The Minneapolis/Saint Paul Film Festival is upon us!

The 2015 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF), the biggest film festival in the Midwest, starts Thursday, April 9 and runs through Saturday, April 25, with the looming probability of hosting another week of “Best of the Fest” picks, continues to make odd decisions year after year. Around a month ago, MSPIFF announced its closing night film, before its opening night film (?), the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy,  directed by Bill Pohlad, on Saturday, April 25, following its Minnesota premiere the night before at the Walker Art Center. This announcement came across as no surprise, but the bigger surprise is why on earth would you use your closing night slot on a film that is premiering a mere four miles away the night before? Was there not another film available to close with, say, director James Ponsoldt’s terrific David Foster Wallace film, The End of the Tour? In any case, it seems to have worked out for both organizations as rush tickets is the only available option for both screenings now. 
The majority of MSPIFF will once again take place at the St. Anthony Main theaters, utilizing all five screens for an exhausting sixteen days (not including “Best of Fest”), which is now up to date with the proper technology including Digital Cinema Projection (DCP) and new comfy seats to enhance the film going experience, finally after numerous years of faulty sound, picture quality and films randomly stopping midstream or the screen going completely black.  
Seemingly, after a successful go last year with the renovated Northrop Auditorium (called the Best Buy Theatre during MSPIFF) on the University of Minnesota campus there will be another satellite venue down University Avenue, however, no screenings will held at the Walker Art Center this year, probably no 3-D films in the program or if you want to include, Love & Mercy, or not, but there is hope for our capital city. The MN made music videos along with a concert will be at Amsterdam Bar & Hall, Saturday, April 11 at 7:00 p.m. and a panel on music videos will take place at McNally Smith College of Music, Saturday, April 11 at 4:00pm. This doubles the events that took place in St. Paul last year, so let’s hope there will be more St. Paul screenings, panels, and events in the future years of M (S) PIFF. Welcome back, St. Paul.
The first initial press release arrived in my inbox mid-March, for the second straight year, MSPIFF’s line-up there was no mention of an opening night film until a follow-up press release came through a week later. The opening night film should be the first thing secured every year as you begin going through all the submissions and solicitations looking for the biggest night of the year for your organization and for the festival. (There could have been multiple selections via for the top spot, or one could have been in place and later been pulled, or maybe there was no consensus favorite to open MSPIFF.)  
So, when the opening night film was finally announced with the Swedish dramedy, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (on Thursday, April 9 at 7 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. Actor Cory Peterson will be present for the screenings and your ticket will also get you into the opening night party at the Aster Café.), it came across as a desperation selection. The film based off a best-selling novel and a major hit in its native Sweden. The Scandinavian selections have been the bread and butter and mostly, the strongest programming in MSPIFF, which it has really lacked in the past few years (which it has not done for an opener, since having the triple-header opening night in 2011 featuring, Troll Hunter, or better yet, Max Manus in 2009 was the best opener in years, in my opinion) has been losing its festival identity and digging deep looking for a crowd-pleasing opener, so on paper, it made sense why MSPIFF picked a film with Scandinavian roots, only this is anything but a enjoyable time. Not only is The 100 Year-Old….. a slog to sit through, it is completely corny and particularly an embarrassing caricature take on its “Forrest Gump” character and storyline of elderly Allan Karlsson’s (Robert Gustafsson) leaving his retirement home on his birthday as the journeyman longs for one last adventure. The film has six languages spoken throughout and Allan speaks Swedish most of the film, however, to further confuse and dumb down the story for the audience, he speaks English in his