My Top 10 Picks from Twin Cities Film Fest

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Well, it’s been almost two weeks since the 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest wrapped. I knew the tough part would be selecting the top 10 and so I took my time posting this. I use the same criteria when selecting my top 10 films from a given year. So when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So with that in mind, I present you my top 10 picks:

[Click on the title to read my full review]

10. Touched with Fire

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I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but the subject matter intrigued me. A directorial debut from Paul Dalio, the film seems to have been crafted as a love letter to bipolar artists and creative people. I was quite impressed by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby who played poets who are manic depressive. It’s a heartfelt and sensitive tale of an unconventional love story.

9. Too Late

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This is one of those unique films in which the risky experimentative film-making style paid off in the end. It’s another feature film debut from Dennis Hauck, and it contains only five 20-minute uninterrupted takes, amounting to 100 minutes of non-linear narrative. It’d be a shame if the style was only a gimmick, but thankfully the story is intriguing and actually quite emotional in the end. Plus it’s got an amazing performance from the criminally underrated thespian John Hawkes. His 2015 Northstar Award of Excellence from TCFF is so well-deserved!

8. Remember

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As I mentioned in my review, there have been so many Nazi vengeance tales been made on screen before and yet this one manages to inject something new and different into the sub-genre. That alone is a feat in and of itself. Director Atom Egoyan made this with not much frills but the film is brimming with mystery and suspense. Boasted by an astute and heartfelt performance by Christopher Plummer, I was engrossed in the story despite not much action in the film. That finale packs quite an emotional punch, and it’ll make you forgive the generic and boring title, as it actually fits the plot VERY well.

7. It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong

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Films that contain mostly of dialog between two people is tricky because a lot is required of the chemistry two actors AND of course, the script. Well, director Emily Ting in her directorial debut certainly managed to create a compelling film thanks to those two ingredients. Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung (who I found out was a real-life couple after I saw the movie) have an effortless chemistry together. Everything flows nicely and in a natural way, the actors seem comfortable and fit the roles perfectly. But the strength of the film is in the dialog (also written by Ting), which comes to life as the night wears on.

6. A New High

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A homeless shelter in Seattle took a novel approach in helping their residents overcome their addictions, and that is to give them an epic goal to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The film shows the residents train for that mission and the drama that happens in the group, led by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, who spearheaded this unorthodox rehabilitation project. The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ and it certainly made me ponder about that in my own life. It’s quite riveting to see each recovering addict face their demons head on, plus the vast splendor of the mountain is absolutely stunning to watch. Directors Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film. Their dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.

5. The Last Great Circus Flyer

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There are a ton of great documentaries playing at TCFF every year and so it’s no surprise they made up nearly half of my top 10 list. This one certainly has one of the most intriguing subject matter. In 1982, Miguel Vazguez performed ‘the greatest feat in all of circus history’, that is the quadruple somersault, during a Ringling performance. He certainly had a fascinating life journey to tell and director Philip Weyland certainly did his story justice. It’s one of the most entertaining and moving documentary that showcase not only a series of amazing–you could say impossible–physical feat, but also a portrait of a truly extraordinary and inspiring individual. Even if you’re not a fan of circus or trapeze act, I highly recommend this one.

4. Thank You For Playing

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Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that. It’s a tear-jerker of a film but one that’s also incredibly uplifting. The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. This well-crafted film should encourage everyone going through a tough time in their lives, and also inspire people to channel their emotion, whether it’s grief or joy, into something truly creative.

3. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

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When I saw this on the TCFF schedule, I knew this would be one I had to see with my husband. We’re both such huge fans of Indiana Jones and we LOVE Raiders of the Lost Ark! The film has a huge dose of exhilarating fun that matches Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece, as it’s truly the greatest homage to a film fueled 100% by genuine passion and creativity. You can’t help but root for the three guys who remade the film shot for shot when they were 11 years old and reunited 30 years later to finish it. It’s also interesting to see how their families share this unusual journey over the span of three decades. Watch for some extra special surprises that would definitely make you want to get up and cheer. A must-see for Indy fans, but really, anyone who loves a good story would be entertained by this.

