2008 MSP International Film Festival set to launch

Al Milgrom
Al Milgrom gets on the other side of the camera as a crew shoots the special festival trailer shown before each MSPIFF program.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Deep in the lair he calls his office, Al Milgrom is holding the festival schedule and doing some calculations.

The long time director of the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival is demonstrating how many films will screen in just the first three days.

Festival sign
The Riverview Theater is set up for the trailer shoot. While the theater has been used by the festival in the past as a venue, this year it will only appear on screen, as most of the films are being shown at St Anthony Main.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"You have about 60," he said, leaning back in his seat.

Milgrom said with about 140 movies in the festival, it's the largest ever.

The festival which runs through May 3rd is using all five screens at the St. Anthony Main Theater. That's more at one time than it's had in the past. This means it can offer a broader range of world cinema.

The festival opens with "The Visitor." It follows the blossoming friendship between a stodgy New England college professor and two immigrants he finds living in his New York apartment. All goes well until one of them is stopped by the police. The film explores issues posed by immigration and personal involvement by ordinary citizens.

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The movie will be introduced by writer and director Tom McCarthy, famed for his first film "The Station Agent." He once worked as an actor in Minneapolis.

After that Milgrom says festival goers will have to study the schedule to see what grabs them.

There's Polish film legend Andrzej Wajda's Oscar nominated "Katyn" about the murder of 15,000 Polish officers early in World War II, and "Beaufort," also an Oscar nominee, which is a drama about Israeli solders serving in occupied Lebanon.

There are many films with Minnesota connections, such as "Pond Hockey," which gets its world premier. It examines the tradition of outdoor hockey in the U.S. and includes an appearance by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

There is also the world premier of "Dean and Me," a documentary made by former Minnesotan Heath Eiden. Now living in Vermont, he bought a video camera when his son was born.

"It seems to me this is one of the stronger festivals we have had in some time."

But then his neighbor up the road decided to run for President.

Eiden, who grew up in Golden Valley, decided to film Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. Despite being a complete amateur, he got interviews with politicians and media pundits to make a very personal documentary about grassroots politics. Minneapolis Star Tribune film reviewer Colin Covert said there is so much on offer it's hard to choose.

"It seems to me this is one of the stronger festivals we have had in some time," Covert said.

Covert is particularly taken by "The Unknown Woman," the new film by "Cinema Paradiso" director Giuseppe Tornatore.

Covert also likes the Swedish film called "You the Living" by director Roy Andersson, which profiles people living in a drab unfriendly city.

"He shoots each scene for a minute or two, almost in the style of a single frame cartoon," Covert said. "And then he goes on to the next, and the linkages between each scene are only thematic and only occasionally do you see the same characters re-appear. It's all about the fact that our time on earth is short and sometimes miserable, but often hilarious."

Covert points out that many of these films will never be shown again in theaters, because they can't find distributors.

Back at the Minnesota Film Arts, Al Milgrom and his staff are furiously engaged in last minute preparations.

It's been a tough year for the organization. Its main theater the Oak Street is for sale, and it has stopped showing films at its other long time home the Bell Museum.

Milgrom said the real estate slump means they still have the Oak and already have bookings into June. He also said the Film Festival is looking strong.

"It's pretty certain it's going to be an ongoing feature," he said. "The current board wants the festival, the city wants the festival. The festival has tremendous potential, it should grow."

But Milgrom said all that will have to wait until this year's festival is done.