Scene & Heard: Strong films, record crowds push TCFF to bigger, better things

Twin Cities Film Fest Executive Director Jatin Setia (left) and Managing Director Bill Cooper stop for a photo on the red carpet during the 2013 festival. (Submitted photo)

Prior to each screening at the Twin Cities Film Fest, whoever presents the film asks for a show of hands to see who is attending the festival for the first time.

Often the response is around half of the crowd.

That, however, wasn’t the case on the final night of this year’s festival, when Executive Director Jatin Setia asked that question of the crowd assembled for a screening of likely Oscar contender “August: Osage County.”

“Almost the entire crowd raised their hands,” Setia said. “That really showed me that there is a need and a want for this festival.”

It’s that kind of exposure with mainstream audiences that has Setia excited about the festival in both the long- and short-term, noting that it’s studio films like “August: Osage County” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” that draw people in and introduce them to the festival and the independent films it features.

Having strong attendance at those studio films, most were sold out this year, also makes it more likely that the studios will continue sending their bigger films on to TCFF going forward.

With an eye already focused on 2014, Setia said 2013 was another year of strong growth and solid programming.

“A success in all aspects,” he said. “Sponsorship was up, attendance was up and we hit all of my goals.”

Some of this year’s challenges, Setia added, were good problems to have, such as not having the capacity for certain events and screenings. Simply signs of fast growth for a festival in only its fourth year.

In terms of his goals for the TCFF staff, which is made up exclusively of volunteers, Setia said he tried to set reachable, measurable goals.

A good example of that is the social media presence TCFF had prior to, during and following the festival.

“That was something we talked about with our Social Media Manager Ingrid Moss,” he said. “We really wanted to step that up this year and we let her grab some people to help her out and that she could mentor.

“Our overall reach was great this year .. as expected.”

Not only was this the largest audience year for the festival, but it was also the most attended by the filmmakers whose work was featured in the festival.

Many of those filmmakers expressed their gratitude to TCFF staff and praised the young festival for how it’s run.

“Its a filmmaker’s film festival,” Jessica Cameron, director of “Truth or Dare” said. “The festival treats the filmmakers like royalty — there is always panels going on, happy hours happening and parties that the festival is sponsoring to ensure the film makers have  a great time. The staff is kind and professional and genuinely seem thrilled to be there. It was an absolute pleasure.”

“It didn’t seem like a 4-year-old festival,” Molly Green, co-director of “Forev” noted. “Everything I experienced was great.”

Green’s directing partner James Leffler was attending another festival and was unable to attend, but even he was impressed.

“In all of my dealings with [Artistic Director] Steve Snyder it really seems like he wants this to grow and get better … it’s obvious how much he cares.”

Twin Cities native Jake Greene, whose film “Hot and Bothered” received the Best Short award was impressed with organizers, but also praised the Showplace ICON Theater, which hosted the films, and the Shops at West End and the audiences that attended.

“With virtually everything in one location it’s a very easy festival to be a part of,” he said. “And the audiences were there to enjoy the work and not necessarily analyze it, which happens at other festivals.”

Kurt David Anderson, whose comedy “Screwed: The Movie” debuted at the festival said he was impressed with the whole set up, even going so far as to predict really big things for the festival’s future.

“I’ve been to a lot of festivals, including Tribeca and Cannes,” he said. “You can tell when a festival is going to just keep going and when they’re going to blow up.

“I think this is going to be a powerhouse festival in the future … it’s going to be very high on our list [to come back].”

And that future begins almost immediately. On the festival’s closing night it was announced that the 2014 Twin Cities Film Fest will kick off Oct. 16 and will again be held in St. Louis Park; the window for filmmaker submissions will open in January; and Setia has already heard back from current and potential sponsors about next year.

In addition, the festival will continue hosting events year-round, including encore screenings of some of this year’s films.

“We’re planning for a bigger and better 2014,” Setia said. “Our goal is to keep it going and improve every year … we want to be a mainstay in the community.”

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TCFF Award winners

On the closing night of the festival, eight awards were given to filmmakers, actors and community leaders to honor their work.

The award for Best Feature Film went “August: Osage County.” The film, which is directed by John Wells and stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, opens Dec. 25 and is expected to be a strong contender for multiple Oscars.

The award for Best Documentary went to “Antarctica: A Year on the Ice.” The film – directed by Anthony Powell – faced stiff competition from the likes of “The Armstrong Lie” and “Remote Area Medical.”

Comedy short “Hot and Bothered” by director (and Twin Cities native) Jake Greene and his co-director Natalie Irby took home the award for Best Short Film.

The inaugural Indie Vision Award was given to horror film “Delivery,” which premiered in June at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

The audience also had a voice in the awards, with the audience casting ballots after each screening.

Audiences named “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” as their Best Feature and the locally-shot and produced “The First Date” as the Best Short.

The TCFF Breakthrough Achievement Award went to Twin Cities native Emily Frandenburgh for her role in the psychological thriller “Nothing Without You,” which served as the final film of this year’s festival.

Also honored at the event was Sankara Frazier, the executive director and founder of Circle of Discipline, this year’s film fest charity partner. The Minneapolis boxing gym reaches out to Twin Cities youth to not only teach them how to be successful in the ring, but in life as well.

Contact Jared Huizenga at [email protected]