Amid Saturday morning’s snow, Bonnie Palmquist arrived at the movie theater armed with a thermos of coffee and a bag of snacks. She carefully unfolded the tickets to the films she planned to see that day. All six of them.
She checked her watch. The first movie was set to start in a half-hour, at 9:50 a.m.
The last? Twelve hours later, at 9:45 p.m.
Palmquist, 72, is a Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival superfan. Since retiring five years ago, she has camped out at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis, the fest’s nucleus, seeing as many films as her schedule allows. That requires stamina and precise planning: When this year’s 17-day lineup dropped, Palmquist began researching her options, reading reviews and watching trailers. She pieced together this year’s schedule and, before the fest began, bought 64 tickets.
“There’s no way I can fit in everything I’d like to see,” Palmquist said. “So then you just take your chances.”
She laughed, then tucked the day’s tickets back into the plastic cover of her festival pass, hanging from her neck. It was time to get in line.
Just after Palmquist found her spot in the theater — second-to-last row, aisle seat — a fellow film fest devotee approached.
“Hey, Bonnie,” said Ellen Abbott, a pass around her neck. “What’d you see last night?”
Palmquist praised one film and panned another with a perfect, concise review: “It was pretty scenery, and the kids were exuberant,” she said. “But there wasn’t much of a story to it.”
They talked about the snow, their schedules. Palmquist expected to miss two film slots for a Minnesota Orchestra concert one night, then a few more for a dear aunt’s funeral. Abbott had committed to a friend’s community concert, then to a long-planned pierogi party.
“I think my count is going to be 63,” Abbott said, “if everything works out right.”
A woman at the front of the half-full theater interrupted the buzz.
“Everybody gets an extra badge on their Minnesota jacket for making it this morning,” she announced, a nod to the unseasonable snow piling up outside. “Welcome to the 37th annual Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.”
That line, repeated before each film, gave the day a kind of rhythm. Before the lights went down, Film Society staffers and volunteers encouraged moviegoers to download the fest’s new app, to vote via paper ballot, to “sit back and enjoy your movie.” A local beer ad, a film fest promo. Each time the screen noted the festival’s 200-plus volunteers, the audience clapped. They clapped after each film, too.
Walking out of “You’re Soaking in It,” a Canadian documentary about advertising, Palmquist tore her ballot at the number 4, her ranking out of five stars, and dropped it into the box.
There was a half-hour before the next film — enough time for a walk. Her stylish silver hair bobbed as she hiked down the long hallway.
“They always say one of the risks of sitting in an airline seat for too long is deep vein thrombosis,” she said. “I figured if I’m sitting in a theater for 15 hours maybe it’s good to get up and walk down the hall and back a few times.”
A love for the silver screen
Palmquist, of south Minneapolis, worked as a nurse anesthetist at North Memorial Medical Center for 36 years. The team traded weekends, holidays. It was tough to commit to the full film festival before she retired.
But Palmquist has always loved movies. Growing up on a dairy farm near Ellsworth, Wis., her family didn’t often get to the single-screen theater in town. But when they did! She was mesmerized by “From Here to Eternity,” which, she notes, “probably wasn’t a children’s film.”
“I still remember that beach scene from when I was a kid,” she said, with a sweet, soft laugh.
In line for the next film, Palmquist ran into another regular. The Film Society estimates that about 20 to 30 passholders each year see 50-plus films during the fest. Mike Monsor still works full time, so this year, he’ll catch “just” 40 films. “I don’t know many people’s names,” Monsor said, “but there are faces you see every year.”
Monsor, 64, uses the festival to travel the world. A few years back, he saw a film that featured young people from a far-off country, talking to the camera about their lives — their prospects and their problems.
“That was fabulous,” he said. “And I couldn’t possibly see that any other way — unless I was committed to being a world traveler with a backpack.”
A volunteer carrying a sign for “Theater 4” led the passholders upstairs for the next film in Palmquist’s pack of tickets, “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts.” Palmquist watches most films quietly, carefully. But during this movie, a feminist revenge western set in Indonesia, she guffawed. Five out of five, she declared afterward, “my favorite so far.”
Next up: “Room 213,” an adolescent ghost story. Halfway through, she nodded off. Outside the theater, as the crowd streamed past, Palmquist paused, holding her ballot.
“It’s your choice,” the volunteer said, waiting. “There’s no ballot police.”
Palmquist hesitated, then tore the ballot on the numeral 3, her lowest ranking of the day. Palmquist is polite, quick to give filmmakers credit. But even she’ll admit that of the dozens of movies she sees, there are always a few duds.
Living on snacks
Before the next film, a documentary titled “Our New President,” Palmquist found an empty bench and ate the ham and cheese sandwich she had packed. Potato chips, an apple. “A lot of us live on snacks for two-plus weeks,” she said. Oftentimes, Palmquist schedules less than an hour between films — not enough time to order and eat at a nearby restaurant. “I hate to waste my film time on food,” she said.
Popcorn is for amateurs: “It really gets old.”
Before the next movie, a volunteer broke the rhythm, announcing that because of the snowstorm, the final films of the night would be rescheduled. One man booed. A few of the festival’s regulars sighed: Where, in their already-packed schedules, would they find room? Then the movie began: “Sweet Country,” an Australian tragedy.
Outside the theater, Palmquist and Abbott again compared notes.
“What else did you see after I saw you this morning?” Abbott asked. Palmquist pulled out her tickets, listing the films. At the mention of “Marlina the Murderer,” Abbott put her hand on Palmquist’s arm. “Did you like that?”
“I loved it,” Palmquist said. “It was sweet revenge.”
“That’s quintessential film festival to me,” Abbott said.
They nodded. It was dark outside. The snow had stopped falling. “See you tomorrow!” Abbott said.
Palmquist drove home on deserted roads, slow with snow. By 9:15 a.m. the next day, she was back at the theater, thermos in hand.