2. Room

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I’m thrilled that there have been a lot more female filmmakers as well as talents represented this year, one of the reasons I love TCFF! So it’s especially gratifying that two of the main gala screenings feature a strong female performer in the lead. I actually saw Room at a press screening before TCFF started, but I’m still going to include it here as this was TCFF’s opening gala.

Room is one of the most well-acted films I saw the entire year, emotionally heartbreaking but not a dour, depressing film. Featuring one of the strongest lead performances this year, Brie Larson shines as a doting mother who’s kept in captivity in a single room for years. The believable relationship between Ma and her young son Jack is crucial to the film and both Larson and Jacob Tremblay nailed it. It’s a deeply immersive film that really get you into the emotional psyche of the characters, thanks to a shrewd direction by Lenny Abrahamson.

1. Brooklyn

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It’s always wonderful when a film lives up to your already lofty expectations and then some. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect leading lady to tell the story of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to Brooklyn and becomes torn between the new city and her homeland. The story is deceptively simple, but I was swept away by the rich, engrossing human drama that’s brought to life by the nuanced performances of the cast.

This is such a gem of a movie and watching Ronan is her understated yet layered portrayal of Eilis is nothing short of mesmerizing. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. I’m also impressed by Emory Cohen, and actor I’ve never seen before but I certainly want to see more of. He has a James Dean-esque vibe here, charming but vulnerable, certainly a worthy suitor to the film’s protagonist.

No doubt this is Ronan‘s best work among her already illustrious career and I’d love to see her get major acting nominations come award season. Kudos to director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for crafting a beautiful story that’s engaging and full of heart. I mentioned this in my review already but it bears repeating: lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in random order):

Just because these didn’t quite make my top 10, I still think these films are excellent and definitely well worth your time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Anomalisa would make a lot of critics’ top 10 of the year. I love how film festivals always offer *a cure for the common flicks* so to speak, a breath of fresh air from what you see in mainstream Cineplex today.

THANKS AGAIN Twin Cities Film Fest for the awesome lineup!


The TCFF Insider Series kicks off in December, so be a member so you don’t miss out on film screenings/events all year long!

If you miss my TCFF coverage, click on the Twin Cities Film Fest tab at the top of the page.


What are your thoughts on my Top 10?
Which one(s) of these films have you seen or look forward to?

TCFF 2015: It’s a Wrap!! Reviews of ‘The 33’ & ‘Thank You For Playing’ doc, highlights and winners of Twin Cities Film Fest top awards

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Woot woot!! Can’t believe the 11-day Twin Cities Film Fest has wrapped last night. I was far too beat to do any kind of blogging when I got home from the final night Mixer aka after party around Midnight. Thank goodness we’ve got an extra hour of sleep thanks to Daylight Savings Time, talk about perfect timing! 😀

Well, I still have a few reviews in the pipeline that have yet to be published (a collection of short films and indie drama Krisha review will be up tomorrow). Just because the film fest is done, doesn’t mean the TCFF-related posts are over. I got to meet a few filmmakers throughout the night whom I haven’t got around to interviewing and exchanged business cards, so more filmmaker interviews are coming in the next few weeks! I’ll also be working on my Top 10 list from TCFF 2015 (some of which also won the top awards last night).

Well, TCFF ended on a high note once again. The final day started off with one of the great educational panels (a free event!) with cinematographers and DPs working in the industry, including Checco Varese who shot last night’s gala film The 33. Lots of interesting discussions about some technical stuff, and they answered my question about the whole dialog of film vs digital filmmaking.

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THE 33
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The last two films both deal with heart-wrenching subject matters but done in such an inspiring and uplifting way. The 33 chronicled the event that gripped the international community when 33 Chilean miners were buried under 100-year-old gold and copper mine and trapped for 69 days!

Director Patricia Riggen did a phenomenal job telling a compelling story of human resilience and the courage of both the miners and their families above ground who refused to give up. Great ensemble cast featuring Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Rodrigo Santoro, Gabriel Byrne and Lou Diamond Philips. It was exquisitely shot by Checco Varese, which was shot on location in two different mines in Bolivia, Colombia. It certainly looked authentic as the environment of the set made the actors felt as if they were real miners for a while. In fact, the 33 miners were consulted for the film and the final shots showed the real miners who are still as close as brothers to this day. There were moments that might’ve felt too ‘Hollywoodized’ but overall the film didn’t feel emotionally manipulated. The genuinely stirring score came from the late James Horner, which the film paid tribute in the end.

