.”           

The few films I was able to preview before the festival starts were somewhat of a mixed bag; but at the same time, I could appreciate something in each film, even if not all of them hit the bull’s-eye.

Connected, a local feature written and directed by Dave Ash, had the makings of a great chamber drama, but felt a little weightless, then drove its point home a little too much in the end. Computer programmer John (Clarence Wethern) is feeling a bit blue about life and his job and starts attending therapy. He’s close to losing his marbles until he meets novelist Emily (Bethany Ford) and begins feeling hopeful about life again. They begin to fall in love and suddenly everything changes. Ash delivers enough punch to make us believe in his drama without the message getting too preachy; it just never becomes a fully-realized film. It would be a sin, however, not to mention the outstanding performance from Ford, a busy local theater actor, who brings plenty of heart and pathos to her role. (Connected screens Thursday, October 3 at 7:15 p.m.)

Tilt is another Minnesta feature, this one filmed in Brainerd and directed by Phil Holbrook. It feels like a retread of many other thrillers, and it’s hard to take another one of these “eye for an eye” revenge stories seriously. Divorced Paul (Wade Dienert) has not really been in communication with his daughter Liz (Danielle West) for close to a decade, until a horrible incident changes both of them forever. They come together again and the father/daughter bond, which had been strained and has been semi-restored, is broken again once Paul finds out the truth of what happened to Liz one fateful evening; when he learns, Paul decides to take matters in his own hands. Tilt has an interesting premise, but the story is a clone of far superior revenge thrillers; whatever you do, if you’re going to watch the film do not watch the trailer, as it comes damn close to spoiling the entire story. Actually, the trailer is far superior to Tilt itself. (Tilt screens Saturday, October 5 at 6:10 p.m.)

Discopath is a tough retro film to make heads or tails of and one sure to divide audiences. It’s a little gimmicky, featuring some clunky acting from American and French-Canadian actors (it’s a Canadian film) but goes rogue with its conceit and leaps off the deep end whenever possible. It takes place in 1976, when disco was at its peak (or beginning its decline, take your pick). A young New Yorker, Duane (Jeremie Earp-Lavergne), goes berserk when he hears disco music. Due to a traumatic childhood experience, at the first hint of KC and the Sunshine Band he turns into a serial killer. It’s almost a cross between William Fredkin’s Cruising and William Lustig’s Maniac. First time writer/director Renaud Gauthier certainly makes the most of the era, infusing plenty of gore, slo-mo action sequences, and disco sequences that will surely inspire many to take to the streets in either fits of rage or pleasure. (Discopath screens, Friday, October 4 at 10 p.m.)               

LFO (having nothing to do with the “Summer Girls” band) is a strange Swedish/Danish oddity coming direct from its U.S. premiere last week at Fantastic Fest, the biggest genre film festival in the country. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi comedy about Robert (a terrific Patrik Karlson), a lonely family man who discovers that he can hypnotize people with audio frequencies generated by radio circuits in his basement. When Robert begins to experiment with the frequencies, he slowly realizes he can stop sound, speak into a microphone and command anyone to do as he asks. Writer/director Antonio Tublen has made a lo-fi film with an exceptional amount of intrigue, mystery, and laughs that begs to be seen—and talked, or better yet, debated about for years to come, deftly spinning deadpan comedy and extreme horror. If you do not mind being a little tired for work the next morning, I do not know if you will get another opportunity to see LFO ever again. It’s too bad LFO has been given the graveyard shift of the entire festival, basically closing the festival on Sunday, October 6 at 10 p.m. It’s worth a late-night visit.