It must be almost spring because here comes MSPIFF (the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival). From April 9 to 25 there will be 200 films shown from all over the globe. The Film Society has been showing other than mainstream films since 1962.
To see the full list of films, go to http://prod3.agileticketing.net/WebSales/pages/list.aspx?epguid=02bcf1bd-86b9-4d4d-9d0d-a11ff2a158b2&.
All but one of the films in our reviews will show at St. Anthony Main Cinemas, 115 Main St. S.E. (55414), between S.E. 3rd Ave. and Merriam Street. 612-331-4723. stanthonymaintheatre.com.
The other film, as indicated, will be shown at Northrop Auditorium on the university campus in the fourth-floor Best Buy Theater.
Six related films
BY ED FELIEN
“The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” and “The Dinkytown Uprising” are two must-see films if you want to have some idea of what people were thinking almost half a century ago. Sadly, they both have the same take-away message: The guys were jerks and the women kept the faith.
The Black Panther Party started in Oakland as a legitimate self-defense organization to protect the black community against police brutality, and it turned into a violent street gang dealing drugs. There was a split in the organization at the end between the Oakland faction and Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver was living in exile in Algeria to escape prosecution for a shoot-out with police. He seemed to represent the more international and authentically Maoist faction to some of us in Minneapolis.
In 1970 Mo Burton was organizing a local chapter of the Black Panthers and setting up the Kathleen Cleaver Information Center. I was very supportive and used the underground newspaper I started, Hundred Flowers, to explain and defend the Black Panther Party. Unfortunately, late one night, to fill a hole in the paper, I used the open space to call anyone who was not actively supporting the Panthers or the liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people “chicken-shit bourgeois pacifists.” That was, in Maoist parlance, committing the military error, thinking you could bully your way into changing people’s thinking. The collective that I had organized met and threw me off the paper. Hundred Flowers collapsed soon after.
Mo committed the military error, too. He had rented a small storefront on 38th Street and 4th Avenue. He put sandbags in front of the building and publicly defended it with a pump sawed-off shotgun. He was on parole. He was not supposed to handle weapons. The police arrested him and put him back in prison. The Minneapolis Black Panther Party collapsed.
The mistakes of two male ego trips cost Minneapolis an underground newspaper and a local branch of the Black Panther Party. And the competing egos of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver tore apart the Black Panther Party. Ericka Huggins, Kathleen Cleaver and Elaine Brown, on the other hand, are still doing important political work 40 years later.
Al Milgrom started his documentary, “The Dinkytown Uprising,” 45 years ago. He shows young kids from Southeast Minneapolis occupying storefronts in 1970 to protest the eviction of small shopkeepers on Fourth Street to make way for a Red Barn fast food chain. The occupation soon got taken over by the charismatic David Pence. His sister Ellen did much of the work organizing neighborhood support. Diane Wiley began a free kitchen to feed everybody. David “grew up” (in his words) and has since organized bullies to stop gay kids in rainbow sashes from receiving communion at a mass at the St. Paul Cathedral a few years ago, and he recently wrote a long editorial in the StarTribune calling for a holy war against Islam. Ellen Pence went on to organize the first domestic abuse project in the country that forced the local police to arrest batterers when there is evidence of assault. Diane Wiley organized the National Jury Project to help poor people get a fair trial.
“Belle and Sebastian” and “Secrets of War” are two movies I could have watched as a small child in the late 1940s or early ’50s—against all odds, a small kid and his dog in the French Alps and/or three Dutch kids outsmart the Nazis and help the Resistance. These are beautiful, heart-wrenching melodramas that make you part of the struggle of good versus evil. I have some reservations about the thesis of both films—that the survival of the Resistance was due in part to “good” Nazis.
The new Greek government is attempting to collect more than $600 billion in reparations from Germany for the murders of civilians and the destruction of property during World War II. Records we have of the Resistance in Greece and elsewhere show there were precious few “good” Nazis and a lot of bloody reprisals. When Italian Partisans in Gubbio assassinated the Nazi mayor and his aide, the German authorities rounded up 50 people at random and murdered them.
“The Fool” reminds me of an Indian film a few years ago where a man tried to fight the local political bureaucracy to get a street light turned off. There is a particularly horrific scene early in “The Fool” of a man beating his wife. The police come and ask the woman if she wants to press charges. She says, “No, he’d miss his bonus.” This is exactly the problem that Ellen Pence understood and solved. In Duluth, police were ordered to arrest the man regardless of the testimony of the wife if there was evidence of assault—a simple change that made a world of difference in domestic abuse.
