Film festivals open up an otherwise unavailable worldby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Film festivals are an opportunity to experience movies unavailable elsewhere.
The Latin Film Festival launches Thursday evening in Minneapolis, beginning 10 days of movies from all over Latin America. Next week, the four-day Twin Cities Arab Film Festival brings documentaries and dramas filmed locally and abroad.
Fifteen countries contribute about 35 films to the Latin Film Festival, said Susan Smoluchowski, executive director of the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
And those films run the gamut. The Latin Film Festival opens with a gala screening of "Abel" at the St. Anthony Main Theater, 115 Main Street, SE, Minneapolis. There will also be documentaries such as "The Portrait of Diego: the Revolutionary Gaze" which features little-seen footage of Diego Rivera at work and at home, and "The Mexican Suitcase," about an amazing lost collection of Spanish Civil War photographs which turned up in Mexico City. Also, the hugely popular Brazilian action film "Elite Squad 2" explores corruption in that country's prisons.
The Latin Film Festival is part of a multi-year effort to spotlight movies from around the world. Smoluchowski says last year's festival focused on Asian film and was a big success. "That brought in crowds of people who had never set foot in our theater before for films, that really responded to and reflected their cultures and communities," Smoluchowski said.
The Pan-African Festival will be next year's showcase.
However, numerous films from North Africa will be shown starting Nov. 10 at the 7th Mizna Arab Film Festival at Heights Cinema in Columbia Heights. The festival adopted the theme Art in Revolution, said Marya Morstad, festival director.
"Because we knew that things were happening and that some of the film and literature would reflect that," Morstad said. "We just didn't know it would happen so soon."
The Arab Spring generated huge interest in the Arab world. Morstad is excited about the festival's opener, "18 Days" — a collaboration of 10 Egyptian directors who took their cameras to momentous events at Tahrir Square in Cairo in January to capture 10 stories.
"Not documentaries," Morstad said. "But stories of things experienced, heard or imagined during those 18 days in Tahrir Square. So you have 10 different perspectives about things that went on."
Three months later the film premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival. The Arab Film Festival also offers a wide range of documentaries and dramas.
There's the first zombie film made in the Gulf, and a profile of the small but potent world of Muslim punk bands. There are also a couple of local films including "Iraq Finally" by Tarik Rasouli, who grew up in Minneapolis but followed his father, restaurant owner Sami Rasouli, back to Iraq.
There is also the drama "Triumph 67" about a Palestinian American living in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Both the Arab Film Festival and the Latin Film Festival hope to draw audiences from within, and outside the communities on which they focus.
This can all be a little overwhelming, particularly if you're a film critic.
"My heart sinks," admits Pioneer Press Film Critic Chris Hewitt, who says there is a film festival just about every weekend. "On the one hand, I sort of feel like 'great" because movies that maybe we might never have been able to see are at least going to get a showcase." Hewitt said. "But it is just dizzying because there are so many film festivals, and a lot of them, I think, call themselves film festivals and are really not film festivals."
That's because some events lack curation, according to Hewitt.
The Film Society's Smoluchowski said months go into careful selection, and she believes there is a demand.
"Maybe 10 days from now I'll be telling you a different story, but right now we really feel as if people want to come out for these events and we want to make them available."
- Morning Edition, 11/03/2011, 7:25 a.m.