Behind the Scenes: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival
MSPIFF programmer shares the process of selecting films to present at the largest film festival in the Upper Midwest.
Photo by Andrew Lussenhop
The 37th annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF), which starts today (April 12) and goes until April 28th, presents more than 250 bold and impactful films from new and veteran filmmakers around the world. But where do all these films come from? I had a conversation with one of the programmers at the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul, Craig Laurence Rice, to get the behind the scenes perspective on the selection process.
According to Rice, the festival is geared towards international, independent cinema. In order to find films for the festival, Rice and the other programmers travel to film festivals all over the world like Sundance Film Festival, San Sebastián International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and more. Filmmakers can also submit their films directly to the Film Society by email or through Withoutabox.com or FilmFreeway.com. The Film Society starts taking submissions in September the year before the festival and requires each filmmaker to submit their film to one of the festival’s categories in order to highlight the diversity of global cinema today. Cine Latino, Frame Forward, Images of Africa, and World Cinema are just some of the programs filmmakers can submit their films under. The lineup this year consists of films that come from more than 70 countries.
Rice also stated that the Film Society receives around a thousand submissions each year. Each programmer watches their share, makes their picks, and then comes together with the group to create a lineup. The time a film is shown is pertinent, therefore, each film must be meticulously placed in the lineup. For example, a children’s movie should go earlier in the day, while a horror movie should be shown later in the night. And that is not even taking into consideration the filmmakers. Each year of the festival, a certain number of filmmakers come to screen their film and have a Q&A afterwards, this year more than 60 international filmmakers are attending. This means that they must also consider the filmmaker's schedules when creating the lineup.
When I asked Rice what he looked for in the films he selects, he stated, “We look for films from different countries and cultures. Films that are specific to humanity. We look for really quality films, films that stand out and carry a message with them.”
Rice said that his job is to find films made in Minnesota or by Minnesotan filmmakers. Because of this, three of the films he is most excited about are just that. Rice recommends three films for festival-goers to check out if they are looking for some local flavor: Risking Light, Smitten!, and Virginia Minnesota. Risking Light and Virginia Minnesota are both Minnesota-made, while Smitten! is written, directed, and produced by the state’s own Barry Marrow, screenwriter of the 1988 Best Picture Winner Rain Man. He also recommends We Are Columbine, a documentary made by Laura Farber, a documentary filmmaker and survivor of the 1999 Columbine school shootings. Farber interviews student and faculty survivors on how the shooting changed their lives forever.
MSPIFF is showing films at six different theaters in the Twin Cities, with most films showing at St. Anthony Main Theatre. The festival draws a growing audience of over 45,000 film-goers each year, so make sure to get your tickets before they sell out!