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During the Q&A afterwards, Mr. Varese shared that the mountain would shift during filming inside the mine, just like in the film! He also shared that he’s actually married to the director. What a team, hope they’ll collaborate on a film again in the future!

Thank You For Playing documentary

ThankYouForPlayingPosterRemember I said this year the film fest opened AND ended with a documentary? Well it couldn’t have ended on a better film than Thank You For Playing. The synopsis alone should tell you it’ll be a tear-jerker, but it’s not a sad story, in fact it’s an uplifting one that should inspire everyone going through a tough time in their lives. Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that.

The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. When Joel was one year old, he was told he only had a few months to live but he ended up living for another three years. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. He captured the motion and voice of his son, including his infectious laughter, in the game and took us through the heart-rending journey in making that game. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. Its website called it A Journey Of Hope In The Shadow Of Death and that could’ve easily been the tagline for this doc as well.

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I LOVE that their Christian faith is ever present in the documentary (as well as in the game itself), as they continue to be thankful to God despite their difficult situation. It also showed the church community coming alongside them and helped them through it all, as Amy Green later shared during the Q&A was a huge part of their lives. It certainly altered my feelings about video games, which I tend to see in a negative light given my late brother’s addiction to it. But every form of art can be used for bad or good and in this case, the Green family gave a moving testimony of the empathetic power of the art of video game and how they process their grief through technology. Kudos to filmmakers David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall for crafting such a beautiful and reflective film honoring the memory of Joel Green. It deservedly won Best Documentary at TCFF last night (see more winners below).

P.S. Stay tuned for my interview with filmmaker David Osit in the next few weeks!

TCFF Favorite Moments in pictures…


“Room,” “Brooklyn” and “Too Late” Win Top Awards at 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest

Post by TCFF executive director Jatin Setia

Concluding a star-studded showcase that featured more than 100 films over 11 nights, the largest-ever Twin Cities Film Fest unveiled its 2015 award winners Saturday night at a ceremony held in downtown St. Louis Park.

Top awards went to the critically-acclaimed mother-son drama Room, which just last month earned standing ovations at the Toronto International Film Festival, Brooklyn, the sweeping, much buzzed-about period immigrant drama starring Saoirse Ronan, and Too Late, the daring independent noir thriller starring Minnesota native John Hawkes who appeared in person to receive the festival’s Northstar Award.

“You look at daring stories like Room and these are the kinds of journeys and characters that stick with you for a lifetime,” said Twin Cities Film Fest Executive Director Jatin Setia. “Leaps of faith like that are why film festivals are so essential – the chance to discover great films before the rest of the world sees them, the chance to champion independent projects that deserve extra attention and the chance to talk about the art and the craft with the very artists who are making the next great movie.”

Awards were handed out in nine categories Saturday night. Each category also officially recognized three standout honorable mentions. “Room,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson, took home the trophy for best feature film; Thank You For Playing, the festival’s official closing night documentary directed by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, won best documentary; and Skunk, a short film by Annie Silverstein, won the 2015 award for best short.

Minnesota audiences who attended the festival were invited to cast ballots for the 2015 audience award. John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” took home the feature film trophy (honorable mentions included : “The Dust Storm,” directed by Ryan Lacen & Anthony Baldino; “The Polar Bear Club,” directed by Brett Wayne Price; and “Shut In,” directed by Adam Schindler). Sarah Smith’s “D.Asian” took the top audience prize for short films (honorable mentions included Adam Burke’s “Boardroom,” Matthew G. Anderson’s “The Caper” and Bruce Southerland’s “The Last Vanish”)

“This year’s ballots were noteworthy, because they recognized projects both big and small, and celebrated such a wide and eclectic range of tones and topics,” said Steve Snyder, the festival’s artistic director. “I think the diversity of the voting this year reflected the wider diversity of the Twin Cities filmgoing —and filmmaking — communities. And maybe in that regard it shouldn’t be surprising at all. Year in and year out, we hear from filmmakers and studios alike that it’s the sophistication of Minnesota movie audiences that make them want to debut and premiere here. We know good movies when we see them, we know how to celebrate art that deserves recognition, and I think filmmakers across the country know that.”

