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For its 37th year, film festival returns with 157 features and dozens of shorts

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Through the Banks of the Red Cedar, from Running Water Entertainment
Through the Banks of the Red Cedar, from Running Water Entertainment
Running Water Entertainment

A film about the woman many people now think of as the notorious RBG, aka Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opens the 37th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival Thursday night.    

"RBG" tells the story of the career and impact of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a lawyer arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court and then as a justice herself. It's the first of 157 feature films and dozens of shorts from all over the world being shown at the 16-day event.  

As a senior programmer, Craig Rice runs the festival's Minnesota Made program. "I came here for a year and I'm going on my seventh year," he said. "You have to be careful what you say yes to."  

  Films from Minnesota constitute about one-tenth of the festival's offerings this year, and their subject matter covers the waterfront. That makes it hard for Rice to choose favorites, but he does have some suggestions.  

"There's one called 'Dodging Bullets,' which is about violence on Indian reservations," he said.  

The movie argues that endemic problems are the result of historical trauma suffered by Native people. A young woman lives in a home with bullets lodged in its walls. "We have to walk past it every day," she says in the film. "We have to sleep where we can see the bullet holes."

  The documentary is one of seven films made by or about Native Americans in this year's festival.  

  There are several locally made documentaries. Director Dawn Mikkelson's new film is called "Risking Light."  

  "Which is about forgiveness in three different countries around the world and how people come to that," said Craig.    

The film tells the story of a man returning to Cambodia where he once worked as a Khmer Rouge slave, and of an Aboriginal woman in Australia who as a girl was taken from her home by the government and adopted into an abusive white family. The third story is from Minneapolis. It's about Mary Johnson and her relationship with O'shea Israel, who served time for murdering her son when they were both teenagers.    

One veteran returning to Minnesota is director Peter Markle. He got his start back in 1982 with an indie feature shot in Minneapolis called "The Personals." After a long Hollywood career, he has a new thriller called "Odds Are..." The Festival will honor him with the 2018 Cinematic Arts Award.  

  Another veteran, Lee Breuer, will also return to Minnesota. He directed one of the Guthrie Theater's most famous productions, "The Gospel at Colonus," starring the Blind Boys of Alabama. Now he has made a film, "The Book of Clarence," about Clarence Fountain, one of the gospel group's founding members.  

  Several local female directors have films in the festival. Maya Washington, daughter of Minnesota Vikings legend Gene Washington, examines both his story and her relationship with her father in "Through the Banks of the Red Cedar." Melody Gilbert returns with "Silicone Soul," about real people who have formed lasting relationships with full-sized human dolls.  

In these days, when people can make feature films on their phones and the market can seem saturated, festivals have taken on a new importance, Rice said.

  "I think that festivals actually have been a real important component to filmmakers now to get their films some kind of exposure, to get some press, to get some recognition," he said.      

And to get immediate feedback from the sophisticated audience that comes to the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.