MOVIES | MSPIFF 2011: Bigger and better than ever


As an obsessive cinephile, each year I look forward to seeing what new Hollywood films will open up at the shopping mall theaters, the independent and foreign films (mostly) featured at the Landmark theaters, what series is upcoming at the Trylon Microcinema, who’ll be the next Regis Dialogue or retrospective presented at the Walker Art Center, and what new archival 35mm print will be screening at the Heights. Well, imagine all those wrapped together under one roof, incorporating five screens, countless staff members, volunteers, projectionists, and theater managers guiding you through 200+ films in three weeks and you’ve got the 2011 Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF), which runs April 14 through May 5.

Now in its fourth year at the St. Anthony Main Theaters, MSPIFF has really exploded this year and holds much promise. Looking over the daunting schedule of films, parties, events, panels, and Q&As following many screenings, one may feel overwhelmed—but you shouldn’t. Considered the biggest cultural arts event in the Midwest, this year’s MSPIFF seems to be more organized than in years past (that even includes when I was on staff from 2005-08), with many of the films being presented more than once. If you are deciding between two films screening at the same time, for their second screening, they won’t be against each other.

mspiff in the daily planet

the twin cities daily planet will be hosting a page for each film in mspiff. once the festival starts, check back to rate and comment on the films you’ve seen, and to see what other daily planet readers have to say about the films.

There is plenty of time to make it to your next screening, whether it be walking downstairs/upstairs, or staying in your seat for the next film—just make sure you have a ticket, otherwise you’ll be asked to leave and purchase your ticket. Better yet, get a Gold Pass, which gives you access to every screening and priority seating before each screening. Another attraction this year will be a gigantic tent that can hold close to 500 people, which will be located under the Third Avenue Bridge in what is being called the “Festival Central Pavilion.” There, you can stop in anytime during opening weekend and pick up a catalog, get a coffee, meet visiting directors, and converse with other film goers. The hours of the Pavilion will be 12 p.m.-12 a.m. Thursday-Saturday and 12-6 p.m. on Sunday.

This year’s festival was co-programmed by Tim Grady and artistic director Al Milgrom, who started the University Film Society in 1963 and has been a major figure in the Twin Cities film community ever since. Milgrom was unavailable for this interview, but he told me a few days earlier that he feels that this could be “one of the strongest programs we’ve ever had. I’m really looking forward to many of these films. A few I think people should look for are How to Start Your Own Country, Tomorrow Will Be Better, Windfall, and the documentary Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff. Cardiff shot some great movies, and the film looks amazing on the big screen.” Milgrom continued, “We have so many first and second time directors coming to town, and I think everyone will be excited about discovering these new directors and seeing their first or latest work.” Milgrom smiled and walked away as he had to make a phone call, the first of many that would go well into the evening.

At MSPIFF headquarters, volunteer and staff members were working hard on reaching out to local organizations to raise awareness about the festival and diligently typing e-mails finalizing filmmakers’ schedules. I spoke with operations manager Ryan Oestreich and Susan Smoluchowski, newly appointed executive director of the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul, about the upcoming festival, which starts with not one but three opening night films. We discussed everything from the name change—from MN Film Arts to the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul—to what is new at MSPIFF this year to what they hope audiences will take away from the massive three-week “filmpalooza” and, most importantly, the films. With more documentaries, narratives, shorts, late night genre screenings, the popular Minnesota filmmakers programs, and even an experimental films section, there surely will be something for everyone. There will also be awards given out at the end of the festival for best documentary, best narrative, best emerging artist, and awards for the best short (local or international) film.

My first question for Smoluchowski was: what does her new role mean, and why the name change from MN Film Arts to the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul?

Press the play button below to hear the interview.