MSP International Film Festival 27 launches

MSPIFF marquee
The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival marquee at the Oak Street Cinema. Most of the festival films will screen at the St Anthony Main theaters, but some screenings will occur at Oak Street.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

It's 2 p.m. and Al Milgrom, the octogenarian impresario of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, gets ready to talk.

"I just got up, I haven't even had breakfast," he mutters as he pulls out his battered Thermos.

"Well, there are a couple of things..." And then Al begins. For the next half hour he maintains a stream of commentary about the 147 films from 63 countries in this year's film festival.

Al Milgrom
MSPIFF Al Milgrom stands by the schedule for this year's festival. With 147 films from dozens of countries, Milgrom says it's the largest selection of features from the largest number of countries in the event's history.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"It's actually our biggest feature collection in the 27 years," he says. "And it's the most countries, for whatever that is worth. You know Americans like lists and 'best of the best,' and that kind of thing."

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As he talks, he lights up the room with his passion for film, running through the movies playing at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis between now and April 30.

He mentions "Trip to Asia: Quest for Harmony." It's about an international tour by the Berlin Philharmonic, and the impact it has on the musicians and conductor Sir Simon Rattle.

"It's to do with their history, in the past. It's to do with their history in the future," Rattle says in the film. "Time bends in those situations."

"I keep saying this every year, but I also swear that this year is the best selection we have ever had, so I am going to do that again."

There's "Rudo y Cursi", the new film by Carlos Cuaron. He wrote the Mexican hit "Y tu mama tambien." Rudo y Cursi stars the same two actors and Carlos Cuaron will introduce the film.

Then there's "Tyson." Director James Toback sat down with the former World Heavyweight Champion boxer Mike Tyson to examine his career in his own words. The film shows Tyson at his most brutal, and his most reflective. Toback will introduce his film.

Milgrom loves "Letters to the President." It's about the simple requests Iranians send to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, millions of them.

"And they say, 'Please I need an extra goat for my house. Can you help me?'" Milgrom says. "And he gets all these letters, two or three million of them. Course, he claims he answers them in two or three days, he's got a whole staff there."

It's an unlikely premise but the filmmaker behind "Letters to the President" ended up having unprecedented access to the Iranian leader and produced a unique portrait of modern Iran.

The list goes on and on. There are love stories, horror films and even a documentary about the world series of beer pong.

Milgrom also points to the heavy Minnesota representation in the festival.

"I keep saying this every year," he admits. "But I also swear that this year is the best selection we have ever had, so I am going to do that again."

Local film producer Bill Pohlad has a film called "Food Inc" in the festival, featuring "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" author Michael Pollan.

"The idea that you would need to write a book about where our food came from is just a sign of how removed we've become," Pollan says in the film.

There's "The Red Tail," about the impact of globalization on mechanics at Northwest Airlines. There's "Unconvention," Twin Cities journalist Chris Strouth's take on the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

And then there's the thriller "Four Boxes," which is described as "Rear Window" for the Internet age. Shot in a house in Rosemount by a group of Children's Theater alums, it screened to packed houses at South by Southwest.

The full program for the festival is available online, and if things go well, paper versions will hit the streets today. People bought some 22,000 tickets last year for the festival and Milgrom is hoping for more this time round.

Al Milgrom's been threatening to retire for at least a decade, but it doesn't come up this year. Things seems a lot calmer than in years past, at least on the surface.

"Well, I think there's a lot of guilt and embarrassment that drives me," he says.

That's what's been driving him for the Festival's entire 27-year run?

"Once you say you are going to do something, you are too ashamed to say you didn't do it."

So with another Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival about to open, Al Milgrom just keeps forging ahead.