“Good Things Await” is a Danish documentary about an organic farmer and how his faith is tested by government bureaucracy. (Ed Felien)
When 10-year-old Zainab is about to be married off to a local leader, to secure a much-needed peace with a neighboring clan, her mother takes the girl and escapes, so she can escape the fate she herself suffered as a child. When mother and daughter are taken under the wing of a sympathetic truck driver, their fates become entwined. A thrilling plot, a solid cast and beautiful backdrop make this imminently watchable, with several unexpected turns in the plot. It is easy to see why this was Pakistan’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film. But with an unresolved ending that leaves foreign viewers scratching their heads, it’s also easy to see why it didn’t win. (Frank Bures)
93 minutes. Friday, April 10, 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 11, 2 p.m.
Girlhood (Bande de Filles)
French director Celine Sciamma, 36, has completed her trilogy of coming-of-age films with “Girlhood,” to great acclaim. Cast with first-time actors found in the banlieues outside Paris, where it’s based, the film centers on Marieme, 16, her new gang (who rename her Vic) and her family—mostly absent mother, abusive older brother, two younger sisters. The brilliant opening scene is a violently elegant slowmo American football game between teams of Afro-French girls. After the game, the girls walk home together, high-spirited and chatting noisily. As they enter the housing-block yard, falling under the gaze of young men, they immediately fall silent, look down, and melt away in small groups, leaving Marieme alone. After learning that she’s been shunted to technical school, Marieme is recruited by the gang of Lady, Adiatou and Fily, and leaves school. The four of them, poised on the cusp between girlhood and adulthood, find it’s narrowed to two paths for women— marriage, children, invisibility, or drugs, prostitution, powerlessness. Marieme seeks another path. (Debra Keefer Ramage)
112 minutes. Saturday, April 11, 9:50 p.m.; Thursday, April 16, 9:30 p.m.
Writer-director Saskia Diesing’s father had multiple sclerosis and committed suicide when she was 14. The film’s 16-year-old protagonist is Nena, whose professor father has MS. Nena’s extremely close, tender relationship with him is the vehicle through which Diesing thoughtfully explores questions about the right to die. Nena exudes the health and headiness of youth—kissing and playing ball with the boys, biking, taking care of horses and discussing philosophy with her intellectual father—while her father’s body continues to degenerate and he becomes more and more despondent. The contrast is wrenching. The backdrop of television news, reporting the tumultuous events of 1989, is there to show that enormous world events are eclipsed by the personal suffering and turmoil Nena feels as she tries to come to grips with her father’s despair. (Mary Ann Vincenta)
95 minutes. Saturday, April 11, 5:45 p.m.; Friday, April 17, 3 p.m.
The Dinner (I Nostri Ragazzi)
This daring Italian film by Ivano de Matteo takes a Dutch bestseller and skillfully changes it for the better to produce an artful work of social critique and psychological drama. Instead of setting the action in a single restaurant dinner, as does the novel and the 2013 Dutch film of the same name, this film seeks to build our understanding of the four characters at the dinner—a lawyer, his younger second wife, his younger surgeon brother and his wife—through their jobs, apartments and actions over time. The Italian name of the movie means “our kids” and they—the lawyer’s daughter by his first wife and the other couple’s son—are the moral pivot. The kids remain enigmas up to near the end, but we think we know how each of the parents is going to act. We only think we know. This is a hypnotically beautiful look at some ugly truths. (Debra Keefer Ramage)
92 minutes. Sunday, April 12, 6 p.m.; Monday, April 20, 5:20 p.m.
These Are the Rules (Takva su pravila)
A middle-aged couple, Maja and Ivo, live an ordinary existence in a gray, gritty, gigantic apartment complex in Zagreb. They are decent and tidy, joyless but loyal. She finds fault, he is long-suffering. For entertainment they watch TV. Their 17-year-old son, Tomica, is uncommunicative. They are resigned to everything and, in fact, seem always to expect the worst. So when the worst happens, and no one at the hospital or the police station appears to care, they are left on their own to sink or swim. At first they helplessly accept their fate, out of habit, but little by little realize they are more than dutiful cogs in a wheel. Inspired by a 2008 incident that received high-profile media coverage in Croatia, this deeply emotional film is director Ognjen Svilicic’s fifth film. Emir Hadžihafizbegovic’s performance as Ivo is especially riveting. (Mary Ann Vincenta)
75 minutes. Sunday, April 12, 8 p.m.; Thursday, April 16, 2:45 p.m.
