Twin Cities Film Fest will focus on changemakers

The Twin Cities Film Festival opens Thursday for its 13th year with more than 140 films. The films will stream online and in-person at Showplace ICON theater in St. Louis Park.

MPR News Editor Euan Kerr spoke with the festival’s founder and executive director, Jatin Setia to hear what's special about this year's run.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CREW: The Twin Cities Film Festival opens tomorrow for its 13th year with more than 140 films. The films will stream online and in-person at Showplace Icon Theater in Saint Louis Park. NPR'S news editor Euan Kerr spoke with the festival's founder and executive director, Jatin Setia, to hear what's special about this year's run.

EUAN KERR: Boy, the 13th year, does your jaw drop when you think, boy, 13 years?

JATIN SETIA: It does. My jaw drops every day. And it's because of the content that we're sharing. It's about the community. And I love when people get excited about stories because if we don't share stories, stories die. And for us, visual media is so imperative right now because everybody is clicking through so much content. And this is where film festivals are more important now than ever because there's so much content out there. So you go to a film festival like ours because we're going to curate the best of the best for you.

EUAN KERR: You have some big titles coming around this year. What are you particularly excited about this year?

JATIN SETIA: All of the films this year, including the independent films, are very nuanced and poignant. The filmmakers, whether they're studio films or they're indie films, want to tell a story that means something to them. And that's what I'm excited about is the variety of how many shoes you'll walk in.

Our opening-night film is Till, the Emmett Till story. And I grew up in Mississippi. And Emmett Till, and in conjunction with his mother, Mamie Till, are synonymous with justice. And we're opening our festival with Till. And this is the most important, powerful film that our festival has ever opened with.

And I'm and I'm very excited to have Deborah Watts and Terry Watts from the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation present at the screening on Thursday. They will be doing a post-film discussion. And Deborah happens to be a cousin of Emmett Till. And we'll be giving both Deborah and Terry our inaugural Empower Award for Justice for the work that they do with the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.

EUAN KERR: One of the questions which I have-- and part of that is, I suppose, because I'm getting a little older-- that we all assume that everybody knows the story of Emmett Till. But a movie like this will reintroduce the story, and really, the horrors of what happened, and the extraordinary bravery of Emmett Till's mother in insisting that what happened to her son be made broadly public.

JATIN SETIA: The film itself is much more about love than anything else, honestly. It is about her love for her son, and her pursuit of justice in his name.

EUAN KERR: And I suppose it could be argued that your closing film, too, Empire of Light, tells a similar story, although in a very different way.

JATIN SETIA: Empire of Light is set in the '80s, in this beautiful seaside community in England. And it is truly a story about the human connection, and how cinema brings us together. What a way to end our festival, with a film like that. And Olivia Colman's character plays a manager at this old theater. And she's battling some mental illness.

And, all of a sudden, walks this handsome, young black man into the theater asking for a job. And he becomes an usher. And they hit it off. They connect so well at a human level that she's able to not take her meds and be OK. But in the '80s, racism was rampant-- not that it still isn't in England-- and so he's dealing with that as well, with his dream and his vision to do much more for his future.

And it's just their connection. And it's Olivia Colman at her best. I guarantee she gets nominated for Best Actress again. But it's just a story that everybody needs to see. And it's told so well. And Sam Mendes, the director, I mean, you can't go wrong with anything that Sam does either.

EUAN KERR: One of the movies I'm particularly excited about that you're showing is The Banshees of Inisherin. Have you had a chance to see that one? It looks quite bizarre, in a wonderful way.

JATIN SETIA: No, no, no, and with the cast, we have Brendan Gleeson. You have Colin Farrell. Obviously set in Ireland, so the beauty is immense. But it's truly it's this oddity about these good friends that, all of a sudden, one friend just stops talking to this other friend. And the friend doesn't know why. The whole community-- which is a small community-- doesn't know why. And you do get to find out at the end. But, again, it's one of those films that will take you away from your normal and let you just immerse yourself in the beauty of cinema for an hour and a half.

