Tuesday, April 24, 2007

MSPIFF report No. 1

I can't say I've seen as many films as I would have liked in the last four days, but prior commitments kept me out of the theater for two of those days. Overall, the 25th Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival has been pretty impressive knowing the fragile infrastructure of MFA. The number of minor technical difficulties (reel changes seem to be a problem at the Oak...) is actually an improvement over years past, and attendance has been really high at the screenings I attended. In addition, out of the six films I attended, I would rank three as great. Not bad odds.

Opening Night @ The Riverview
The hubbub and fanfare was not without good reason. Danny Glover was there as producer (and he also had a very small role) to introduce Bamako, the opening film, to a full Riverview Theater. Starting about 15 minutes late, Al Milgrom took the stage first (with some person in a big mask, that was never explained; see photo above) by saying a few words, a few thanks, and introducing Danny Glover. Soft spoken and personable, Mr. Glover was a pleasant surprise. He talked briefly about meeting the director Abderrahmane Sissako and how he got involved in Bamako. The film itself was fantastic. This unconventional film centers on a court proceeding that the citizens of Mali have filed against the World Bank for the institutional oppression it has imposed on Africa. Meanwhile everyday life continues in and around the court proceeding, producing comic relief, melodrama, and absurdity alongside the passionate argument against the World Bank. This film could not be shown at a better time as Paul Wolfowitz tries to defend his actions as the President of World Bank who was supposed to put an end to corruption. Mr. Glover came back after the film to do a little Q & A moderated by Anjali "the Queen B" of B96. Glover talked about everything from his grandkids to his acting career to our responsibility as global citizens. The Riverview, who had a late screening, had to (gently) ask that things be cut short around 10pm.


I chose to catch Vanaja because it was conveniently located at the same venue as the film I really wanted to see at 9:30. Vanaja told the story of a lower caste girl intent on learning traditional Indian dance. But when she is raped by the son of the landlady she works for, her plans to become a dancer fall away. I can't say this is the most original story and takes the form of many non-Bollywood dramas, but the acting (all by non-professionals) and overall production values are very impressive for a first feature film. The director, present for a Q & A after the film, shot the film for his masters thesis at Columbia University.

Paprika is one of the films that I have actually been waiting to come to town. It will return to town in June for a run at the Lagoon. Fans of animation turned out in droves for Satoshi Kon's new feature. Kon broke barriers with his first feature animation Perfect Blue in 1998 by tackling a mystery thriller with animation. Kon's next two features, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, offered some of the best looking animation around, but IMHO lackluster narrative. However, Kon took a surreal turn with his first series Paranoia Agent, a wholly original take on pop culture in the era of fear and paranoia. Paprika follows this surreal trend, painting a picture of a future where dreams start to turn into reality...sort of. Some of the most fantastic images that challenge the work of Miyazaki. Paprika opens at the Lagoon in June.

Gardening; Deborah Jinza Thayer performance at Gallery 13; too tired for the 11:30 screening of Black Sheep.

The Turkish comedy The Magician was canceled, and replaced by a much better option (although I'm not sure my fellow movie goers would agree) Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates. I saw Ceylan's Distant a couple years back and thought pretty highly of it. With Ceylan and his wife playing the two leads, I thought Climates was just stunning. In this case, it is the emotional climates between two people that the film is concerned with. Quiet and understated, Climates is full of the most amazing shots: long ambiguous still shots, and creative framing with zooms and pull backs. By far my favorite film of the fest so far.

The Valet
Pleasant French farce that I intended on leaving a little early to catch the next film, but really couldn't tear myself away. Sold out crowd. The Valet opens at the Lagoon pretty soon.

Filmmakers in Action
A dry and somewhat esoteric documentary may have not been the best choice after a full day of work and two other films, but interesting nonetheless. It was somewhat unfocused and it could have used a little editing and kind of hard to pin down at first. (Even the description in the catalogue had me a little confused.) Essentially it was a film about the push to maintain and preserve the artistic integrity of films in Europe, specifically when it comes to presentation in original format and aspect ratio. I found it fascinating that lawsuits had been filed (and won) against television stations attempting to broadcast films in improper aspect ration. TV stations have also been banned from putting their logo in the corner during a screening of a film. Numerous examples of how films have and have not been manipulated without the directors permission were discussed. Lots of fascinating interviews with the likes of Sidney Pollack, Woody Allen, Bernardo Bertolucci, Truffaut's daughter, Marcel Carne's granddaughter, and so on. Some very interesting bits in a convoluted documentary.

Great screening at Pi of Venus of Mars; Emily Goldberg and Venus were present; Venus even sang a few songs. No Festival films for me.

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