This year's film festival slims down ... to 180 movies

'A Man Called Ove'
"A Man Called Ove" will open the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. Based on the bestseller by Fredrik Backman, the film was a hit in Sweden. This will be the film's North American premiere.
Courtesy TrustNordisk | Anders Nicander

The 35th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival opens Thursday with a new screening philosophy, some new venues and a host of new activities.

One constant of the festival over the years has been the huge number of movies screened. It's been kind of overwhelming. This year, Executive Director Susan Smoluchowski said, organizers are keeping a lid on things.

"We have maybe 10 percent fewer films, which was a very deliberate effort on our part," she said. "One hundred and eighty films, at last count, representing 65 countries."

Most films used to screen just once. Now, she said, most will play twice, and some three times, in hopes that patrons will be able to see a greater percentage of the films.

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The festival launches Thursday with the North American premiere of the Swedish film based on Fredrik Backman's bestselling novel, "A Man Called Ove." It's about a curmudgeon who, missing his late wife, prepares to end it all.

"Stop! Stop!" someone cries.

He briefly thinks someone cares enough to intervene. Then he sees it's just a new neighbor shouting at her moving truck. She's Iranian, and she's about to change Ove's life.

Smoluchowski said the film also launches the festival's spotlight series, 25 movies exploring an issue from many angles. This year, planners are calling the series "Influx."

"And basically, the spotlight is on the movement of people and peoples around the world," she said. The theme turns up in features and documentaries all through the festival.

Some movies are close to home. Filmmaker Melody Gilbert's documentary, "The Summer Help," looks at the thousands of young people who travel from Eastern Europe for seasonal jobs in the United States. They work long hours for little money all around the country, including on Minnesota's North Shore.

There is a strong Minnesota component to the festival, with films on everything from "The Big Wu Way," about Minneapolis jam band the Big Wu, to "Minnesota 13," about an infamous kind of moonshine popular during Prohibition. There will also be the world premiere of "How Love Won," about the campaign to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota.

'The Seventh Fire'
Shot on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, "The Seventh Fire" is a documentary about gang life on White Earth. The film was recently screened at the White House, and will be the subject of a community discussion at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival after it is shown.
Courtesy All Rites Reserved | Rob Brown

That film captures the memorable moment when opponents of a same-sex marriage ban are preparing to go home on election night without first learning the result. Suddenly the campaign's communications director declares, "The AP just called it," and the crowd goes wild.

The festival's closing film is "The Seventh Fire," a documentary shot on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.

"It focuses on the gang life and culture on the reservation," said Programming Director Jesse Bishop. "But really, it's sort of an investigation about what it is to be living in Minnesota at this time."

"The Seventh Fire" was recently screened at the White House. The festival showing will be followed by a community discussion attended by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

Bishop said another new feature this year is the festival's Tribute program.

"And we are going to be honoring the great Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta," he said. "She will be presenting her new film 'Beeba Boys.' It's a gangster comedy about the Sikh community in Vancouver. It's something that is a departure from some of the films, the great dramatic films, she's made in the past."

'Beeba Boys'
"Beeba Boys" is the latest film from Deepa Mehta, the Indo-Canadian director, who is being honored as the first recipient of the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festivals new Tribute feature. Pictured from left to right are: Gabe Grey, Ali Kazmi, Waris Ahluwalia, Randeep Hooda, Steve Dhillon and Jag Bal.
Courtesy Mongrel Media | Rafy

But the festival will be showing some of those other movies too.

As in recent years, the festival will be centered at the St. Anthony Main Theatres in Minneapolis for its two-week run. However, it will also show films at the Uptown Theatre and at the newly refurbished theater at Metro State in St. Paul as part of the festival's effort to broaden its audiences.

The festival will offer a host of parties and learning opportunities, including an entire day aimed at children. It will also partner with the recently refurbished Pillsbury A-Mill Artist Lofts near the St. Anthony Main Theatres for post-screening panels and other social events.

There may be fewer films this year, but the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival does still seem overwhelming. Organizers suggest spending a few minutes on the festival website to plan ahead.