Festival organizer is mad for movies

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2010 - 6:57 AM

It's the first-ever Twin Cities Film Festival, an eclectic, high-quality selection of studio films, independents, documentaries and Minnesota features, with a sidebar of Mexican films for international appeal.

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Jatin Setia in the festival's loft in the Ford Centre in Minneapolis Monday afternoon.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Growing up in New Delhi, Jatin Setia considered a trip to the movies a joyous event. The theaters were vast 1,000-seat auditoriums, the audiences energetic, the atmosphere circuslike.

"On Friday evening that was the place to be, no matter who you are or where you come from. It was the only place I knew where caste and creed didn't matter. You could be sitting next to a servant or a millionaire. They're all hooting and hollering. On the mezzanine level there's people dancing," recalled Setia, 30, of St. Louis Park. Being a part of the hoopla was a transformative experience.

"Passion is the only word I can use to describe this feeling. I've never had this kind of passion for anything else in my life."

Setia, who moved to Minnesota in 1997 to attend college, didn't feel that kind of passion in the corporate world, working as a financial analyst for United Health Group. He envied the creative excitement his wife, Una, enjoyed as a performer with the Christopher Watson Dance Company and the Kinetic Kitchen.

For the past three years, Setia toyed with the idea of launching a film festival of his own. A workforce reduction in 2008 "solidified the idea that this would happen for me" and offered him the free time to focus on the project. While working as a freelance event marketer and part-time actor in industrial and corporate films, he began pulling together the five-day festival that kicks off Tuesday.

It's the first-ever Twin Cities Film Festival, an eclectic, high-quality selection of studio films, independents, documentaries and Minnesota features, with a sidebar of Mexican films for international appeal.

No one could argue that there is a shortage of such events here. There's the huge Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival each spring, an effort to bring the entire world to Minnesota's doorstep with exotic offerings that cineastes would be unlikely to see anywhere else. There's the music-oriented Sound Unseen (coming Oct. 6-10), specialized Polish, gay, Arab, black, Jewish, Italian and French series, the globetrotting Beyond Borders lineup, even a Bicycle Film Festival.

Come one, come all

Some observers would argue that we're already at the saturation point. Still, Setia believes there is room -- in fact a need -- for another that "entertains and energizes the community," a come-one, come-all festival that re-creates the buzz he felt as a kid at a Bollywood premiere. And Hollywood agrees.

Paramount, Fox, Magnolia Pictures, Summit Entertainment and several other studios are sending prestigious films to the new festival, building momentum for the upcoming awards season. Filmmakers will be on hand, as well. Davis Guggenheim, director of the Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth," will open the series Tuesday night (see page E9). He'll introduce his controversial documentary on America's public-education crisis, "Waiting for Superman," and field audience questions. Director Tanya Hamilton appears Thursday to present her film "Night Catches Us," starring "The Hurt Locker's" Anthony Mackie as a Philadelphia Black Panther at odds with the organization he once embraced. "Fair Game," the Sean Penn-Naomi Watts thriller about outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, wraps up the festival Saturday; producer Bill Pohlad has been invited to closing ceremonies.

Other highlights include the Diane Lane-John Malkovich horse-racing drama "Secretariat," based on the true story of the 1973 Triple Crown winner; "Nowhere Boy," a dramatization of John Lennon's early years, starring Aaron Johnson and Kristin Scott Thomas; "World's Largest," a documentary about small towns coast to coast that court tourism with huge statues of strawberries and lumberjacks, and "Backyard," a Mexican police drama set in the murder capital of Juarez. A selection of eco-themed documentaries also will be presented free of charge.

The directors of all Minnesota features and shorts will introduce their work, said programmer Bobby Marsden. A live screening "means more than sending it around on YouTube or Vimeo," he said. "To hear the applause, the jeers, and get the feedback in person is a really nice thing."

The screenings are divided between theaters at Block E and the Mall of America, with a showcase of Minnesota-produced music videos and live bands, including Cloud Cult, Mark Mallman and Sick of Sarah, at the Fine Line Music Café on Thursday. A festival pass costs $175, offering admission to all three dozen programs except the opening-night gala. Tickets for "Waiting for Superman" and the after-party at Crave restaurant are $25, as are tickets for "Fair Game." All other features cost $12. This year's MSPIFF offered a $225 pass to 140 films, with single tickets priced at $8 to $10.

Setia hopes to position his festival as a complement to MSPIFF, not a competitor. He scheduled his series six months after MSPIFF, and has selected mainstream fare unlike the older festival's specialized art-house slate. Most of the major films are scheduled to arrive in theaters over the next few weeks or months.

There is no assurance that the festival will succeed. After several years of summer programming in St. Paul, the Solstice Film Festival went on hiatus in 2009. But if TCFF works, it will be a bonus for the local film community, Marsden said.

"At the end of the day if it works, that's only going to make it easier for any other film festival to prosper."

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

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  • TWIN CITIES FILM FESTIVAL

    What: A new five-day event featuring studio and independent features and documentaries.

    When: Sept. 28-Oct. 2.

    Where: AMC Block E 15 in Minneapolis, and the Theatres at Mall of America in Bloomington.

    Tickets: Details on tickets, passes and reserved seats for free screenings, at www.twincitiesfilmfest .org.

    inside • 8 festival films reviewed E8 • Director Davis Guggenheim on his festival-opening documentary on public education E9
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