Solstice Film Festival: The comedy! The horror! The birdwatching!

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The Third Annual Solstice Film Festival starts June 19th and runs through June 21st at Galtier Plaza in downtown St. Paul. Executive Director Devin Halder has found over 25 feature films ranging from fiction to documentary, as well as a dozen short films—most of them Minnesota premieres. A few were filmed in or around the Twin Cities area, while others have been making the film festival circuit this year. Even though the festival only runs three days, you can pick up a festival pass for a meager $20 and take advantage of all the films, the parties, and the festival closing awards ceremony. Here is a preview of a few of the most notable (though not necessarily the best) films in the festival.

For more information—including a complete schedule—see solsticefilmfest.org.


Minnesota made

A film that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, Jeff Fisher’s horror comedy—appropriately titled Killer Movie—never lives up to its title. As a reality TV crew invades a small North Dakota town to film a hockey team’s unusual success, one of the producers wants to do an entirely different show altogether; focus on the townspeople that have been recently murdered. When members of the TV crew start disappearing, the crew beings to wonder whether someone in their crew is responsible for the murders. Borrowing a page from the Scream franchise, Killer Movie offers minimum scares and ultimately fails at satirizing reality TV and Hollywood types. It feels like a recycled concept; not to mention, there are plot holes the size of hockey rinks. There are a few creative death scenes, but Fisher’s scare tactics and jokes, in what is supposed to be a horror comedy, are bland. When the nameless killer is finally revealed in a ludicrous third act, you’ll sigh with relief but scratch your noggin wondering how it all makes sense. (June 19, 7 p.m.)

Local writer/director James Snapko’s Further North will be screening a second time in less than three months after having a rough cut shown at Fearless Filmmakers in March. The film is a murder mystery that feels clumsy and didactic from the start, with an abundance of characters left out in the cold. A Fargoesque tale of wintertime greed, loyalty, and murder, Further North can’t be deemed anything more than an ambitious story on paper; unfortunately, nothing holds it together on screen. Snapko’s script has too many boring talking-head scenes, and it’s impossible to understand the convoluted story. With some beautiful visuals, Further North has an eerie, haunting glow on screen, but nothing else feels captivating enough to make it worthwhile. (June 21, 5 p.m.)

Other notable films

Alex Karpovsky’s latest film, Woodpecker, is a major improvement compared to his last film, The Hole Story—which was filmed in Brainerd. Filmed entirely in the backwaters of eastern Arkansas, Woodpecker turns its attention to the strange and fascinating world of birdwatching. The film follows a group of locals, environmentalists, and entrepreneurs trying to capture a glimpse of the ivory-billed woodpecker—a bird thought to be extinct. The film deftly blends fact and fiction together. Karpovsky’s film will appeal to serious animal-lovers and bird enthusiasts, while others may find this docu-fiction film as hilarious as another recent animal mockumentary: Christopher Guest’s Best in Show. (June 21, 2:10 p.m.)

From Within, another film to debut at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, may take itself too seriously at times but nonetheless is an entertaining B movie with its share of chills and scares. Starting with a gripping opening scene featuring a young woman racing down a street with her face covered in blood, director Phedon Papamichael takes full advantage of achives a Southern gothic, neo-noir look that recalls the mood of Patrick McGrath’s novels. The acting is sub-par at best and the plot feels like a few Edgar Allen Poe stories meshed together, but Papamichael—a world renowned cinematographer—keeps the action moving and doesn’t sugarcoat the bleak storyline involving a suicide curse surfacing among the devoutly religious residents of a small town. From Within may be nihilistic, but given that most contemporary horror films forget to scare the audience, From Within deserves credit for delivering frequent scares in all the right spots. (June 20, 8 p.m.)

Jim Brunzell III (djguamwins@yahoo.com) writes on film for the Daily Planet and hosts KFAI’s Movie Talk.