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Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival returns with worldly lineup

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Curtains go up at the 2013 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival Thursday night.

By the time the festival ends April 28, it will have presented over 200 films, thrown parties, hosted dozens of filmmakers and panels on the film business.

With a festival like this, the question is always where to start? In the  opening scene of the festival opener, "The Angels' Share," an unseen lawyer intones "This is an unusual case m'lord... The accused was at an unmanned station under the influence of a strong fortified wine."  

In "The Angels' Share," directed by Ken Loach, Albert is a non-too bright, and very drunk Scotsman who starts hearing voices. He doesn't realize that railway staff miles away are watching him over closed circuit cameras. They warn him a train is coming. Instead Albert falls off the platform and onto the track.

He escapes with his life but is launched on an adventure and a heist involving very rare single-malt scotch whisky.

Loach has been making socially aware films in the United Kingdom for half a century. Festival executive director Susan Smoluchowski says Loach's latest film seemed like a great opener.  

"As anyone who knows Ken Loach will know, they are wildly intelligent and political films, but they are also really funny," Smoluchowski said.   

After the opening, it's off to the cinematic races. There are films from all over the world: features, documentaries, animation, and even what organizers call the "childish screenings" on Saturday mornings for younger film fans.  

"What Maisie Knew"
Julianne Moore and Onata Aprile star in the modern-day adaptation of the Henry James novel about the perils of poor parenting, "What Maisie Knew." The film will be shown at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival.
Image courtesy Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival

Local premieres of big name movies including Deepa Mehta's adaptation of Salman Rushdie's debut novel "Midnight's Children" and a modern-day adaptation of the Henry James classic satirical novel, "What Maisie Knew," about bad parents and the people who cover for them. The film features actress Julianne Moore.

Smoluchowski is particularly excited by a series called "Songs of Exile: Cinema of Movement." It includes 20 dramas and documentaries, "dealing with the topic of the movement of people and peoples," she said.

  There are stories ranging from the migration of refugees from war-torn African countries to how decommissioned school buses make their way from the U.S. to Guatemala to become part of that country's dangerous mass-transit system.  

Also important for the festival is the series, Minnesota Made, a selection of local features, documentaries and shorts. Curator Craig Rice had the huge task of winnowing down the entries. He said he was struck at the quality of the work, particularly the documentaries.  

"There are several films right now which I think could possibly be Academy Award nominated type films," Rice said.   

Rice singles out "Too Cold Out There Without You," a documentary about an Episcopal Minister from rural Minnesota undergoing female-to-male gender reassignment. But his list goes on.  

"'Brasslands' which is about a trumpet band going to Serbia. There is also a wonderful documentary called "Twilight on the Mississippi" which is about a group of young people that build a raft and try to sail down to New Orleans. And I won't give away the ending but nobody actually dies," Rice said.

  Rice is also organizing a series of Sunday afternoon panels for the festival's duration on screenwriting, acting and film distribution -- which is often a moviemaker's greatest challenge.  

With so much offered, it's easy to get overwhelmed.

Prodded for tips on how to best approach the festival, Rice suggests picking a day and choosing from that day's program. Festival programmer Jesse Bishop suggests searching the schedule for movies where the filmmakers will be in attendance.

  "We've over 100 visiting film makers this year, including Minnesota Made filmmakers," Bishop said.

Bishop is particularly excited about the world premiere of a new movie about the Duluth band, Low. It's called "Low movie (How to Quit Smoking)" Not only will the filmmakers attend Friday's screening, but so will the band, which will perform after. Unsurprisingly the show, as with the opening night screenings, are already sold out.

• The 2013 Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival is shown April 11-28, at St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE Main Street, Minneapolis, 55414.