Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2018 OPENING NIGHT: Time For Ilhan Documentary & Green Book Reviews

What a day! What a night! It’s the ninth year I’m covering TCFF (yep that’s right, I’ve been with this amazing film fest since its inception) and they’ve done it again. They had not one but TWO opening night film and they’re both amazing! (scroll down to view my brief write-up of Time For Ilhan and Green Book below).

I had an early start this morning and was greeted by a beautiful blue sky in a crisp Autumn day (welcome back sunshine, we’ve missed you!!) I had a chance to hang out with Michael Driscoll, the filmmaker of the gorgeous b&w noir short film Two Black Coffees (which you can read all about it here). He’ll be here for the duration of the fest on his first visit to Minnesota! If you want to see his film, along w/ many other great shorts, be sure to get your tickets to the Thrilling, Tingling Tales on Thursday, 10/25 at 9:15pm.

Wish I still had enough energy to attend the Opening Night party… but it’s already almost 11pm by the time the Green Book screening + Q&A and I still have to do my blogging duties. Well, there’s still 10 more days left at TCFF, it certainly was off to a smashing start!!


TIME FOR ILHAN

“Time For Ilhan” is an eye-opening documentary that follows the 2016 Minnesota House of Representatives campaign of Ilhan Omar, a Somalian immigrant who sets out to unseat a 43-year incumbent and other challengers.

I love when a film title captures the essence of the film so perfectly, and Time For Ilhan is one of those films. Many of you know Ilhan Omar as the first Somali-American legislator elected to office in the United States and there are certainly many ‘firsts’ in regards to her life and career, and what she represents. In fact, one audience member asked her how it feels like to represent not just her Democratic party, but SO much larger than that… that is her Somali-American community, the Immigrant community, her race, Muslim women, and women in politics in a very much white-male-dominated world.

Interestingly though, at the time she was running in the DFL primary for the Minnesota House of Representative, she was running against a 43-year incumbent (Phyllis Kahn, who happens to be a Jewish-American) and a fellow Somali-American Mohamud Noor. Though we know the outcome already (she is now the DFL nominee for U. S. Representative), the film was still quite suspenseful as well as heart-wrenching in the way they depict a political race, especially involving the underdogs.

I appreciate and admire filmmaker Norah Shapiro‘s astute directorial sensibility in making an important film that’s also entertaining to watch. I love that aside from the political campaign, she took the time to show Ilhan’s family life… her playing with her three kids, having dinner with her family and interacting with her supportive Somali-American husband, Ahmed Hirsi. There’s more than just Ilhan the politician, but we see her as a well-rounded, complex, layered individual who has the courage and drive to fight for what she believes in. Additionally, the film also gives insights, especially for people like me who aren’t much into politics, just what goes into campaigning and how intricate that process is.

Naturally, given the nature of Ilhan Omar’s ethnic background and who she represents, this is quite an unprecedented political race that makes for a fascinating documentary. I have to give a shout out to DP Chris Newberry (who’s also the film’s producer) for the wonderful visuals showcasing the beautiful state of Minnesota.

What a treat it was for those attending the TCFF screening to see Ilhan Omar herself up on stage with director Norah Shapiro. She was as cordial and well-spoken as you see her on the media. As a woman of color and US immigrant myself, she certainly inspires me to be courageous and pursue my dream, no matter how seemingly-impossible that is.

Ilhan Omar & Norah Shapiro at TCFF Q&A after the screening


Check out the TCFF red carpet interview with Ilhan Omar:


GREEN BOOK

A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.

I have to say that this film had me hooked right from the poster and the trailer. But when I first saw that the director is Peter Farrelly, I had to do a double take. I mean he’s known for his comedies like Dumb & Dumber, Something About Mary, etc. and I expected this to be a drama. Well, this is one of those films that play with your expectations… and Farrelly certainly succeeds in finding the perfect balance of comedy and drama in capturing a poignant and heart-warming true story.

