In the land of Ten Thousand Film Festivals, it can be difficult to create a distinctive niche. Ethnic focus? Check. Documentaries? Been there. Women's films? Old news.
Making his celebration stand out amid the clutter is the daunting task facing Greg Yolen, founder of the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival. His event is devoted to celebrating emerging filmmakers whose work flies under the radar of established festivals. Sixty films will be screened from Friday through Sunday and compete for prizes and awards. Over half were made by local filmmakers. Entries run the gamut from a Troma-style comedic splatterfest to an adults-only cartoon feature, to short films dedicated to various Minneapolis neighborhoods, landmarks or points of interest.
As in years past the Minneapolis College of Art and Design hosts the festival. In an age of digital distribution, presenting the films in a theater-style venue is an important statement, Yolen said.
"Film festivals are changing with technology. They are now about showing films you will not have a chance to see through conventional avenues. In fact some of the work shown will never have an opportunity to be seen in an auditorium setting again." The festival includes an informal filmmaker lounge where audience members can interact with directors, producers and actors from around the world.
MUFF is also a competition designed to inspire and empower filmmakers. During Sunday's awards ceremony, the makers of the entry that draws the most audience votes will win a week's worth of soundstage time, valued at $10,000, for their next project.
The feel of the festival is very much that of a hardy community of low-budget filmmakers supporting and celebrating one another. Yolen isn't just the event's founder; he directed one of the entries and served as cinematographer on two others. In fact, the festival opens with Yolen's short film "Macumba," about an American couple who accidentally stir up the forces of black magic in Costa Rica.
Also screening Friday is "Abide," M.L. Green's raw slice-of-life starring Twin Cities actors Carson Lee, Amanda Carlisle, Ed Jirak and Alex Cole. A powerful kitchen-sink drama about the power of abuse to poison a family over generations, it was shot in seedy Minneapolis locations that reflect the character's feelings of entrapment and futility. Lee is great as the outwardly tough yet inwardly wounded young factory worker who rules his home through intimidation. Cole makes a despicable villain, as deceitful as he is gregarious.
Another Friday offering, "The Taint" is a lurid exploitation extravaganza replete with rapist zombies, mad scientists, shotgun-toting mamas, hallucinatory special effects and X-rated gross-out gags. The film feels under-rehearsed, to put it mildly, but it will assuredly have audiences squealing in horrified delight. If Ed Wood and the guys from "Jackass" joined forces to make an in-your-face monster movie, it would look a lot like this.
On a more civilized note there's Saturday's "Speakers' Corner," a charming documentary by Gavin White about the space in London's Hyde Park where anyone may mount a soapbox to express views and air differences.
A nonfiction film of a very different order is Sunday's "Eddies: The Documentary." It's a funny behind-the-scenes look at a Calgary beer commercial contest that has become a tradition for local amateur filmmakers. The top 18 entries from a field of hundreds attend a gala screening party that has attained major cult status in western Canada. The winner gets $10,000 in cash. One contestant sums up the goal succinctly. "If you make drunk people laugh, you're doing it right." Which sounds roughly like the mission of MUFF. For a full schedule visit: www.minneapolisunderground filmfestival.com.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186