Two of the ten directors competing for this year's Sundance Film Festival grand jury prize are from Minnesota, but they took opposing routes to get there.
Whereas Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. always wanted to make movies, culminating in this year's "Wild Indian," Erin Vassilopoulos, who is competing with her feature "Superior," followed a windier path.
Vassilopoulos, who grew up in Burnsville and graduated from Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, loved movies as a teenager but studied English and philosophy, along with film, at New York University and the University of Wisconsin. Her plan was to look for work in film curation at a museum, but she became intrigued when a friend got a job teaching English in Spain.
"It seemed like the right time in my life to do something like that so I ended up moving to Madrid for a couple of years, and while living there got my first little handheld camera and started editing and shooting videos," said Vassilopoulos, who lives in Brooklyn.
Greater support of the arts in Spain made filmmaking seem attainable, so when Vassilopoulos returned to the U.S. in 2012, she enrolled in graduate school at NYU. There, she and a few friends made a short about twin sisters. Inspired by the small towns near the shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin, she called it "Superior," although she actually shot it in upstate New York.
"I became really close with the twin sisters, the lead actresses, Alessandra Mesa and Ani Mesa, and a few years after that Alessandra and I sat down to write something together," said Vassilopoulos.
That turned out to be a full-length "Superior," which was filmed in New York in late 2019, in time to spend much of last year in postproduction.
"I felt super-lucky to have this to finish during the pandemic," said Vassilopoulos. Her drama is seeking a distributor at Sundance, which offers a combination of virtual and in-person screenings this year. Tickets to two online screenings of "Superior," Saturday and Monday, are available at festival.sundance.org.
Vassilopoulos is bummed to miss the Sundance experience at its Utah home but is pleased this year's fest gives crew members and friends a chance to watch "together" online, with a virtual toast and after-party.
"When we got the call, I was so thrilled. Especially in this really difficult time it's such a boost for all our cast and crew," said the writer/director. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done and I'm proud to share the movie at Sundance for the first time."
A third film in the competition, "On the Count of Three," was produced by Minnesota native Adam Paulsen.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367