voiceovers. Detailing his life from one event to another, without much coherence, or even a shred of sincerity, Gustafsson’s stories is nothing more than a string of vignettes clumped together like the one time he got drunk with Harry Truman, or being trapped in a Germany gulag with Albert Einstein’s idiot brother Herbert, hilarious, right? In one painfully awkward scene, pun intended, a elephant becomes part of Gustafsson’s story and if watching an elephant sit on a man crushing him to death is suppose to be played for laughs, you will be hard pressed to find someone to laugh along this grueling and completely shambled farce of a film. Some critics have called this an absurdist comedy, I call this a blown opportunity, but what do I know, both screenings only have rush-tickets available left.
The logical choice and something of a complete oversight, for opening night should have been hometown hero/legend/curmudgeon and founder of the U Film Society and longtime festival director of MSPIFF, Al Milgrom’s 45 years in the making and the world premiere of his documentary, The Dinkytown Uprising  on the protests in Dinkytown over the threat of a Red Barn restaurant being built surrounding the drafts of Vietnam war in the early 1970’s. (Disclaimer: I saw a rough cut of the film back in December, and gave critiques to Al. Whether he made changes or edits since then, I do not know for sure.)  For everything Milgrom had done for the organization and the film community in his fifty some years of service, his film would have been a slam dunk event, and would have packed all five theaters, but instead, The Dinkytown Uprising will screen twice, Sunday, April 12 at 6:00 p.m. and Monday, April 20 at 2:00 p.m. at St. Anthony Main, and should be the hottest ticket at MSPIFF.
Another curious factor in the MSPIFF programming is what to make of one of the 250+ films screening at MSPIFF is documentarian Kirby Dick’s (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) controversial documentary on sexual assaults on college and universities campuses, The Hunting Ground,  which opens at Minneapolis’ Landmark Lagoon Theater this Friday, along with screening twice on the U of M campus, courtesy of MSPIFF, and another screening at Hamline University on Thursday, April 16. Maybe I am wrong, but this film should be screened on campuses worldwide, but if it is already opening at Lagoon, why not wait until its theatrical run is done before bringing it to the U of M campus? This seems destined to be one of the many films to get lost in the shuffle, and would most likely benefit from having it as a stand-alone screening versus piling it into the festival.
As mentioned, MSPIFF lasts sixteen days, and reviewing the list of films, events, panels, and parties, the best value is still undeniably purchasing the invaluable Gold Pass at $425. With the festivals growth in recent years, for better or worse, the Gold Pass gets you into all the screenings your mind, body, health, and eyes can handle also grants you line privileges, priority seating, access to panels and every party during the two plus weeks. Nevertheless, MSPIFF will entertain thousands of attendees with its diverse line-up, proving its worth as the most reliable and viable film festival in the state.
Having seen close to thirty of the films screening (I also reviewed eight titles for the Star Tribune), there is plenty in the line-up worth seeing, and many of them will only screen once. There is also a decent amount of local/Minnesota talent featured during MSPIFF. My recommendations to catch include two feature narratives, writer/director Britni West’s spectacular debut feature and Slamdance jury winner, Tired Moonlight, (Friday, April 10 at 7:10 p.m. at St. Anthony Main with West and select cast and crew present and Saturday, April 18 at 8:30 p.m. at Northrop Best Buy Theater), writer/director Charlie Griak’s St. Paul shot ominous cult feature and executive produced by Jonathan Demme, The Center (Wednesday, April 22 at 7:20 p.m. and Friday, April 24 at 10:00 p.m. at St. Anthony Main with Griak and select cast and crew present at both screenings) and two documentaries, Norah Shapiro’s terrific, Miss Tibet: Beauty in Exile, looking at a Tibetan-American traveling to India to compete in a beauty pageant, screens Saturday, April 18 at 7:30pm at St. Anthony Main with Shapiro attending and Jan Selby’s informative, Beyond the Divide, screening Sunday, April 19 at 3:30pm and Tuesday, April 21 at 4:45pm with Selby attending both screenings at St. Anthony Main.

