Ms Piff turns 36 in 2017

It’s here.  Thank God and Goddesses, it’s spring! Two things mean spring in Minneapolis: The film festival and Mayday.
The 36th Annual Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival (Ms Piff to those of us who care), April 13-29, will be bringing us 250 new films from more than 70 countries. What a cure for cabin fever! Finally, a good reason and a good time to go outside and see what the world is thinking.
All films will be shown at St. Anthony Main, unless otherwise noted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MALI BLUES
Mali/Germany

When Radical Islamists take over in Northern Mali, all music gets banned, musicians are threatened with death or maiming and have to flee. They declare music as impure and say musicians brought the devil amongst the people. Female artist Fatoumata Diawara: “Because I cannot imagine a life without music, for a while I thought life was over. It felt like the earth would stop turning.  It’s like a hospital, music.”
Mali musicians will not be silenced. They make music for peace, a tolerant Islam and change in their country. Mali music gets in your mind, body and soul and has been the country’s heart for thousands of years. It reaches deep inside you, gives you chills with its beauty and pain.
Musician Bassekou Kouyate plays an amplified ngoni. The ngoni is known to have existed since 1352 and is believed to have evolved into the banjo in North America after Mande slaves were exported there. Kouyate is an incredible musician and his playing brings Hendrix to mind.
This is a film about the importance and power of music and the danger of religious fanatics. (David Goldstein)
93 minutes
Fri Apr 14 at 4:45 pm (Uptown Theatre), Thu Apr 20 at 2:20 pm, and Mon Apr 24 at 5:25 pm (Rochester Galaxy 14 Cine)

THE NEST (IL NIDO)
Italy/Switzerland

“The Nest” is a tense, honest drama set in a small Italian mountain village called Bucco. A young woman named Cora returns from college to work for her family’s small tourism company, catering to pilgrims who come to see where the Virgin Mary appeared. But just as Cora arrives, so does a stranger named Saverio, who also grew up in Bucco, but who brings a dark secret home with him. Cora is determined to find out what it is, but as she starts to uncover the truth, she finds that its roots lead back to her own family, and her own notion of her past begins to unravel. This film is wound tight with the tensions of small-town life, where the past is buried just under the shallow soil of the present, and it’s a welcome reflection on the stories we tell ourselves about the places from which we come. (Frank Bures)
80 minutes
Apr 15 at 9:50 pm, Thu Apr 20 at 5 pm, and Fri Apr 28 at 2:30 pm

THE REHEARSAL
New Zealand

In this poignant artist-coming-of-age film, a young man named Stanley enrolls in an acting school in Auckland, New Zealand, where he finds himself under the spell of the school’s charismatic leader, Hannah, who runs things with an iron fist. (In some ways “The Rehearsal” feels like a mash-up of the TV series “Glee” and the 2014 movie “Whiplash.”) As Stanley’s group decides on a controversial year-end project, he is put in the awkward position of trying to collect the details of the scandal involving his girlfriend’s sister. This sends him into a moral minefield as he weighs his varying loyalties and tries to decide who to betray. “The Rehearsal” is Alison Maclean’s first films since “Jesus’ Son” in 1999, and it is a worthy comeback. Some of the narrative strands could have been woven together more tightly at the end, but the film will likely be satisfying to anyone interested in questions emerging from the intersection of art and life. (Frank Bures)
102 minutes
Sat Apr 15 at 2:20 pm, Thu Apr 20 at 7:15 pm, and Sat Apr 29 at 9:50 pm

ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE: TRUTH, DECEPTION, AND THE SPIRIT OF I.F. STONE
Canada

