Saturday, January 5, 2008

Best of 2007: Twin Cities Film

If you're not a film critic or curator, the year in film is entirely subjective to where you live. Although I love the Twin Cities and think that it's offerings are subversively plentiful, it is inevitable that some of the year's best films will be next year's best films. Three films that dominated lists for 2007 have 2008 release dates in the Twin Cities: There Will Be Blood, Persepolis, and 4 Months, 3Weeks, 2 Days. On the other hand, another film that dominated New York film critics lists for 2007, due to its screening at the New York Film Festival, was a film that I had on my list for 2006 (Colossal Youth, which played at the Walker in the fall of 2006.) Another case and point of just how subversive the offerings can be in the Twin Cities, in addition to Colossal Youth, there were two other films on that list that I saw on screen in 2006 but have yet to make an appear ace on DVD: the disturbing Russian film 4, and the highly aesthetic documentary of manual labor entitled Workingman's Death.

2007 in the Twin Cities was no different. I would challenge anyone to find another place where Bela Tarr's Satantango was screened three times. Overall, it was an incredible year for film fans. If you were blinking, however, some of the film offerings of the year may have passed you right by. Film festivals and screenings in these parts are becoming quieter affairs due to a simple lack of press. I was out of town during Sound Unseen, but I barely even knew I missed it. With that in mind, here is my report on Twin Cities film for 2007:

The Golden Star and Lion and Palm Award: Bela Tarr Dialogue and Retrospective
The Bela Tarr Retrospective was an unprecedented event at the Walker. Bringing in prints of eight of his films from God knows where, as well as the man himself, represented an event that is unlikely to ever be duplicated in this city. Seeing all of Tarr's films did the best thing possible for me: debunked the genius myth and showed a creative filmmaker's process at work. From the stunning Family Nest and Satantango to the disappointing Man From London and Almanac of Fall, to the belligerent dialogue between Bela Tarr and Howard Fienstein, this was a retrospective to revel in.

The Unbiased Programming Award: Walker Art Center
The Walker is the institution that makes the Twin Cities not seem like fly-over film land. Say what you will about a cinema that doesn't allow popcorn, but take a step back and just look at what happened at the Walker in 2007: Kenneth Anger visited and kept me and the rest of the packed house enrapt with a circular monologue that was almost as long as the screening of his films; Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait was screened six times in all its visual and aural glory; I saw my first Straub/Huillet films during the Women With Vision program, which also included screenings of the fantastic short Intolerable by Alison Maclean and the only screening of the much touted Day Night Day Night; the Queer Takes series brought us one of the best films of the year, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, as well as the inspired inclusion of Jean Genet's Song of Love; the Cinemateca series brought Francisco Vargas' exceptional The Violin; and top that all off with Douglas Sirk films under the stars and the nine film retrospective and dialogue with Bela Tarr.

The A For Effort Award: Minnesota Film Arts
Although I don't have the whole story, it's pretty obvious that these are tough times for the Minnesota Film Arts. Nonetheless, they were the first to offer two screenings of Satantango early in the year, they hosted a run of Inland Empire that was long enough so no one has an excuse for not seeing it, and they hobbled together much needed Antonioni and Bergman retrospectives. Lest us not forget the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. I cringe at the thought of living in a town with no IFF, but that seems to have been on the horizon for a couple years. However, the ten day fest did a pretty bang-up job of bringing some films to the Twin Cities that would have otherwise never screened: Bamako, Climates, 12:08 East of Bucharest, Ten Canoes, Summer Palace, and Ghosts of Cite Soleil, just to name some of the best. We will have to wait and see what the future holds for MFA and the Oak Street Cinema, but until then it is certainly up to us to support their efforts.

The Warm Welcome Back Award: Parkway Theater
The Parkway is back in a big way. The new owners (the Senkyr family who owns Pepitos next to the Parkway) have done an incredible job of prolonging theater goer's lives by taking the renovation of the Parkway seriously. Although it is a work in progress, the improvements are unbelievable and it seems destine to become the next little neighborhood theater that could. Programming seems hit or miss, but the hits have been huge: Guy Maddin's Branded Upon the Brain!, Frank Anderson and Berry Poltermann's Life of Reilly, and the Monday night Film Noir series (that starts back up on January 14.)

Please Don't Change a Thing Award: Heights Theater
They have an organ for God's sake! The Heights does a great job of picking up arthouse hits or mainstream gems, but the real story here are the special screenings. The few silent films that The Heights hosts accompanied by live organ throughout the year are overwhelmingly fantastic. (Accompanied by live organ!) If that weren't enough, in 2007 The Heights played host to an ever expanding Twin Cities Fourth Arab Film Festival and a series of Russian films sponsored by the Museum of Russian Art, including the hard to see 1957 Don Quixote.

Go Fly a Kite Award: Twin Cities Press
Desperate times for newspapers, means desperate times for film coverage. In order to maintain mainstream readership, or any readership for that matter, overworked writers at the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press are no doubt under pressure to keep it mainstream. In respect to film, this means mandatory reviews of all films opening and little else. As a result, the one-time screenings and special events either get glossed over or lost in the shuffle. Of course, I think this does readers a disservice in neglecting what sets the Twin Cities film community apart. I mean, there is a reason why people are reading the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune instead of the New York Times or USA Today. On the flip side, we have a weekly that should be doing a good job at highlighting notable and quirky local film events, but instead the City Pages decided to fire local film editor Rob Nelson and farm out film content to people who have no idea what's going on in the Twin Cities. The City Pages' year end film round-up may as well been in the Village Voice...oh, wait, it was in the Village Voice.

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