EUAN KERR: You have so many films here. We should talk about some of the other events too. You are honoring an actor with local connections. You're going to be celebrating Chris Mulkey. Tell me what the idea is there.

JATIN SETIA: If you don't know the name Chris Mulkey, you know his face. Everybody listening should just Google or Siri "Chris Mulkey." And you'd be like, oh, that guy, because he's got over 270 acting credits, from film to television. He's an actor's actor. He doesn't turn down role that he think he can get his hands in and his character developed. And he's from Wisconsin, but he, I think, grew up in Saint Paul as well.

So we're bringing him for a film called The Hand That Feeds. It's a horror movie. He's got a role in it. And we're going to be giving him our Lifetime Achievement Award because he certainly deserves it.

EUAN KERR: You also have a great deal of support for Minnesota filmmakers. You're showing a lot of movies. Tell me a little more about that.

JATIN SETIA: Ever since year one-- remember, this is our 13th year-- we wanted to make sure that-- again, we're modeled after Tribeca, Sundance, TIFF, those major festivals that draw the attention of the media, which then draw the attention of your general moviegoers. The glitz and the glam, we do that. American independent films come from across the country. I think we had about 800 submissions this year, which we whittled down to 140.

But we certainly have a focus on Minnesota creators. A third of our films have Minnesota connections. And Minnesota films sell out fast because these are the filmmakers who want to see their film on the silver screen. And all the cast and the crew that haven't seen the film get excited about it. Their mom and dad, their beg-borrow-and-deal financiers, everybody wants to see the end result.

EUAN KERR: You, every year, have a theme too. And this year the theme is "climate action, food, and fashion." What will festival attendees see in that block?

JATIN SETIA: So that's part of our Changemaker Series, which is a specific social awareness, social justice topic. And it rotates every year. We've done education. We've done bullying in our school systems. We've done veteran support. We have three films online that are absolutely free that are part of the Changemaker Series, Meat the Future, Sea to Sea, The True Cost of Fashion. There's another film in person called The Smell of Money about hog producing and the particulars from the waste there.

We also have a plant-based based food tasting plan for free for the first day of the festival. Again, coming to a festival is all about immersing yourself in an experience and not just going to a movie. So you can buy the $12 ticket at our festival, but you get a lot more than that.

EUAN KERR: I think I've asked you this question before, but it always fascinates me. You have a tremendous track record with the Hollywood movies coming in of films which then win major prizes, and quite often Best Film. So how's your record going to do this year, you think?

[LAUGHS]

JATIN SETIA: So I will say I'm not superstitious, but people around me say I am superstitious. So I guess I'll go with the people. Every single year, we at least have three to five films that are part of the 10 Best Pictures, guaranteed. And Till is one of them. Empire of Light will be one of them. She Said, the Harvey Weinstein-- the two journalists who broke the story-- will be one of them. Women Talking with Sarah Polley, that'll be one of them. There'll be a handful of documentaries.

But that said, last year we premiered Belfast and we lost to CODA-- which, again, we also did a screening of CODA earlier in the year. But the year before that, we won it with Nomadland. The year before that, we lost. The year before that, we won it with Green Book. We lost the year before that. We won it with Moonlight the year before that.

So this year is the year. We had a gap. It's every other year. So this year is our year. And I'm going to predict that either Women Talking or She Said might take the best picture. But, again, I also don't have a magic eight ball.

EUAN KERR: Jatin Setia, thank you, thank you, thank you, and the best of luck with the festival.

JATIN SETIA: See you at the movies.

CREW: All right, that was Euan Kerr talking with Jatin Setia, founder and executive director of the Twin Cities Film Festival. You can check out the lineup and buy tickets at twincitiesfilmfest.org. All in-person showings are $12. Online showings are $9.

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