I really wanted to like this film.  I love I.F. Stone. I still love him. I subscribed when I was 19 or 20.  I.F. Stone and The Weekly Guardian were my two sources of information in the ’50s and early ’60s. He was my moral guide and mentor.
But this film isn’t much about him, it’s more about the journalists and writers who come after him, and they seem a rather arrogant and self-satisfied lot. Typical is Michael Moore who says, “I can draw a line from I.F. Stone to what I do now.” That gets a bit tedious after a while.
I went to the March on Washington to protest the war in Vietnam in March of 1964. We were small, 35 to 50,000 people. But we knew this was just the beginning of resistance. This moment was our baptism for battle, and the High Priest who blessed us and began the rally by saying, “Welcome to Washington,” was I.F. Stone. The antiwar movement was born at that moment, and, to paraphrase Michael Moore, “You could draw a line from that blessing and that march to the antiwar work of Women Against Military Madness and The Anti-War Committee of Minneapolis today.”
See.
Claims of paternity are tedious.
And the film doesn’t mention I.F. Stone’s greatest investigation.  He stopped doing the Weekly (I think it became a bi-weekly for a couple of years) and learned the Ancient Greek language so he could unravel the mystery of Socrates’ death.  He concluded Socrates was a jerk and probably responsible for Athens losing the Peloponnesian War to Sparta, but he didn’t believe in capital punishment, so he wouldn’t have condemned Socrates to death.
Reading the book was like reading the columns all over again. New information. Things you hadn’t thought about. Relentless logic.
Yes, Michael Moore is probably right, Izzy created a generation that has now created a new generation of journalists and activists.
Yes, you probably should go to the movie.  And take your children.  And tell them, “That’s my grandfather up there.” (Ed Felien)
92 minutes
Sat Apr 15 at 7:40 pm, Tue Apr 18 at 4:35, and Thu Apr 27 at 4:45 pm (Capri Theater)

93 DAYS
Nigeria

The opening of the film takes you directly to First Consultants Medical Centre in Lagos, Nigeria. After that you see the breadth of Lagos in sweeping, wide, beautiful shots that capture the sense of its 21 million inhabitants going about their daily lives.  The stage is then set for the story of courage on every imaginable level as medical personnel from First Consultants, to ordinary people who risked their lives, to experts from the World Health Organization, especially a dedicated doctor from Kentucky, worked to stop the spread of the Ebola virus in 2014.
The warmth, respect, strength and kindness in the interactions among the characters endeared them to me from the beginning and I wished I knew them. This was more of a tearjerker than an academic discussion of how to control an epidemic, although the film is informative on that level. (Elaine Klaassen)
124 minutes
Sat Apr 15 at 1:50 pm and Fri Apr 21 at 2:10 pm

EL AMPARO
Venezuela/Colombia

In 1988, in the sleepy Venezuelan town of El Amparo on the border with Colombia, a group of men get hired for the day to go fishing down the river.  They are singing, drinking and arguing with their wives. They aren’t thinking about the Colombian Army or the Venezuelan Army or about various guerrilla and paramilitary groups active in the area. Only two of the men return. They soon become aware of what the radio says happened to their friends and relatives, but they know the truth of their own experience.
There is turmoil in the village as people realize their powerlessness against the forces around them. What options do they have? The astonishing strength and heroism of the survivors and some of the other villagers is inspiring as they commit to the truth whatever the cost. To this day their struggle continues. The imbalance between the powerful and the powerless goes on. The loose ends in the story, a character named Hilario, and the somewhat inept reporters, were left there because in the actual story they were also inexplicable. (Elaine Klaassen)
99 minutes
Sat Apr 15 at 1:45 pm (Uptown Theatre), Wed Apr 19 at 9:30 pm, and Fri Apr 28 at 9:45 pm

IN BETWEEN (BAR BAHAR in Arabic)
Israel

The first feature film by young female Arab-Israeli filmmaker Maysaloum Hamoud is probably a little bit autobiographical, or at least focuses on a community she knows well, and is all the better for that. Billed as a comedy, it is bittersweet in its humor, but clearly pure sweetness in its affection for the three main characters, a more likeable “Sex in the City” trio than the American originals. There is a clear bad guy in the hypocritical fiance of dutiful Muslim grad student Nour (Shaden Kanbourah); a more nuanced antagonist in the admirable but flawed love interest of attorney and party girl Layla (Mouna Hawa); a terrifying patriarch in the father of Christian lesbian Salma (Sama Jammalieh); and finally a minor but shining hero in the father of Nour: He comforts and affirms his daughter when she breaks off the “perfect” betrothal he had so carefully arranged for her, and she can’t even tell him why. The Arabic title literally means “Land / Sea” and has the connotation of “neither here nor there.” The director and the three female leads all received death threats for this complex representation of women at the crossroads of two cultures and trying to self-actualize under the patriarchy, not easy even in the relatively permissive “West.” (Debra Keefer Ramage)
96 minutes
Sun Apr 16 at noon, Mon Apr 24 at 9:40 pm, and Thu Apr 27 at 9:45 pm

