The phones keep ringing, but Minnesota Film Arts Program Coordinator Ryan Oestreich looks relaxed and ready as he contemplates the series of events which mean he not only has a theater, but also funding to run it.
While MFA's Minneapolis St Paul's International Film Festival keeps rolling along, the organization's Oak Street Cinema on the U of M campus has been on the verge of closure for years it seems.
But in one of those curious twists of economic fate, things now look better than they have for a while. The proposal to buy the Oak Street and all the other buildings on the block to make way for student housing has been put on hold for the moment.
Oestreich says he knows times are tough, but it's working out for the Oak Street at least in the short term.
"We have been pushed off for at least another year so with a year, we said, 'OK, we had a very successful festival. We had really good showings at the Oak Street of theatrical exhibits from the festival and other films. So we said, let's just take a little bit of a pause and work on a fall program."
The State Arts Board is also helping out with an institutional support grant which is funding the fall season. Oestreich says it's not a complete reprieve, but he aims to make the most of it
"We don't quite know when the Oak Street will be sold, but in the meantime we are going to program it whether it be obscure titles, big titles or foreign titles, the best we can do."
And Oestreich wants to push the envelope a little. "We can take risks," he says with a smile.
The fall season opens tonight with Canadian director Kari Skogland's "Fifty Dead Men Walking" a political thriller set against the Troubles in Ireland in the late 1980s starring Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess.
The following week the Oak will present John W. Walter's documentary "Theater of War" about the Tony Kushner production of Berthold Brecht's "Mother Courage and her Children" at New York's The Public Theater. The film follows Meryl Streep in the lead role aided by Kevin Kline. (It's probably a little different from when they worked together on the A Prairie Home Companion movie.)
Oestreich is excited about his program, but gets even more animated when he moves onto what is a blast from the past. As a student himself in years past Oestreich used to come to the Oak for late night fright nights. Those screenings fell by the way, but now he's bringing them back with a twist.
"Something I wanted to bring back was horror films but in particular, let's do some international stuff so some foreign horror films that never get played in theaters."
The screenings will start on Thursday 17th, with the 9.30 shows on Thursday through Saturday set aside for scary stuff. It starts with the British grave-robbing film "I Sell the Dead" starring Dominic Monaghan, best known as Merry Brandybuck in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Then there's a Canadian take on zombies with Bruce MacDonald's film "Pontypool" and then a Norwegian film "Dead Snow" which moves into the area of Nazi zombies.
The Oak is then moving into a two week "French Crime Wave" series of French noir films, in early October. Titles include "Bob Le Flambeur" ("Bob the Gambler," 1955, Jean-Pierre Melville); "Le Cercle Rouge"("The Red Circle", 1970, Jean-Pierre Melville); "Classe Tous Risque" ("The Big Risk", 1966, Claude Sautet); "Le Doulos" ( The Finger Man", 1963, Jean-Pierre Melville); "Pepe Le Moko" (1937, Julien Duvivier); "Touchez Pas Au Grisbi" ("Don't Touch the Loot", 1954, Jacques Becker).
There will also be a music week in late October featuring films about classical and world music subjects. And every Wednesday will be experimental film night, where a program of rarely seen films will screen.
One of the interesting challenges this year will be the opening of the new TCF Bank Stadium which Oestreich has been watching grow through his office window.
It's going to bring huge crowds down to the Stadium Village area six times a year on Gopher game days. The facility could be a mixed blessing for the Oak. The theater will be sending out e-mails warning patrons to plan ahead on certain Saturdays. Oestreich says they will encourage film goers to come early, use public transportation, or carpool, and at the very least give a little extra time.
Of course having thousands of alums walk by your front door can't hurt, especially for an organizations which has struggled to fill it house sometimes in recent years.
Oestreich says that the MFA's long-time leader Al Milgrom knows where there are 16 mm films of the old games at Memorial Stadium, and they considered showing them for fans on game days, but eventually decided to hold off as it may interfere with regular customers. traffic.
Oestreich admits they are going to just see how things go. He hopes they can keep the programming go through the spring. And of course in the new year things get busy with preparations for the film festival
"I don't see anything slowing down in the film festival word. Probably another 150 titles to come up for April," he says with a smile.
Yes, against all odds, it's going to be a busy year at Minnesota Film Arts.
You can listen to our conversation here: Listen
Ask Skip Layton James to tell stories about what he has seen during his tenure at the SPCO and he has so many it's hard for him to know where to begin. There have been good times, and hard times. He's worked with seven different music directors.
There were the concerts at what used to be the Arts and Science Center, later the Science Museum of Minnesota.
"Eddie Blitz, the former cellist used to come in and look at the brontosaurus there and start his day by saying "Hi Bones!" James says.
He talks about how the Orchestra used to take the train to gigs in Fargo, and the time the plane due to return the musicians home after playing in Brookings S.D. sank up to its wheel-hubs in the mud after a spring rain.
"We had to call a tractor to pull us out wheel by wheel before we could fly back to the Twin Cities," he says.
"We played the first concert ever at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium over at St Kates. We played the opening concert at the Benedicta Arts Center in the cornfield out at the College of St Benedict. It's a beautiful hall by the way."
And there was the opening of the Ordway, and the unprecedented public fundraiser which saved the SPCO from financial ruin.
There will be a lot of these stories in coming months after today's announcement that James will retire from his position of Principal Keyboard with the SPCO, a position he has held since 1969. He's currently the longest tenured musician with the orchestra. He has conducted and composed during his time with the SPCO, creating cadenzas for Baroque and Classical concertos.
During that time he's established a reputation as a master of many keyboard instruments, from the pipe organ to the harpsichord. He actually built three of the harpsichords the SPCO now owns.
When asked how he came to do that he describes approaching SPCO music director Leopold Sipe at a rehearsal to ask is he could play a Haydn piece.
"What are you going to play it on?" the maestro asked.
"Well, a harpsichord," James says he replied.
"We can't afford one," the conductor responded.
So James said he'd build one.
"That's kind of how it started. I've always loved to improvise and the harpsichord is the perfect instrument to do that on. So I start to build them."
That was in 1970, and it's put James in a somewhat unique position.
"Basically you've been hearing me on an instrument I made myself with music that I make up as I go along, which is about as enabling and ennobling and as wild as you can get as a music profession, I think," he says.
After he steps down at the end of the current season he intends to write a book on trout fishing. He'll also continue to appear as a presenter at pre-concert talks at the SPCO and as necessary onstage at the keyboard.(1 Comments)