The film is based on a screenplay written by Nick Vallelonga, who happens to be the son of Tony Lip, one of the two protagonists of the film. It’s a tale of unlikely friendship as they embark on a journey that changes their lives forever. I knew that they had a winner when they cast Viggo Mortensen (a Danish thespian who’s completely believable as an Italian) and the oh-so-regal Mahershala Ali as a Jamaican-American classical pianist Don Shirley, a musical genius. The title refers to an actual book, a road-trip guide to services and places that’s open to Blacks during a time of pervasive racial discrimination. Without giving too much away, the film touches on the reason Shirley chose to do the tours in the Deep South in the 60s, when he could’ve easily chosen to stay relatively safe in the North. I’m not going to write the line here as it’s better for you to discover it for yourself when you watched it. It’s one of the moments I teared up in this film.

The racial injustices Shirley face is a deeply serious subject that’s maddening and heartbreaking, and the film doesn’t shy away from that. Yet there’s a lightness to the film that comes from the script AND the performances of the two actors. Some scenes, like the KFC scene in the car, is a riot. Yet the hilarity doesn’t undermine the gravity of the subject matter. There are many memorable moments where these two extremely-different people clash day in and day out. But much to their surprise, each of those moment actually brought them closer to each other. Each of them is a changed-man after the trip, and that transformation feels real and believable, not at all tacked-on.

It’s the kind of film that sparks conversations about race and economic disparity, even ‘class’ system if you will, without being too heavy-handed. One thing that touches me deeply is how the film depicts loneliness. As they say, it’s ‘lonely at the top’ but it’s even more lonely for those who don’t feel like they belong anywhere. Despite his amazing talents and accomplishments, and also because of it, Don Shirley never felt like he can fit in any racial group, and that’s harrowing to watch. It’s one thing to depict racial inequality by presenting facts, which is all fine and good, but it’s truly a moving experience when it’s told in such a personal level and see how hearts are being transformed by personal relationships.

Producer Jim Burke spoke at the Q&A afterwards and shed a light about some details about the film. One thing that caught my eye in the credits is that Octavia Spencer is listed as Executive Producer. Well, Burke said that she was asked to collaborate given that she grew up in the South during that era, in order to give an authentic depiction of the story. Burke also mentioned that Mahershala Ali gave a lot of input about the ending, which is definitely a memorable one.

Go see this movie when it comes out near you. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, sometimes both at the same time… but one thing for sure, you’ll come away feeling grateful you get to know a little bit about Don Shirley and Tony Lip, and their incredible journey together.


Check out the TCFF red carpet interview with producer Jim Burke:


Any thoughts about the two films I mentioned above? Let’s hear it!

Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2018 Preview Gala Recap + Meeting Steve Zahn

Whew!! What a night!! Thank God it’s Friday ’cause I’m still reeling from the festivities of last night’s event. I’ve mentioned in this post that Steve Zahn was TCFF’s honored guest and the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. With 70+ TV/Film works under his belt in his illustrious career, he certainly deserves it!!

I was lucky enough to get a 15-minute interview with Steve just before the Meet & Greet with him at AC Marriot Rooftop Bar Thursday night. Thanks to Jatin Setia (Executive Director) and Bill Cooper (Managing Director) for this amazing opportunity!

I’ll post the interview once I finished transcribing it next week, but let me just say it was truly fun AND inspiring to have a one-on-one chat with the super talented MN-native who remains down-to-earth and kind despite his Hollywood success. We chatted about his theatre background, training at Harvard’s prestigious American Repertory Theater program, before being discovered by Ben Stiler on a NYC play (Sophistry) he did with Ethan Hawke. The play landed both him and Hawke roles in Reality Bites in 1994.

We then talked about some of the highlights of his film career, including working with Christian Bale and Werner Herzog in Rescue Dawn and doing mo-cap acting with Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes. Bad Ape is one of the highlights of that movie for me, and so it was so much fun to see his eyes light up talking about the experience. I too agree with Steve that Serkis deserved an Oscar for his mo-cap acting work!