LOOK AND SEE: A PORTRAIT OF WENDELL BERRY
USA

The effects of the takeover of industrialized agriculture in America has caused decades-long devastation for small farms, families and rural communities in America. While this concept isn’t new to most of us, “Look and See” gives a different perspective full of personal narrative, poetry and profound cinematography of the farmland.
The film, told through the lens of author Wendell Berry, follows small farmers in his hometown of Henry County, Ky. The farmers share their accounts of the debt, disappointment and injustice they have experienced through the transition from small to industrial farms.
Berry narrates through reading his poems, stories and thoughts.  Much of the film takes place on his longtime home and farm, which brings an intimate perspective on Berry’s life as an author, farmer and impactful agricultural activist.
Although the tone is entirely somber, “Look and See” is a refreshing divergence from the important but often one-sided food issue documentaries that have become popular in the last few years. The film leaves you with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the story and struggle behind the individuals that bring food to your plate.  (Raina Goldstein Bunnag)
80 minutes
Mon Apr 17 at 7:15 pm, Sat Apr 22 9:30 am

DAGUERREOTYPE (LE SECRET DE LA CHAMBRE NOIRE)
France/Belgium/Japan

This is a long, slow-moving film, but up-and-coming film star Tahar Rahim keeps it alive. His character, Jean, applies for a job with a photographer, Stephane (Olivier Gourmet), who lives in a large house on the outskirts of Paris, a mansion in decay, with charming corners, lovely hallways and perhaps a will of its own. Jean becomes enveloped in the pursuits of Stephane, whose goals and methods could either produce art or lead to death. Stephane’s dead wife calls to him, and to remember her more fully, he insists on endlessly photographing his 22-year-old daughter, Marie (Constance Rosseau). Although Jean is a loyal assistant, he gradually recognizes the plight of Marie. The two young people very naturally turn to each other in the midst of haunting circumstances.
Filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa (not related to the great, influential filmmaker Akira Kurosawa) is an established creator of horror and ghost stories, fascinated with evil. Are the protagonists being consumed by an evil they can’t identify? A lot of the film is shot in half darkness. The story is filled with tenderness and longing.  It’s spooky. The visuals are stunning. (Elaine Klaassen)
131 minutes
Tue Apr 18 at 7 pm (Uptown Theatre), Sun Apr 23 at 4:25 pm (Rochester Galaxy 14 Cine), and Thu Apr 27 at 9:40 pm

PARADISE
Russia/Germany

It’s hard to decide which is the best feature of “Paradise,” Andre Konchalovsky’s film set in France and an unspecified concentration camp. Is it the amazing performances of the three principal characters—Julia Vysotskaya as Russian emigree princess Olga, Christian Clauss as aristocratic Nazi officer Helmut, and Phillipe Duquesne as corrupt Vichy policeman Jules—who form what I guess you could call an unconsummated love triangle? Is it the fact that a film has actually found new angles to explore and new things to say and portray about the most relentlessly documented thing in the 20th century: the Nazi regime and the Holocaust? Is it the astonishingly beautiful cinematography of Aleksandr Simonov, an “ink and porcelain,” retro-monochrome vision that somehow looks almost futuristic, or perhaps outside of time altogether? “Paradise” has all these things, plus a complex tale that utterly sucks you in, and a marvelous plot twist about halfway through and then another one at the end. (Debra Keefer Ramage)
130 minutes
Wed Apr 19 at 2 pm (Uptown Theatre), Fri Apr 21 at 6:50 pm, and Thu Apr 27 at 4:15 pm

CHURCH OF FELONS
USA

Jordan Mederich, based in Osceola, Wis., won the Best First-time Filmmaker Award at the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards for this riveting 87-minute film. The narrator tells us that Wisconsin has no minimum drinking age, that OWIs (which often involve boats, motorcycles and snowmobiles as well as cars) are treated casually for the first-time offense, and that 9% of Wisconsin mothers self-report drinking throughout their pregnancies. Unsurprisingly, the state, and Polk County in particular, have crippling rates of drug and alcohol related crimes and traffic accidents. (Polk County also has a serious meth problem, along with the usual prescription drugs and weed.) The documentary tells the stories of four especially harrowing cases, and of the tales of redemption which flow from the Osceola Community Church, a place rich in music, forgiveness and felons. Along the way, other offenders, family members, victims, and one single prosecutor, who, in a shocking twist, is himself stopped on an OWI, offer their surprisingly gentle, loving and merciful takes on it all. (Debra Keefer Ramage)
87 minutes
Thu Apr 20 at 7:10 pm and Sat Apr 29 at 2:30 pm

