The Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival

This year marks The Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul’s 50th year in operation. The beloved Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival will serve as a grand celebration for all things film, holding the title of the best-attended film event in the Upper Midwest. The festival started on Thursday, April 12th and runs until Thursday, May 3rd at the lovely St. Anthony Main Theater on the waterfront just off campus.

I had the privilege to sit down with the curator of this year’s Minnesota-MADE Showcase, Tom DeBiaso. Tom is a Professor of Media Arts at MCAD as well as the director of the graduate program. He talked first of the Film Society’s roots tracing back to the U of M where it was first called the University Film Society and headed by Al Milgrom. A few location and name changes later, in its 31st year running, the MSP International Film Festival holds host to over 100 filmmakers and stars, with around 300 narrative, documentary, and short films to be shown.

Something to be celebrated is the way the festival brings film lovers together. It works to open up a brilliant sense of community and camaraderie. Tom finds himself leaving the theater with the ability to turn towards a fellow audience member for views, insight, and recommendations of other films to catch. The festival also offers its goers the incredible resource of speaking with the filmmakers themselves. There will be formal panels with filmmakers such as Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan for the documentary Raising Renee. This piece follows visual artist Beverly Mclver on her journey of keeping the promise to raise her mentally disabled sister during a critical time in her career. Other attending filmmakers including those from the film Hope, which will be making its world premier here in Minneapolis. Directed by Joe Dressel, last year’s winner of the best MN feature, this film was described by Tom as “Taxi Driver turned-dark comedy.”

The Headliners

The opening night film was The Intouchables, a surprise hit at the French box office, obtaining the title of the second most successful French film of all time. The Minneapolis showing proved to be a successful one as well, with the show selling out before the night began. The closing night film will be, “Where Do We Go Now?” directed by the Lebanese-Canadian director-actor Nadine Labaki. It’s a touching tale about a group of women living in the Middle East striving to protect their war-torn community. Labaki’s film has won multiple awards at many international festivals. It received the Audience Award at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival as well as rave reviews at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Tom explains it as a “context of love, comedy, and charm placed against this backdrop of dreadful violence.”

The After Party

After parties will also serve for more opportunities to bask in the film-loving commune. There will be several of these following certain showings wherein filmmakers, stars, and viewers will convene together to enjoy live entertainment and drinks. All admittance is free apart from the opening and closing parties. One of the most anticipated of these includes a special after-show performance by musician Dave King. The film King for Two Days documents Kling’s two-day performance at the Walker Art Center. After the screening, King will perform at the Aster Café next door with his new band, Dave King Trucking Company. Another anticipated music-themed after party includes the celebration of the Andrew Bird part-concert, part-documentary film: Andrew Bird: Fever Year. This too will take place at the Aster Café with performances from Ghostband, Jake Hanson, and Neil Weir.


Tom’s project, The Minnesota-Made Showcase, is comprised of a mixture of both Minnesota filmmakers and films shot in Minnesota. The showcase started off with a broad call of 200 submissions (Tom watched all 200 films twice within a month!). These films are described by Tom to pursue the showcase’s title in the unique way of being “made.”

“They are handcrafted, one-of-a-kind, very passionately and personally driven visions that these filmmakers are proud to showcase.”

Categories range from documentaries, narratives, features, music videos, to animations. A grand total of 51 films made the cut with Tom praising them to be “a great reflections of the range of work and the depth of talent in this area.” His favorite aspect of this showcase is its ability to “shine a spotlight on the quality of work coming out of the state.” Tom recognizes the outlook on film making, with now having many online outlets such as Youtube, to still hold a sense of mystery and glamour (he chuckles and mentions how it’s not so glamorous). He points out how these filmmakers are truly a part of this unique culture of film and how it is easy to see that reflected in their works.

Not Afraid To Cry

Tom’s passion soon lead us into talk of how several of this year’s films left him in an emotional, sobbing state. One of those films was made by two of this year’s attending filmmakers, Mong Vang and Bryan Vue. Their film, Journey to the Fallen Skies, tells the story of a terminally ill man who journeys to Laos looking to pay homage to his late father whom he never knew. Vue and Vang will be a part of the “Conversations with Minnesota Feature Directors” panel on April 29th. Another that hit Tom hard is a nine-minute short by Maya Washington. White Space follows a debuting deaf poet in his first open-mic performance. Washington is an actress who has worked both at the Guthrie and Penumbra Theater in St. Paul. The film takes place in Los Angeles, but Maya’s strong ties to Minnesota makes her work especially cherished.

A Unique Film Experience

How does the MSP International Film Festival compare to other popular international festivals like TIFF, Cannes, and Sundance? MSPIFF is not a “market festival,” meaning films are not bought and sold. Another special aspect is that none of the films have been previously shown in the area (with the exception of the section called “Broadcast Cinema”). MSPIFF also holds reign over several competition categories. Some unique ones are the Audience Choice Awards, that transcend a few film categories, and the Emerging Filmmaker Award, where support and recognition are given to rising filmmakers. A huge draw comes from its reputation for being creatively strong and critically applauded, but this festival is also much longer than its counterparts. Running for an entire three weeks means even the busiest person can find time to catch one of incredibly diverse array of films.


Single ticket passes are $11 for general, $10 for students/seniors, and $6 for children under 12. “Six-packs” are recommended to fulfill your viewing needs, wherein you can purchase a pack for $58 general or $52 students/seniors and use them for any combination of films, not including the closing night film.

For more information about the films, after parties, and more, visit: WWW.MSPFILMFEST.ORG