Festival presents 170-plus films, searchable by mood

"The Lost City of Z"
Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett, Edward Ashley as Arthur Manley, Angus Macfadyen as James Murray, and Robert Pattinson as Henry Costin in "The Lost City of Z," the opening presentation of the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival.
Aidan Monaghan | Courtesy Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

In addition to more than 170 feature films and a similar number of shorts, the 2017 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival offers a question: Is the first film "The Lost City of Zee," or "The Lost City of Zed"?

The new film adaptation of David Grann's best-selling real-life story of death-defying English explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett goes with the British pronunciation.

As the movie shows, when Fawcett was first offered the chance to explore the jungles of South America, he wasn't keen. "To be quite honest, I was rather hoping for a position where I might see a fair bit of action," he tells the leaders of the Royal Geographical Society in London.

"Major,' comes the reply, "this is far more than just survey work. This is exploration in the jungle! The environment is brutally difficult. Terrible disease. Murderous savages. The journey may well mean your life."

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So of course he goes. The film explores the balance between adventure and foolhardiness, between family and personal obsession, and the furious pace of global change in the early 20th century. It's the curtain-raiser to a 17-day festival that will present movies from 71 nations, beginning Thursday.

For the festival's executive director, Susan Smoluchowski, it's a delight just to stand in the St. Anthony Main Theatre lobby and listen.

"First Daughter and the Black Snake"
Minnesota filmmaker Keri Pickett's documentary "First Daughter and the Black Snake" follows Ojibwe activist Winona LaDuke's campaign against oil pipelines in northern Minnesota. It is one of many Minnesota films in the MSPIFF 2017.
Keri Pickett | Courtesy of Pickett Pictures LLC

"Last year, I was standing there five minutes," she said, and heard "10 different languages being spoken."

This year there are special tributes to documentary maker Frederick Wiseman, with screenings of three of his films and an appearance via Skype from the director himself. There will also be a tribute to Minnesota film producer Sarah Pillsbury, who Smoluchowski said has produced 19 movies so far in her career.

"She has an Oscar to her name, an Emmy, and a Spirit award," she said, adding that it's "pretty unusual for a producer to have all three of those."

The festival will screen three of Pillsbury's works: "River's Edge," "And the Band Played On," and "Desperately Seeking Susan." Pillsbury will also appear at a number of panel discussions.

A further special event marks the centenary of the U.S. entry into World War I. On Sunday afternoon at the Uptown Theater, the festival will present "Wings," the epic silent film about air combat during the Great War. The film, which won the very first Best Picture Oscar, will be accompanied live by the Prima Vista Quartet.

There is also five-day event called "Virtual Reality and the Future of Storytelling," in which viewers wear goggles to experience a story from 360 degrees. Festival programing director Jesse Bishop said that beginning on Friday, April 21, visitors can experience 11 different projects using the technology, which is changing how people make movies.

"A lot of those lead artists that created those projects are going to be here, and they are going talk about that process, which is so fascinating, to capture the world in 360 degrees and tell a story," said Bishop.

There is of course the annual challenge of sifting through the feature films to decide what to see. Bishop suggests checking out the many films whose filmmakers are going to be present. One is "First Daughter and the Black Snake," about Ojibwe activist Winona LaDuke's campaign against oil pipelines in northern Minnesota.

"King of the Belgians”
"King of the Belgians," a mockumentary following a desperate attempt by the King of Belgium to get home after half his country secedes and a satellite malfunction kills all cellphones and grounds all planes, will close MSPIFF 2017.
Courtesy of Be For Films

Smoluchowski points to the closing of presentation "King of the Belgians." It's a dry comedy, in several languages, about the Belgian king finding out while he's visiting Turkey that half his country wants to secede. Then a satellite problem not only kills all the cell phones but grounds all air travel.

"So then he decided he's going to take a road trip across Europe to get home, and for the first time he is allowed to be just a plain old human being," she said. But that means dealing with the fractious nature of the European Community at present, where everybody feels imposed upon.

Festival Programmer Kathy Smith suggests the South Korean thriller "The Truth Beneath," about a politician whose daughter disappears. Smith says it's a tightly wound tale by a female director, Lee Kyoung-mi.

"It's really fun, really well made. The director is a protege of Park Chan-wook, who recently did 'The Handmaiden,' and he also co-wrote this film," she said.

Festival staff say they have been working to add more choice options to the website. Now, in addition to title, country and date, you can also search for movies that fit your mood.