As always, the festival culminated with two “Indie Vision” awards, recognizing standout independent productions released over the last year that broke new creative ground. The 2015 Indie Vision Breakthrough Film Award went to the Dennis Hauck thriller Too Late, in recognition of its immersive storytelling techniques. (The film was composed of five unbroken and carefully choreographed 20-minute “acts”) The 2015 Indie Vision Breakthrough Performance Award went to Rosa Salazar, actress in the notable Charles Hood’s romance Night Owls, in recognition of a raw, brilliant and pitch-perfect character arc and a performance that required hitting notes across the emotional spectrum.

Here’s the full slate of 2015 award winners, as well as honorable mentions:

Best Feature Film

Winner:
“Room,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson.

Honorable Mentions:
“It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,” directed by Emily Ting; “Brooklyn,” directed by John Crowley; and “The Quiet Hour,” directed by Stephanie Joalland.

Best Documentary

Winner:
“Thank You For Playing,” directed by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall.

Honorable Mentions:
“Man Vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler, directed by Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir; “A New High,” directed by Samuel Miron and Stephen Scott Scarpulla; and “Out in the Cold,” directed by J.D. O’Brien.

Best Short Film

Winner:
“Skunk,” directed by Annie Silverstein.

Honorable Mentions:
“D.Asian,” directed by Sarah Smith; “Even the Walls,” directed by Sarah Kuck and Saman Maydani; and “Myrna the Monster,” directed by Ian Samuels.

Audience Award, Feature Film

Winner:
“Brooklyn,” directed by John Crowley.

Honorable Mentions:
“The Dust Storm,” directed by Ryan Lacen & Anthony Baldino; “The Polar Bear Club,” directed by Brett Wayne Price; “Shut In,” directed by Adam Schindler.

Audience Award, Short Film

Winner:
“D.Asian,” directed by Sarah Smith.

Honorable Mentions:
“Boardroom,” directed by Adam Burke; “The Caper,” directed by Matthew G. Anderson; and “The Last Vanish,” directed by Bruce Southerland

Indie Vision, Breakthrough Film

Winner: “Too Late,” directed by Dennis Hauck.

Honorable Mentions:
“Anomalisa,” directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman; “Thugs: The Musical,” directed by Greg Bro; and “Out in the Cold,” directed by J.D. O’Brien

Indie Vision, Breakthrough Performance

Winner: Rosa Salazar, “Night Owls.”

Honorable Mentions:
Brie Larson, “Room;” Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn;” Nathan Tymoshuk, “Snail Mail” and “The Writer.”

2015 Changemaker Award:

Dr. Heather Huseby, executive director of YouthLink.

2015 Northstar Award for Excellence:

John Hawkes.

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Shout out to all TCFF volunteers for making the film fest possible! THANK YOU to all who’ve volunteered this year, you all rock!!


Well that’s my recap of 2015 Twin Cities film fest. Hope you enjoyed the coverage so far, stay tuned for some additional reviews and more filmmaker interviews!

TCFF 2015 Opening Night Recap: A New High doc + Lenny Abrahamson’s ROOM (2015)

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Oh what a night! As they do year after year, TCFF 15 opened with a bang… this time with an inspiring, and beautifully-shot documentary A New High! The theater was packed and it’s always nice to find snacks waiting on each of our seats at Showplace ICON Theater (thank you KIND Snacks & Chipotle!)

I was going to skip the after party Mixer but I didn’t as I got to hang out with my friend & fellow TCFF staff Kristen G. and meet Mike Johnson, the director at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission featured in the documentary!


It’s always such a treat to meet the real people involved in the film you have just seen, but in the case of A New High, it’s especially a blessing given how much what Mike’s done inspired me. Nice to see a film that’s so uplifting despite the heavy subject matter, we need more film that celebrate light instead of darkness.

More pics from the night’s festivities, thanks to TCFF photographer Dallas Smith & Jake Hinkley!

