Beyond Borders Film Festival brings world cinema to Minneapolis


This year’s Beyond Borders Film Festival (BBFF), taking place March 25-29 at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis, boasts a wide range of innovative and award-winning films. The festival is presented by the Rimé Foundation, which is “dedicated to preserving the wisdom of Tibet and to making this unique tradition accessible to the Western world.” BBFF grew out of three Tibetan film festivals started in 1997 by the Tibetan American Foundation, but aims to stretch beyond the Tibetan culture and explore many other cultures.

Robb Quast, BBFF’s artistic director, says that the organizers “hope to bring films with world culture orientation—that are spiritual, that bridge cultures, and that are artistically significant—to the Twin Cities.”

also in the daily planet, read erik mcclanahan’s preview of the beyond borders films. once you’ve seen the films, come back to rate them and share your thoughts.

Jim Brunzell, the festival’s program director, scouted films at the Sundance Film Festival and was able to corral some of his favorites into BBFF. Some films at BBFF will be premiering for the first time before appearing in theaters, while others are coming back for a second round. “Some are films that deserve a second chance—maybe people missed them the first time in theaters, or maybe the film didn’t catch on like it could have,” says Brunzell.

The festival is loosely organized into categories for each day, starting with the Native Voices Program on Wednesday and Thursday. Opening night will be ushered in by the world champion northern style drum group Midnite Express.

The Native Voices Program features films addressing various Native American issues, and will be punctuated on Thursday night by a Native women filmmakers’ discussion panel. The film Before Tomorrow, which shows the changes within a small Inuit community as a result of contact with white settlers, won Best Canadian First Feature Award at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.

The next day, the festival moves into the Buddhist Wisdom Program. One film Brunzell and Quast are particularly excited about for this day is the documentary Unmistaken Child, which will premiere at the festival, and won’t be released in the United States until June or July. It tells the story of a devoted Tibetan monk who, at the command of the Dalai Lama, embarks on a search for his deceased master’s reincarnation in the form of a little boy. It’s a daunting task, as the child could be anywhere in the world.

Some of the films don’t fit as neatly into categories. Friday night is the Bill Plympton Spotlight, featuring work of the Oscar-nominated animator. “The animation is crazy and a bit tripped out,” says Brunzell, “but ultimately people will enjoy Plympton’s films for their narrative arc.”

The film Big Man Japan, directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, also gets its own category: the extra-special category of Midnight Madness. Showing at midnight on Saturday, the film follows an ordinary Japanese man who gains the power to grow sixty feet tall and defend his city from fantastical monsters. Brunzell says that “Big Man Japan is something a lot of people can embrace as pure entertainment.”

Saturday morning is reserved for kids to enjoy the festival. “The animated shorts are aimed at the age group of six to eleven years,” says Quast. “Though they are goofy, kidlike films, they are also more spiritually based. We hope to open up kids’ minds and imaginations.” Native storyteller Niisaachiiwan will also be visiting to tell kids the story of the caterpillar and the butterfly, as well as teaching some hoop dancing lessons.

The last category, U.S. Indies and World Cinema, packs Saturday and Sunday with many highly-anticipated films. There’s Kisses, winner of Best Feature Film at the Irish Film and Television Awards; Poland’s candidate for this year’s Foreign Language Film Oscar, Tricks; and Revanche, the Austrian film nominated for a 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. There’s also a film called Sita Sings the Blues, an animated interpretation of the Indian epic Ramayana that took animator Nina Paley four years to make on her home computer.

“The film we’re really anxious for people to see,” says Quast, “is our closing night film, Sugar.” Sugar, an official selection at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of a young baseball player who travels from a poor village in the Dominican Republic to a minor league baseball team in rural Iowa. “It’s a baseball film,” says Brunzell, “but it’s more than that. It has a universal message, dealing with reverse culture shock, language barriers, and cultural differences.”

During these hard economic times, Brunzell and Quast hope that people will still take the time to come see some of the films. “I think it is clear with all of these films,” says Brunzell, “that whatever the situation, there is hope that things can turn around.”

Both Brunzell and Quast are hopeful, and more than excited for the festival. “We hope people come,” says Quast, “are inspired by the films, experience other cultures, enrich their lives, maybe laugh their heads off, maybe cry.”

Ellen Frazel ( is a student at Macalester College.

The Twin Cities Daily Planet is a media sponsor of the Beyond Borders Film Festival.