Check out this video showing clips from dozens of Steve’s movies and tv work:

This year’s Preview Gala was even more festive as the year before, and I LOVE that they converted the ‘stage’ area into an elegant talk-show setting where the JASON Show host Jason Matheson interviewed Steve prior to the award presentation. Steve was his usual charming and funny self, being ever-so-humble and gracious about his career and even thanking his family and friends/mentors who have helped him along the way.

It was truly a fantastic event which made me all the more blessed and grateful to have been a part of TCFF since year one nine years ago!! This relatively young organization has brought SO much to the Twin Cities community, not just the film community but other non-profit organizations promoting and benefiting SO many social causes. Last night there were even puppies from Secondhand Hounds Animal Rescue Organization along with TCFF annual Silent Auction!

Jatin Setia’s FB post from this AM encapsulated everything about last night’s event…

Here are some pics of the festivities… wish I had been able to play with the puppies but I was busy registering guests at the check-in table. I had a blast volunteering with my friends last night, some of whom I’d be hanging out a ton during TCFF in October, yay!


While you’re at it, check out the brand spanking new TCFF website… check it often so you won’t miss any of the news and highlights!


So yeah, TCFF 2018… here. we. go!

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite film festival/event experience?

Hello everyone! I’m gearing up for Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF) coming Thursday. I hope you all will stick around in the next week and a half for the TCFF coverage I’ll bring you, which includes reviews, education o coverage, interviews and more!

FilmFestLogos

I’m super excited for the dozen plus movies I’ll be watching in the next 10 days, which is one of the major perks of having a film fest in town, but also for the excitement that such an event brings. As a film fan, there’s something so exhilarating in being a part of a film event such as this one. It’s my fourth year blogging at TCFF and I can’t wait for what film-related adventure and who I’d get to meet this year 😀

Now, before TCFF, the only film fest I’ve been to was TIFF, but that was nearly 10 years ago in 2005! I hadn’t even started blogging yet at the time, but I did recount my experience of meeting my then crush Gerry Butler following Beowulf and Grendel screening. I hope to visit more film festivals in the future, a friend of mine actually works for a catering company who gets sent to Sundance yearly so I might meet up with her there.

Now, some of you have likely been to either a film festival (either in your town or elsewhere), some have even covered them (check out Bonjour Tristesse VIFF coverage and Terrence’s WSIF coverage). But a film event isn’t just confined to film festivals. Perhaps you attended a red carpet film premiere and got to see the stars up close? Or it can also be something like a special/anniversary screening of a classic film. I know my friend Michael often highlights such an event, such as this one at the Los Angeles Chinese Theater.

So for the fun of sharing amongst film lovers, would you share your most memorable film event experience?

(Feel free to include links and/or photos :D)

TCFF 2011 starts today! Stay tuned for FC coverage & mini reviews

Happy Tuesday, folks! It’s not just another Tuesday on the calendar though, it’s the start of the Twin Cities Film Fest!

Click image to see trailer & buy tickets now

I’m excited to be covering the event starting tonight with The Bully Project documentary tonight, followed by Q&A with director Lee Hirsch.

The cast & director of Like Crazy @ TIFF

I’m hoping to have time to ask a couple of questions during the panel or even talk to a couple of talents such as Tom Sizemore, Anton Yelchin & Like Crazy‘s director Drake Doremus who are scheduled to appear during the event. As I’ve mentioned here, I really like Yelchin so I’d love to get an autograph from him or even a picture together. Last year I didn’t get a chance to really interview anyone, the closest thing was that I got to shake hands with Waiting for Superman‘s director Davis Guggenheim as he arrived at the theater.

I’m also hoping to see more films this year, in fact, my hope is to see at least two films a day starting tomorrow (there is only just the opening night film scheduled for tonight) so I can give you a mini review of them daily.

So I hope you’ll stay with me during the coverage and pardon my lack of comments on your blog as I’m juggling both my job and covering the film fest. In the meantime, I’d ask you this:

What film festival have you attended or be a part of and what’s your most memorable moment about it?


I could use some tips from you film fest pros out there, so please do share!

Tickets are available now on fandango.com or you can buy multi-film passes online as well at a discounted rate. Visit twincitiesfilmfest.org or showplaceicon.com for more information.