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A NEW HIGH Documentary

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I have been blessed that in my life I haven’t had any experience with the struggles the people in this film went through. Residents of a Seattle homeless shelter it’s homelessness, addiction, abuse, and at times, it wasn’t by their own choice as their family did horrible things to them. But really, one does not have to have been addicted to drugs or alcohol to relate with their stories. As the tagline of the film says… everyone defines their mountain. Some of us can be *addicted* to seemingly harmless things, but if that takes over our life and take our focus away of the important things in life, that is something we have to deal with as well.

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A New High focuses on a diverse group of men and women who underwent an unorthodox recovery program that uses mountain climbing as a means of rehabilitation. After one year of intense physical and mental conditioning, the team will attempt to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The project was spearheaded by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, a director at the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Seattle. Right away we saw how much Mike believed in each and every single member of the shelter and he constantly encouraged them to succeed.

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The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ Even though they had to train hard for this arduous mission, Mike emphasized that it does not replace the most important thing about overcoming their addiction. It’s not so much about reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier, but reaching the recovery goal they have set for themselves. I love the vast splendor of the mountain, beautifully-shot and skillfully-directed by Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla. It looks stunning visually, but it’s also an intimate and personal film that makes the audience care about them.

The journey to the summit amidst unpredictable weather is an arduous challenge for even the most experienced climbers. So it’s riveting to see how each recovering addict face their demons head on, mentally and physically. Not everyone reached the top but I think each has come farther than they imagine possible and that alone is so uplifting. If you are looking for adventure, drama, action, and encouragement in a film (and really, who doesn’t?) I highly recommend this one when it plays in your city. And see it in as big a screen as possible for those panoramic shots atop the mountain.

In the Q&A after the film, Scarpulla revealed that he & his co-director also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film, and in a way they have to work much harder to be ahead of the other climbers to film them! Talk about dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.


ROOM

What a stellar pick for the first gala screening of TCFF this year! I actually have seen it two weeks ago at a press screening and so I can’t be more thrilled to see this as part of 2015 lineup. It’s likely going to end up in my top 10 of the year… it’s the most well-acted piece, from a female lead no less, and one of the most emotional experience I’ve had all year. I knew going in that I’d be shedding tears as I cry a lot watching movies, but this film is emotionally heartbreaking in the best possible way.

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This film isn’t so much about the suspense about a mother (only known as Ma) & her 5-year-old boy Jack escaping captivity. Even if you skipped the trailer (which I did), it’s clearly spelled out on IMDb what the premise is about. But knowing that fact doesn’t spoil the film in any way. There’s still plenty of suspense and heart-rending moments leading up to that… but more importantly, what happens after. It’s hard not to be affected by the plight of these two, as most people simply can’t imagine or even relate the trauma they’ve been through. The film certainly made you think about the little things in life we take for granted and make us appreciate them a lot more.

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I read that Brie Larson isolated herself for a month and followed a strict diet in order to get a sense of what Ma and Jack were going through. This is the first time I saw her in a prominent role and I was blown away. There’s a moment where she just stares into the ceiling in silence, all her anguish and desperation in full display, it takes skills to be able to convey such deep emotion with no dialog.

Her dedication and immersion in the role clearly showed and she had a believable chemistry with Jacob Tremblay who played the boy. Tremblay was equally fantastic, definitely one of the most promising young actors I’ve seen in a while. Joan Allen and William H. Macy provide excellent supporting roles as Larson’s parents, especially Allen as she had far more screen time. I also have to mention Tom McCamus as Allen’s new spouse who has some wonderful scenes with Jacob.

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This is the second film from Lenny Abrahamson I saw, the first one being Frank. He’s certainly no stranger to filming bizarre, unusual situations and dealing with character experiencing great emotional distress. I haven’t read the novel it’s based on by Emma Donoghue, so I can’t comment on how faithful it is to the novel, but I think the story translates well on screen thanks to Abrahamson’s intimate and astute direction.