Out of the some 250+ films, it can be quite nerve-racking to decide what to see and how do you know if you will be seeing a great film or a clunker? My advice would be look over all the films and look for ones which may standout, possibly with a visiting filmmaker or actor present, this makes the screenings more of an event versus attending any old regular theater going experience. Look for films that may only screen once, or do some research to see if any of the films you have chosen will be returning to Twin Cities theaters in the coming months. There are close to two dozen films screening, that will return to the Twin Cities over the next few months, with even a few opening by the end of April or early May. Lastly, go with your gut; if you enjoy documentaries pick a few and take a chance on something that you may not know anything about, or something you are a scholar on, and kick back and enjoy. Maybe you recognize a familiar director or actor, you are a fan of. Case and point, my preference would be to catch two-time Academy Award nominee and animator Bill Plympton’s latest feature, Cheatin’. Plympton will be present at both screenings, Monday, April 13 at 7:00pm and Tuesday, April 14 at 7:10pm at St. Anthony Main.

There are plenty of films I would love to see or that I am looking forward to seeing in the near future. Here are a few titles that have piqued my interest screening at the festival.

Victoria (Friday, April 10 at 6:45pm at St. Anthony Main) The film with the most excitement to me is, Germany director Sebastian Schipper one-take heist thriller was the talk of the Berlinale Film Festival this past February and MSPIFF seems to have landed the U.S. premiere of this Adopt Films pick-up.  Cinematographer Brandth Grovlen will be present at the screening and this should be the one not to miss screening at MSPIFF.

The Russian Woodpecker (Thursday, April 16 at 7:00 p.m. and Friday, April 17 at 7:30pm at St. Anthony Main) Winner of World Cinema jury prize at Sundance, this documentary focuses on an Ukrainian victim of Chernobyl on whether or not he should tell his deadly secrets, should be an edge of your seat experience. Director Chad Garcia and artist Fedor Alexandrovich will be present at both screenings.

Magical Girl  (Friday, April 10 at 12:20pm and Friday, April 17 at 10:00pm at St. Anthony Main) This Spanish feature has all the makings of a great noir thriller of four people entangled in blackmail involving a young girl dying with leukemia.

Life in a Fishbowl (Sunday, April 19 at 9:00pm and Friday, April 24 at 12:15pm at St. Anthony Main) One of the most beautifully photographed countries to me has always been Iceland, so I am a sucker for Icelandic films, and Life in a Fishbowl was Iceland Oscar submission might be a downer, but it brings three characters who lives are intertwined before the 2008 financial crisis.

Sunshine Superman (Thursday, April 23 at 7:10pm and Saturday, April 25 at 11:15am at St. Anthony Main) A documentary on base jumper extraordinaire, Carl Boenish, should scare and entertain the you know what out of you.

Finally, here is a list of my ten favorite films screening at MSPIFF (films without descriptions have been written about on either, Twin Cities Daily Planet or the Star Tribune).

1.Black Coal, Thin Ice (Monday, April 13 at 9:35pm and Friday, April 17 at 9:30pm at St. Anthony Main)

3.Welcome to Leith (Tuesday, April 21 at 7:20pm and Saturday, April 25 at 2:00pm at St. Anthony Main)

4.Tired Moonlight (Friday, April 10 at 7:10 p.m. at St. Anthony Main with West and select cast and crew present and Saturday, April 18 at 8:30 p.m. at Northrop Best Buy Theater)

6.The Look of Silence (Friday, April 17 at 2:30pm and Thursday, April 23 at 6:30pm at St. Anthony Main) Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer’s chilling companion documentary to his 2012, The Act of Killing, sheds light on killings by having a family investigate and confront the accusers.

7.Marshland  (Friday April 10 at 7:15pm and Thursday, April 16 at 10:00pm at St. Anthony Main) This twisty Spanish crime thriller about two cops investigating the murder of two sisters, delivers enough intrigue up until the closing moments where it flat lines, but still worth the ride. Call it “the Spanish True Detective.”

8.The Royal Road (Friday April 10 at 7:45pm and Saturday, April 11 at 5:00pm with Olson present at both screenings at St. Anthony Main) MN Native documentarian and LGBT historian Jenni Olson’s beautiful poetic essay reflects on Olson’s life in San Francisco through butch identity, Alfred Hitchcock and past relationships quite simply, moving and passionate.

9.In Order of Disappearance (Saturday, April 18 at 10:15pm and Wednesday, April 22 at 9:45pm at St. Anthony Main)

10.The Connection (Tuesday, April 14 at 7:10pm at St. Anthony Main) Headlined by French superstar and Oscar winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) Dujardin plays real-life magistrate Pierre Michel looking to put an end to the heroin trade surfacing from France and going to the U.S. Also known as “The French Connection.”