Wife and husband writer-directors Joanna Kos-Krauze and Kryztszof Krauze have created a breathtaking biography of the life of Romani poet Papusza, a sterling addition to the already existing body of works based on her life. Born into a musical, nomadic cluster of Gypsy families who wandered through Poland in the early 1900s, Papusza broke with their tradition and taught herself to read and write. When she began singing poems, Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski, a gadjo who briefly lived among them, recognized her talent and facilitated the publication of her poems. Her success put her in tragic conflict with the Romani community and Ficowski spent the rest of his life torn between guilt over the suffering he caused her and his genuine, artistic desire to see her work known and appreciated.The difference between Gypsies and non-Gypsies is clearly delineated throughout the film. The wild, mordant Romani music, the “yesterday and tomorrow are the same” notion of time, and the beautiful award-winning black and white photography reveal the Gypsy way of life. Even as the Nazis hunt them down and the communist government forces them into houses, the Romani remain indomitable. (Mary Ann Vincenta)
131 minutes. Tuesday, April 14, 4:15 p.m.
Documentary director Patricia Perez tells the story of Gastón Acurio, world renowned Peruvian chef. Acurio and his wife rose to fame through their self-named restaurant, Astrid and Gaston, located in Lima. Originally serving French cuisine, they gradually shifted to authentic Peruvian fare. Today they own restaurants throughout the world. Acurio is not just a chef. Several interviewees referred to Gaston’s work as a revolution, as he has not only transformed their national cuisine, but he has also elevated Peruvians’ sense of national pride. The film portrays his almost God-like status in Peru; he is admired by people of all walks of life. He is known for many social justice-based ventures, including funding a culinary school for low-income chefs and constant outreach to the farmers and fisherman who provide food for his restaurants. The great camera shots of delicious, award-winning food will make you very hungry. (Raina Goldstein Bunnag)
75 minutes. Tuesday, April 14, 5:20 p.m.; Wednesday, April 22, 3:15 p.m.
In northern Kenya there is a plant called khat, or “veve,” which generates huge sums of money, a kind of narcotic leaf chewed by many, many people. “Veve” is a film about an ambitious, corrupt aspiring politician named Amos whose power is based partly on his hand in the khat trade. But when a man named Kenzo appears to exact payment for Amos’ past crimes, the plot picks up pace and becomes more complicated. This story of fathers and sons, of ends and means, of violence and love, is well acted and well written and culminates with an oddly moving twist. It also shows that Africa’s film industry continues to gain technical and artistic ground. (Frank Bures)
95 minutes. Thursday, April 16, 2 p.m.; Friday, April 24, 9:30 p.m.
The Iron Ministry
There are over 100,000 miles of railways in China. In 2013, there were more than 2 billion passenger trips. Those trains are, in some ways, a country unto themselves, as J.P. Sniadecki shows in this documentary, which he spent three years filming on trains across the country. The result is a full sensory experience with the noises, sounds and sights of the rails, filled with people from all levels of society, from peddlers cutting up meat in the spaces between cars, to young people on their way to better jobs and lives, to some of China’s minority Muslims in a heated discussion with other passengers. The people Sniadecki interviews bring a life to the film, and you get the real feeling of being there on the train with them. He asks one woman what her dream job is, and she looks out the window and says, “It’s so difficult to find a dream job,” while the countryside rolls by.
82 minutes. Thursday, April 16, 4:45 p.m.; Friday, April 24, 12:30 p.m.
The Russian Woodpecker
In the late 1970s, a pulsing radio wave began to emanate from the Soviet Union across the globe. It became known as the “Russian woodpecker,” and no one knew what it was or what purpose it served. In fact, it was from a Soviet secret weapon located near the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which exploded in 1986. Fedor Alexandrovich was 4 years old at the time. After the meltdown he was taken away from his parent, and radioactive strontium was found in his body. Today, he is an artist and eccentric (or possibly a genius?) and this documentary follows his quest to discover if there was a connection between the weapon and the catastrophe at Chernobyl. Alexandrovich is mesmerizingly entertaining to watch, and his access to former Soviet officials was stunning. Moreover, what he discovers has deep implications not only for our understanding of the Soviet Union’s past, but for the future of dealing with an empire that may merely be biding time, with its heart still beating somewhere deep in Russia. (Frank Bures)
80 minutes. Thursday, April 16, 7 p.m.; Friday, April 17, 7:30 p.m.