Two notes of cheer about films shot in the Twin Cities. The 15-minute drama "Ana's Playground," about children in an urban war zone and shot last November in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, has been shortlisted for consideration as an Oscar nominee in the live action short films category. And "The Convincer," a caper feature starring Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin and Billy Crudup, will have its world premiere at January's Sundance Film Festival.
The tense, ironic "Ana's Playground" has been sweeping up festival awards all year. Writer-director Eric D. Howell , a stuntman and coordinator on just about every feature shot in Minnesota since 1991's "Drop Dead Fred," wrote the script in 2003. In the interim he bounced between stunt work on local films (that's him driving the car getting bashed in "A Serious Man's" fateful fender-bender) and low-level TV directing projects in California. Of those efforts, he said modestly, "you've seen better film on teeth," but they were a valuable learning experience. With wins at four Academy Awards-sanctioned festivals, "Ana's Playground" became one of 10 Oscar candidates to advance in the voting process. Academy members will next select three to five finalists. Nominees will be announced on Jan. 25.
"The Convincer," filmed around the Twin Cities in the summer, stars Kinnear as a desperate businessman whose plot to steal a rare violin backfires with unforeseen consequences. The film was produced by the Minneapolis indie studio Werc Werk Works, which made last year's Sundance opening-night film, "Howl." The 2011 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 20 to 30.