BARAKAH MEETS BARAKAH
Saudi Arabia

An ordinary young guy, Barakah, who works for the city government enforcing nit-picking regulations, is swept off his feet by Bibi, a young woman in the grip of Western-style materialism. Each leads a quirky life. Barakah’s cook is a midwife involved in spells and incantations, his drunken uncle is the keeper of eternal wisdom, and, together with an eccentric friend, Barakah acts in all-male theatrical company. Bibi, whose real name suggests the two were destined for one another, is an Instagram star with endless cash, noble ideals and a domineering mother. The two young people are thwarted at every turn by the separation of genders that exists in modern Saudi Arabia.  In every breath of this sweet, funny and sad love story, the repressive, anti-humanistic, religious fanatic regime is criticized. Toward the end of this visually delightful film, there’s a short historical reference to the events of 1979 that led to today’s clamp-down. It doesn’t seem possible that this film was allowed to leave Saudi Arabia, but it has been premiered— and lauded—in Europe, North America and South America. (Elaine Klaassen)
84 minutes
Thu Apr 20 at 9:35 pm, Sat Apr 22 at 5:15 pm, and Thu Apr 27 at 9:45 pm (Rochester Galaxy 14 Cine)

VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST
USA

Some people find a passion (or obsession) in childhood which forms their life trajectory. Vince Giordano, band leader (The Nighthawks), musician and archivist of Tradjazz/Hot Jazz stock charts from the 1920s and ’30s, is one of them. Dave Davidson and Amber Edward’s profile gracefully integrates music history and Giordano’s personal history with plenty of performance and artist interviews. In the process they recognize the team effort that forms the essence of any successful band. Whether or not this genre holds allure, this film has educational value on many levels.
In the 1980s Giordano’s height of success as a revivalist hero was largely based out of Sophia’s in Manhattan. The film highlights gigs in diverse locales including Music Mountain, The Newport Jazz Festival and Wolf Trap Farm, where the Nighthawks are featured by Garrison Keillor on “A Prairie Home Companion” broadcast. There’s plenty of backstage footage here including reference to a comment Keillor made as he recognized band member Andy Stein from his days with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Fans of the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” will be quite familiar with Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks. Fun will be had by all. (Nancy Ruppenthal)
90 minutes
Fri Apr 21 at 2:40 pm, Sun Apr 23 at 2:30 pm

KATI KATI
Kenya/Germany

Somewhere in the countryside of Kenya is a resort that is not a resort. The place is called Kati Kati, which is Swahili for “in between.” It is where a young woman named Kaleche finds herself with no memory of how she got there in this brilliant, unexpected film. She is there, the others tell her, because she is dead.  After she comes to accept this, she tries to adapt to the strange rhythms of life—if that’s what it is—in Kati Kati, under the direction of Thoma who seems to be a kind of leader. At the same time, she knows she must try to remember her former life if she has any hope of continuing on her journey from the place where she is to wherever it is that she will be. (Frank Bures)
75 minutes
Sat Apr 22 at 11am, Wed Apr 26 at 9:45 pm

BILL FRISELL, A PORTRAIT
Australia

Bill Frisell, virtuoso composer and guitarist, is an international treasure. Emma Franz has managed to replicate his calm and unhurried/unharried personal and musical demeanor throughout her film in a most refreshing fashion. Viewers can settle in for a truly naturalistic journey, meeting many artists, groups, venues and insightful musings all the way.
The Twin Cities have had the good fortune of many performances by a number of Frisell’s groups in the past decade or so. For newcomers to his music, this film will be a fine introduction. A picture of Frisell’s influences and development are interwoven with solo and collaborative interviews and sessions showing his wide-ranging, cross-genre talents. Add to this the commentary of a long list of artists (Bonnie Raitt, Joey Baren, Jim Hall, Jason Moran, John Abercrombie, Paul Motian, Jack DeJonette and Ron Carter, to name a few). This is vastly satisfying material for the improvising culture as well as high quality education for the curious. For the Paul Motian fans out there, segments of Paul’s last performance appear in the film.
Folks raised in any musically cultish environment may view Bill Frisell as a liberator of sorts. He has worked his way from any restrictive ideas about taste and genre to an authentic ability to recognize and honor the music that moves him. Think of the film as a rare oasis from politics in any form. Yes, it’s possible. Yes, you need it. (Nancy Ruppenthal)
114 minutes
Mon April 24 at 6:45 pm, Fri Apr 28 at 4:30 pm

