Making Hollywood take notice

(From left) Danielle Palmer (TCFF Development Director), Jatin Setia (TCFF Executive Director), Matt Dallas (“Kyle XY”) and Steven Grayhm (“White Chicks”) during an August TCFF-sponsored event. Dallas and Grayhm were in town talking about the Kickstarter project “Thunder Road.” (Submitted photo)

In its fourth year, Twin Cities Festival is turning heads

During its four-year history, the Twin Cities Film Festival in St. Louis Park has grown in terms of size, duration and quality of the films it showcases.

And it now appears that growth is not lost on Hollywood.

“Things are hectic, crazy,” Executive Director Jatin Setia said weeks ahead of the event. “But in a really good way.”

Setia said that while organizers have been working to finalize the film schedule, they’ve seen a larger-than-expected number of submissions coming in after the deadline for submissions.

Fall and winter is typically the time of year when large movie studios begin releasing their “prestige films” – those that the studios believe are Oscar contenders.

It’s also the time when many independent filmmakers begin making the festival circuit in hopes of boosting their own chances for awards season as well as securing major studio distribution for their work.

The Toronto International Film Festival marks the start of festival season. This year it wrapped up Sept. 15.

“After Toronto the studios have come out of nowhere,” Setia said. “It’s a great problem for us to have … the studios are definitely taking notice.”

Post-Toronto submissions aren’t unheard of for the festival.

Last year after Toronto the festival was able to secure “Silver Linings Playbook,” which went on to be nominated for eight Oscars, including a Best Actress win for Jennifer Lawrence.

“‘Silver Linings’ came out of nowhere,” Setia said. “We tried to get it earlier, but it wasn’t until after Toronto that the studio agreed.”

Part of the process of growing the festival is working with the studios, which sometimes have a multitude of restrictions, Setia said. But despite that, it’s worth it for the long-term success of the festival.

“When you show the studios and their films respect, you earn respect and they come back to you with better films,” he said. “My goal for this year was to get four ‘Silver Linings’ … I think we got four or five.”

Among the selections for the festival:

Nebraska – After receiving a sweepstakes letter in the mail, a cantankerous father (Academy Award nominee Bruce Dern) thinks he’s struck it rich, and wrangles his son (“Saturday Night Live” alum Will Forte) into taking a road trip to claim the fortune.  Shot in black and white across four states, “Nebraska” tells the stories of family life in the heartland of America. The film is directed by  Alexander Payne, who has won two Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars for “The Descendants” and “Sideways” both of which earned him nominations for Best Director.

August: Osage County – The film tells the dark, hilarious and deeply touching story of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose lives have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Midwest house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them. It’s directed by John Wells and features an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard and Misty Upham.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – Based on the autobiography of South African President Nelson Mandela, the film chronicles Mandela’s early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming President and working to rebuild the country’s once segregated society. Idris Elba (“Prometheus”) and Naomie Harris (“Skyfall”) star as Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) directed the film.

The festival will feature more than 65 other films over its 10-day run.

“I think this year’s crop of films is even better than last year’s and I think that every year,” Setia said. “Content is something we’re really proud of.”

“We have 70 short and feature-length films,” Managing Director Bill Cooper said. “And of those, about 40 percent have Minnesota or Midwest connections.”

Having “local” connections isn’t a requirement for a film to be considered, but Cooper said it’s good to give the festival some local flare and to showcase the industry talent that’s working in the area.

A lot of that talent will be on display during the three blocks of short films with Minnesota ties. Last year there were two blocks, but the quality of submissions required an extra one be added.

Cooper said one thing that makes the festival stand out from other festivals is that most of the key players are involved in the industry.

“We’re really run by people who make films,” he said, noting the group includes actors, screenwriters and producers, among other positions. “Most [festivals] are run by people who know film, but haven’t ever worked in the industry.”

Another sign of the festival’s maturation is the more than 400 submissions that were received.

Unfortunately, that means less than 20 percent were accepted.

“People don’t know how hard it is to tell filmmakers they didn’t make it,” Setia said. “And for most of them it’s simply because we don’t have room for them.”

The festival will also include a number of mixers, panels and other events, including a family-friendly “Make Your Own Guacamole” event and a boxing fundraiser to benefit “Circle of Discipline.” There will also be 20-25 of this year’s filmmakers flying in for the event.
Setia believes that the festival’s programming and all of the events combine to meet the end goal.

“For us, it’s all about experiencing film,” he said.

Tickets can be purchased for individual films or in packages.
The silver package includes 6 films for $50, excluding opening and closing night films.
The gold package includes 10 films for $70, excluding opening and closing night films.
The platinum package includes 12 films for $120, including 2 tickets to an opening or closing night film and a conversation with festival’s artistic director to help choose which films to attend.
Film passes must be picked up at the festival customer service desk – located to the right of the ICON Theatre box office, 1625 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park – 5-8 p.m., Oct. 1-10 or at the temporary office location – The Shops at West End community room, 1621 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park – 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Oct. 17-26.
Individual tickets for films will be available beginning Oct. 1.

If You Go
What: Twin Cities Film Festival
When: Oct. 17-26
Where: ICON Theatre, 1625 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park

Contact Jared Huizenga at [email protected]