Pumping up the Minnesota in MSPIFF

The folks at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival are now in the final stretch leading up to the opening of the 2011 edition, and there in their midst is long-time doc-maker Melody Gilbert.


Gilbert (pictured left while shooting her film "Urban Explorers") is programmer of the Mn-Made portion of the Fest, (although she immediately sprang at the opportunity to be called the curator when I asked her if that was her title.)

She's very excited about the huge selection of films now included in the program. "I'm really passionate about this," she says, adding she jumped at the chance to do the programming thinking it might be a chance to, as she put it, "give more opportunities to people locally who may not have a chance to screen otherwise."

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She had a lot from which to choose,

"A lot of people submitted films, and I had to go look at all of those," she said. "And after that I went around looking for films from people who I knew who are in the community who may mot have submitted right away, or whose films were not on the radar of the film community."

She found a lot, particularly short films, and she has used that as a reason to expand the shorts programs. In the past she says there's just been one show of Minnesota shorts, with genres all mixed in. This year she's put together five shows, each featuring a different kind of film-making: narrative, documentaries and animation, an all-music video program, and two emerging film maker programs.

The shorts include local pieces which premiered at SXSW, new work by Twin Cities stalwarts Phil Harder, and Patrick Coyle, as well as experimental films such as one featuring punk poet Paul Dickinson walking through the streets of St Paul.

She runs through some other of her favorites including "Keys" by MCAD grad Ned Hurley "It's just this beautiful film, about a piano in a warehouse," Gilbert says. Then there is "Waiting" which she describes as "a musical journey through the delays of life."

"It really hurts not to show them all," she said. "You know ideally we'd have a film festival here that just focused on Minnesota film makers only. There are plenty more films I would have liked to put in here."

Then we move on to the feature presentations, which also includes something new.

"This year we created for the first time ever a 'work in progress screening,'" Gilbert says. "That film is called 'All over the Walls.' Basically it's a documentary that follows a mixed media artist and body painter named Jacob as he pursues his dream of building an art gallery." It will be a free screening where people can come and help the film makers by giving them feedback about their rough cut. "It kind of opens up the process to people who don't normally get to see that."

"We have 'Broken Dreams.' It's about the vanishing Somali Youth that left Minneapolis, and went back to Somalia," Gilbert says. The film is directed by first time film maker Fathia Absie. "This is an important story to our community in Minnesota," Gilbert continues. "I wouldn't want to show a film that some one else came in and did. She is Somali and got right in to the heart of the Somali community and we are really proud to be showing this film."

Then there is "Incredibly Small" which Gilbert describes as "A fun 'mumblecory' film by Dean Peterson, (which) features Alex Karpovsky who is well-known for his most recent appearance in the indie hit 'Tiny Furniture.'"

Gilbert says she is also very excited about showing "Thicker than Water" about an 11 year old boy from White Bear Lake who loves playing hockey who tries to lead a normal life despite the risks associated with his hemophilia.

"The director who is actually from here, and is related to the family, shot this ten years ago, and then decided not to do anything with it." Gilbert says the subject matter just proved to painful for a while, but he finally took it off the shelf and worked with an editor to make the film. The boy is now a student at the U of M, and will be coming to see it as will many family members who have not see it yet.

Then there is "Triumph67" a narrative drama about two Palestinian American brothers. "One of the things I love about this film is it is very beautiful, first of all," Gilbert says. "But the story behind the making of the film is very interesting because it's a first time film from a Jewish director and a Palestinian producer. The director wanted to have this collaboration to prove it could be done."

She also points to "I'm not Black, I am Colored" Twin Cities resident Kiersten Dunbar Chace's documentary about mixed race people living in South Africa who find themselves caught in a limbo within the community.

Perhaps Gilbert's biggest prize will be kept for the end. The closing night screening is "Stuck Between Stations" which she saw as a rough cut in the last year. It was shot in Minneapolis and stars Sam Rosen, Zoe Lister-Jones, Michael Imperioli and Josh Hartnett.

The program synopsis describes it thus: Thanks to a chance encounter, two former high school classmates have one night to experience what could've been if Casper (Sam Rosen) never enlisted in the fight overseas (Zoe Lister Jones plays the other half of this unexpected romance). Initially agreeing to keep their emotions from overcomplicating their rendezvous, nothing about their night turns out as they planned it. The stars, skyscrapers and an uncertain future loom large over their journey through the unsympathetic, urban landscape.

Gilbert hoped to get director Brady Kiernan to premier the film at MSPIFF, but then it got accepted for the Tribeca Film Festival where it will get its world premier on April 22nd. The May 5th screening in Minneapolis is described as a 'sneak peak.' No doubt it will sell out fast.