Ever-growing MSP film festival attracts directors and actors from around the world

Al Milgrom
Al Milgrom has programmed the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival since the beginning. He says he keeps doing it because the world keeps changing
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

The 2010 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival opens its doors Thursday night. For the next two weeks the St. Anthony Main movieplex will be awash in films, directors, and actors from around the world.

Organizers say they tried hard -- really hard -- to keep the number of films down. Then event director Al Milgrom went to Berlin and found a bunch of must-haves.

"What do you do?" he asked. "Deprive the active film claque in the Twin Cities the chance to have a life changing experience?"

It's in that spirit that Milgrom has been programming the festival for decades, gathering films from around the world to show in Minnesota every spring.

Everything from the Minnesota Film Arts offices on the Univeristy of Minnesota campus recently moved to the MFA's new home at St. Anthony Main, including this iconic model from U Film Society days.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"We keep adding every day," he said. "I keep asking 'What's the count today,' and I think it's up to 145 feature films."

And that number will likely change, too. The challenge facing festival film goers every year is deciding between a wealth of choices. There's the Oscar-nominated Irish animation "The Secret of the Kells," about the creation of a priceless book of illuminations.

Or "The Tacqwacores," about a group of devout Muslims in Buffalo New York, who are also hardcore punk rockers.

Milgrom talks excitedly about discovering new work coming out of Belgium, Mexico, even Albania. There are documentaries, feature films, the childish film screenings aimed at children, and a whole section of Minnesota-made films.

"Certainly one of the trends is an increasing sophistication of Minnesota film making," Milgrom said. "Each year the entries seem to get better and better."

"He's as popular as the King in Norway. I mean that's how important this guy is."

This year those films include "My Run," a documentary about Terry Hitchcock who in 1996 ran from Minneapolis to Atlanta to raise awareness about the plight of single parent families.

There's also "Open," a feature shot in Minneapolis about the complex love lives of people going through gender reassignment.

Most of the films will get two screenings, and several will have special guests making appearances.

There's great excitement about the opening night film, "Max Manus." It's a Scandinavian movie about the adventures of "The Oslo Gang." They were Norwegian saboteurs who fought against the Germans during the World War II occupation of their country.

"And we are going to have the 91-year-old resistance hero from Norway on hand opening night to introduce the film, and around whom the film was written, Gunnar Sonsteby."

Sonsteby has local Norwegians going crazy.

"He's as popular as the king in Norway. I mean that's how important this guy is," said Ryan Oestreich.

Oestreich is now the other central figure at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. He actually has three jobs.

"Program coordinator for Minnesota Film Arts, festival coordinator for MSPIFF, and general manager of St. Anthony Main Theater," he lists.

Ryan Oestreich works the phones in the MSPIFF offices. On the wall nearby is the festival schedule.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

It was Oestreich who coordinated moving Minnesota Film Arts, the festival's parent organization, off the University of Minnesota campus. It had been held there in one form or another since the 1960s in the Bell Museum and the Oak Street Cinema.

He hopes the new home at St. Anthony Main will prove attractive to film fans both during the festival and the rest of the year.

"You know for the next two weeks there's going to be more films than you can shake a stick at, but after that, nightly films," Oestreich said.

The film festival schedule is posted on it's Web site, and there will be detailed programs available at St. Anthony Main.

Al Milgrom, who's in his 80s, has been threatening to retire for years, but his celluloid obsessions keep bringing him back. He said film festivals are necessary because the world keeps changing. He sees them as an educational tool.

"They are entertaining in the best way, entertaining the mind as well as the heart," he said.

After the festival ends on April 30, some of the most popular films will come back for the Best of the Fest event, first in Minneapolis, and then in Rochester.