40 YEARS OF MAY DAY
USA

This film is a collection of short documentaries that capture the spirit of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre’s annual May Day Parade, Tree of Life Ceremony and Festival every first Sunday in May in Powderhorn Park. It’s a lovely compilation with stunning photograpy by local photographers and filmmakers.  Mike Rivard, Daniel Polsfuss and Will Hommeyer are responsible for the three major sequences.  Sandy Spieler, the artistic director for its 40-plus years, begins the film by saying the Mayday Parade began as a kind of protest to the war in Vietnam, “But the strongest form of protest is to build community.  War tears us apart as a community.  Mayday tries to bring us together.”
1975, when the first Mayday Parade marched down Bloomington Avenue to Powderhorn Park, was a unique moment of revolutionary optimism.  I felt very much a part of it.  I was elected to the City Council in 1974, and (as an unrepentant Maoist) I was proposing municipalization of the electric company, rent control to protect renters, a gay rights ordinance (that actually got passed), etc.  Some ultra-left revolutionaries took over the food co-ops they had begun just a few years before and tried to change them from food boutiques into proletarian fast food take-outs.  They had the best of intentions, most of them, but they had a left-dogmatic analysis that ended up alienating everybody. Out of all that chaos, the Mayday Parade is all that remains.  And it is a continuing beacon of hope at the end of winter.
More than 50,000 people come every spring to participate and be part of the annual ritual. The raising of the Maypole celebrates a rite that must go back before recorded history for those of us whose ancestors came from Northern Europe. Mayday would be the point midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It was time to signal to the village, to the community, to the tribe, that it was time to begin planting. The erect Maypole stood as a phallus against the sky, a symbol of fertility. The community danced around it, anxious for its blessings.
Mayday always captures that spirit. There is always hope. But it is a hope that understands there are problems. We are not at the Promised Land. We have miles to go before we reach the Promised Land, but we are marching there together. And maybe that’s it. Maybe we never actually get there. Maybe getting there, is going there with people you love. Maybe this, here and now, is the blessed community.
You can taste that moment of hope and the blessed community this Mayday, Sunday, May 7, at about 12 p.m. when the Parade starts down Bloomington Avenue and around 2 when it starts the pageant and the raising of the Maypole in Powderhorn Park. But every Saturday in April from 9 to 11 and from 1 to 3, and every Tuesday and Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m., you can participate in workshops building puppets and costumes to wear in the Parade.  You can be part of the Celebration.  It’s at Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater at 15th Avenue and Lake Street in the old Avalon Theater.
Happy Mayday! (Ed Felien)
98 minutes
Wed Apr 26 at 7 pm and Sat Apr 29 at 11:10 am

ZOOLOGY
Russia/France/Germany

Natasha is a very depressed Russian woman in her 50s who lives with her mother and has a miserable job with petty, abusive co-workers. Her drab existence is compounded by dizziness and lower back pain that lead her to a series of awful doctors’ offices. Oh, and did I mention that she grew a tail? While being X-rayed she develops an uplifting romance with Peter, the radiologist. Natasha has a renewed zest for life, gets her hair dyed and styled and buys sexy clothes as she enjoys her new relationship. Still, things are not all peachy. She gets demoted at work and is eventually forced to resign. Her romance is beginning to show signs of waning and her depression returns rapidly.
This is a little gem of a film that lays bare sad reminders of life in Russia. Particularly if you are gay, not the ‘right’ religion, an outspoken artist or just not like everybody else. (David Goldstein)
87 minutes
Wed Apr 26 at 9:50 pm and Sat Apr 29 at 9:40

BEYOND STANDING ROCK
USA

This film was confusing.  It seemed to tell the story of three tribes who are involved in disputes with their communities. There was a lot of excellent camera work, and a lot of interviews and some vague voiceovers. There’s a newsreel about Standing Rock; the Ute tribe in Colorado that is deeply involved in the petroleum business; and the four corners area, which was declared a national monument by President Obama in the waning days of his presidency.
There is really no clarity on any of these situations—no guidance from the producers of the movie, and I was left unsure of what to do with the information provided. They ended with Donald Trump’s speech as he took the oath of office. Were they saying Trump was the solution? The problem? I am at a loss. See it if you want raw data, but don’t expect any analysis.  (David Tilsen)
71 minutes
Sat Apr 29 at 2:20 pm

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