Film note: 21 films in 11 days


Seeing 21 films in 11 days is an arduous journey filled with delights, insights, and disappointments. Attending so many films can be both exhilarating and exhausting. A few films left indelible imprints in my mind, others fell by the roadside, and a couple I should have just ditched.

To read about, rate, and review every film in the 2008 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, see the Daily Planet’s viewer feedback site.

Everyone has a method for selecting the films they’ll attend at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. Mine involves considering: (a) which films will only show at the festival, (b) films from countries and/or directors I’ve loved; (c) genres/styles I like (e.g. Czech New Wave, auteur, noir thriller); (d) good stories; and—last but not least—(e) the timing of the screenings. Each year I want to attend as many films as I can.

MSP International Film Festival in the Daily Planet
Chris Steller previews the Film Festival
• Stephen Sporer reviews Noise; Big Dreams, Little Tokyo; The Planet; Fragments; Time for Shorts; and Max Minsky and Me
Chuck Laszewski on Dean Reed, profiled in the documentary Der Rote Elvis
Daily Planet readers weigh in on the films selected for Best of Fest

My odyssey this year began with The Visitor, a poignant film giving a painfully personal view on the issue of Illegal immigration. Friday I hit the ground running, viewing Russia’s Travelling with Pets, one of my picks for Best of the Fest. Later, I saw Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome: an insightful, delightful documentary of the ground-breaking hip-hop band. Chuck D’s visit and Q & A made the night.

Saturday was a good day. The Planet (Sweden) was the must-see film of the festival. I agreed with Willie Murphy: I almost didn’t want to see another film after this, I wanted to go out and work on climate change issues. It was upsetting and inspiring, beautifully terrifying. It featured extraordinary visuals and facts, and interviews with several of the world’s top scientists, anthropologists, economists, and psychologists. I urge everyone to see this film.

The Pope’s Toilet was good, but Roman de Gare was fantastic, a brilliantly complex story rich with twists, twistedness and raw humor—definitely worthy of being included in the Best of Fest.

Sunday was warm and sunny. Seeing Woman on a Beach made me want to be the woman on a beach rather than wasting two hours inside on this painfully boring film. I took a couple hours off in the sun, then dove back in to Katyn, from legendary Polish director Wajda. Katyn is a tragic story of over 15,000 Polish army officers and intellectuals who died at the hands of Soviet troops (the Soviets blamed it on the Nazis). This film also deserved to make Best of Fest. I ended the evening on that poignant chapter.

La Fine del Mare was my sole focus on Monday. This was one of my top five favorites: beautiful, sorrowful and darkly eloquent. It was a great, emotional story I’ll never forget, told quietly with gorgeous, atmospheric cinematography.

At that point, I needed comedic relief from all the pathos. My Brother is an Only Child, a hilarious and action-packed film, spoke to many elements of the human condition. It was extraordinarily rich and vibrant, in the tradition I found all the Italian films to be this year. I followed this up with Happy Family, a foot-stompingly silly Netherlands romp. Just what I needed!

Mondo Bondo was funnier than you might imagine a bondage film would be, told with self-effacing British humor. It was fun popcorn for the mind.

Then it was back to pathos with Prague (Danish and Czech), which pulled me in with its raw honesty about the pain of a alienated father’s death and a disintegrating marriage. This stark film was not one of my top picks, but I’d definitely recommend it. Prague was juxtaposed with an film that played earlier that night: Empties, which told the story of a similar marital crisis, but with much hilarity and a happier ending.

Friday: Pond Hockey. Why? Because it’s so Minnesotan, you know, and I wanted to see what it was all about. The movie played to a full house of people who were mostly Film Fest virgins; it was funny and well-done.

Punk Rock Funk, directed by Mike Rivard, followed. This is the hit local film sleeper of the fest, with rare footage of Twin Cities music legends including Things that Fall Down, the Wallets, the ‘Burbs, Willie and the Bees, the Psychonauts, the Replacements, and more. While only about 50 people attended, this will rerun during Best of Fest. Don’t miss it!

The Unknown Woman, an Italian noir thriller by Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), was another of my top 5 faves. It was a complex, mysterious film where every beautiful detail counted. The story escalated to an unbelievable climax as horrors compounded in an unknown woman’s life, driving her to desparate measures. It was a brutal story, told in a slow, scintillating way. I can’t say anything more, at the risk of spoiling the surprises. Just see it! It was difficult to see anything after that.

The Last Mistress was rife with soap opera drama and clichés. I walked out of Full Scope and into the heart-wrenching Willow Tree. Trying to end the evening on a high note, I saw Dry Season (Chad)—which was quite good, but not as satisfying as my other favorites.

My filmic exploration concluded with Jellyfish and Mars and Venus. Whew! There are still more opportunities to see fantastic films: Best of Fest begins on May 4.

Cyn Collins ( is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.