2007 MSP International Film Festival launches amidst concerns for the futureby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Tonight the 25th annual Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival launches with a gala screening at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. Hollywood star Danny Glover will be there in person. As the film festival celebrates its silver anniversary, organizers admit there are concerns about its future.
Minneapolis, Minn. — If the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival were a movie itself, it would be a splashy epic.
It would be about how 87 movies from the distant corners of the world blast into four theaters in Minneapolis.
There's everything from a new Hollywood blockbuster re-examining the Ten Commandments, through African satire about the World Bank to a horror comedy from New Zealand about a genetic experiment gone wrong, producing huge flocks of man-eating sheep.
A central character is Festival Director Al Milgrom. There'd have to be a scene where Milgrom pours some coffee from his thermos and begins grumbling.
"I mean, it would have, could have, been nice to have a--what would be the word?--valedictory festival," he says. "Not valedictory, because that means I'd have to leave, but I don't know if I'm going to, although I am thinking about it."
Milgrom sits in his lair at the Minnesota Film Arts offices on the edge of the U of M Campus. The room's filled with teetering piles of envelopes, files, and other detritus deposited here by decades in the movie business.
Any sudden move risks burial in a paper avalanche.
Milgrom launched the University Film Society in 1962. The festival came along two decades later. It's never been easy, and now in the age of DVD subscription services and downloadable movies, Milgrom sees competition coming from all sides.
Milgrom admits he wanted to change the script this year. He wanted to do a shorter festival this spring and then put on a big splash 25th anniversary celebration in the fall.
However, money pressure put the kibosh on that. Money has been tight all year with fluctuating attendance at Minnesota Film Arts' two theaters, the Oak Street Cinema and the Bell Auditorium.
"I've got to pay a very small staff out of money from popcorn sales and a very limited cash flow," Milgrom says. "We have had some very good weeks and successes, but it's all a function of time, how much time you can put into promoting."
And this is where we get to the subplots.
Milgrom says, like last year, the festival is happening only because it's being bankrolled by magazine publisher Tim Grady, who's also a Minnesota Film Arts board member.
Audiences turned out last year despite a bruising dispute over the control and direction of the organization just months before.
Milgrom is known for his sharp tongue. He's rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years. Some local filmmakers have expressed frustration about how tough it is to get into the hometown festival.
Our movie's climax hinges, as always, on two questions: will the audiences turn out this year and will the festival live again?
St. Paul Pioneer Press film critic Chris Hewitt predicts they will. He says there's a clear desire for world cinema in the Twin Cities.
"Even in Hollywood circles, it's known as an unusually intelligent and discriminating film community," he says. "Hollywood movies that are geared toward that audience that don't do that well anywhere else, do well in the Twin Cities because of that."
Hewitt and Star Tribune film critic Colin Covert both praise the breadth of the festival's selection this year. Both see the festival as an important cultural event.
Covert says he believes the film festival will survive. He says there is a committed audience and a host of dedicated volunteers who get the event off the ground each year.
"Its problems are, I think, those of the well-intentioned amateur," Covert says. "I mean, their hearts are definitely in the right place and they are completely sincere about their mission, but they lack professionalism in terms of organizing the event."
Back at the festival HQ, Al Milgrom says he wishes the city or the state could throw some money at the festival.
He's not sure if he'll be back next year, but he's been saying that for the last decade and a half. When asked what drives him, he says it's simple: he just wants to see movies.
"A festival is place for discovery," he says, a grin cracking across his face. "You are going to have to discover what you might like to see."
Besides, Milgrom says, he needs a job.
- Morning Edition, 04/19/2007, 7:55 a.m.