The Minnesota Daily
Twin Cities’ Cinema Paradiso
For the second year in a row the Twin Cities film festival boasts a diverse array of local, regional, national and world cinema.

ByRaghav Mehta

What: Twin Cities Film Festival
When: Today through Sunday (See for a full schedule.)
Where: The Shops at West End, 1621 West End Blvd, St. Louis Park
Cost: Gold Pass (10 Films): $80; Silver Pass (6 Films): $40

In an age where digital media is considered the new standard, most Americans are more likely to stay at home and browse through Netflix before getting in line at the nearest AMC.Movie-going, they say, is slowly becoming a dying tradition. And with ticket sales dwindling, film festivals have become somewhat of a last refuge for the world’s remaining cinephiles.

Now in its second year, the Twin Cities Film Festival will kick off today at St. Louis Park’s West End with a screening of acclaimed filmmaker Lee Hirsch’s documentary “The Bully Project.”

Co-founded by University of Minnesota alumni Jatin Setia and Steve Snyder, and Board of Directors head Bill Cooper, the Twin Cities Film Festival is a six-day cinematic marathon that offers a diverse assortment of big-ticket studio features (“50/50” and “Like Crazy”), local productions (“Lambent Fuse” and “Welcome to America: 50 Days, 50 States,”), world cinema and short films.

“There wasn’t a festival [in the Twin Cities] that catered to the general public. There are niche festivals here that are great, but there wasn’t the whole red carpet feel,” Setia, the festival’s executive director, said. “There wasn’t anything that had more of a wide appeal.”

In addition to the eclectic lineup, the festival also boasts a number of panel discussions, Q&A’s and even a “gaming initiative” that explores the concept of merging video games and cinema to create an entirely new form of visual art.

But despite the variety, the festival isn’t trying to model itself after Sundance or Tribeca. It’s a nonprofit-based organization focused on developing an environment where both amateur and veteran filmmakers can network and support each other’s work. For instance, there won’t be any buyers or big studio representatives out there seeking new blood.

“Everything is an event, and it’s very much about a community. It’s about fostering a visual arts industry in the Twin Cities and the Midwest,” Snyder said. “It tries to help people figure out how to make this their career.”

There’s plenty of local talent lined up for the week too.

Sunday will feature a screening of the coast-to-coast travel doc “Welcome to America: 50 States, 50 Days.” Directed by St. Paul residents Rodney and Roger Johnson, the film documents the brothers’ journey across the country over the course of half a summer. The brothers and their crew landed in Honolulu, Hawaii, on the Fourth of July, marking the end of their trek across America.

“The simple stated goal was when an audience got done watching the movie, we wanted them to ask themselves two questions: When is my next vacation and where do I want to go? We wanted to inspire people to set out and see America,” Roger Johnson said.

Like Johnson, Hamline graduate and “Lambent Fuse” director Matt Cici praises the film festival atmosphere. He said there’s an added bonus too: exposing your film to an audience that might otherwise never see it.

“I’ve never done a feature. And I think feature and shorts are very different. For that it’s more of a celebration of the film,” Cici said. “It’s a showcase of your film in front of a bunch of people who you may or may not know.”

While most movie-goers might treat films as nothing more than potboiler escapism, guys like Setia and Snyder see it differently. It’s an experience. And it’s one that’s enhanced when it’s shared with other people. Setia, who was born and lived in New Delhi for the first 10 years of his life, reminisces on his early experiences at the theater when, even then, he knew it was more than just entertainment.

“I remember that camaraderie when you go to a film and you don’t really know who you’re sitting next to. It could be a millionaire; it could be a rickshaw driver,” Setia said. “And when the lights go down, everyone’s enjoying the same thing.”


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