ROOM is not the flashiest Fall release, but though it may appear understated, it sure packs an emotional punch. I’m glad I got to see it and I sure hope it will gain traction during award season and I for one would love to see Larson (and Abrahamson for directing) get a nomination. In a similar way as A New High, even though the film deals with a dark, even dreadful subject matter, it’s not at all depressing. In fact the opposite is true as it celebrates the triumph of love and the power of humanity.


So that’s my Day 1 recap folks! What’s coming up for Day 2?


Stay tuned for more TCFF 2015 daily journal in the next two weeks! Let me know your thoughts about either one of these films!

10 Things I Love about Twin Cities Film Fest!

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And so it begins!! In less than 24 hours, the 6th annual Twin Cities Film Fest commences! Starting this Wednesday, we’ll have 11 days filled with cinematic festivities… 120+ films of national and international screenings, live musical performances, red carpet galas, cocktail mixers, film panel discussions and all kinds of special events for film lovers to enjoy. From today all the way until Halloween, SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRE is THE place to be for film lovers in the Upper Midwest!

I’ve been blogging for TCFF since its inception back in 2010 (all documented in my TCFF Archives page) and it just keeps getting better and better! Whatever type of cinephile you are, you’ll likely find something to look forward to at TCFF. Now, I’ve been wanting to do a top 10 list to kick off the event, so today seems as good a time as any.

How do I love thee TCFF? Let me count the ways…

A film fest with a cause

YouthlinklogoEach year TCFF brings awareness to an important social issue, such as bullying, hunger prevention, poverty, sex trafficking which were themes from the past few years. This year, the Twin Cities Film Fest is partnering with Minneapolis-based YouthLink, which serves as a resource center for homeless youth. According to the nonprofit, on any given day about 4,000 youth are homeless in Minnesota. We have four films tied to the topic of homelessness, including this opening night film, A New High. I think it’s cool that the organizers are mindful about the social issues of the community and make the most of the festivities for a great cause!

Great mix of studio + indie films

One of the perks of attending a film festival is that you get to see smaller independent films that you probably won’t get to see until much later when it’s available on VOD. But there’s something about going to the theater and seeing them on the big screen that makes it extra special. There are a plethora of great indies I’m looking forward to, some of them I’ve highlighted in this post. Three of the big studio movies I REALLY can’t wait to see are The 33, Brooklyn and Youth.

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TCFF’s artistic director Steve Snyder have highlighted some of the top ones from each day, here’s just a sampling from this week alone:

Wednesday, Oct. 21 – For Book Fans and Oscar Buffs: ROOM – This is probably the biggest film we’re screening. Period. But given the odd timing, there’s still seats available. It stars Brie Larson, is based on the hit book, and just took home the top prize of the Toronto International Film Festival.
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I saw this a couple of weeks ago at a press screening and was blown away. I’d be sorely disappointed if I don’t see Brie Larson’s name in this year’s Best Actress nominees!

Friday, Oct. 23 – War Film and History Buffs: Remember – Starring Christopher Plummer as a Jewish man who barely survived World War II and Auschwitz who sets out as an elderly man to get revenge against a Nazi camp guard.
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Saturday, Oct. 24 – Romantic Comedy and Katie Holmes‘ big comeback! Touched With Fire – Holmes returns to the movie screen in this South By Southwest smash shit. She plays a bipolar poet who befriends and then falls for another poet while admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
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The-Last-Great-Circus-FlyerSunday, Oct. 25 – Performance Arts: The Last Great Circus Flyer is one of the year’s best documentaries, about the greatest trapeze artist who ever lived – the first to ever complete a quadruple jump – who one day abruptly quit the circus and walked away. Director Philip Weyland AND the trapeze artist Miguel Vazguez himself will be present. This is a magical film.
Stay tuned for my in-depth interview with the gracious Mr. Weyland, I can’t wait to meet him and Miguel in person!

Eye-opening & entertaining documentaries

Speaking of great docs, well I’ve highlighted seven not-to-be-missed documentaries in this post. For the first time in TCFF’s six year’s existence, the fest will open AND close with a documentary feature: A New High and Thank You For Playing, respectively.

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Each year TCFF programmers seek out some of the most riveting documentary films to share with our festival goers. This year they went above and beyond! The FILM page on TCFF official site makes it easy to search films by genre, so as you can see under the Documentary page, there is something for everyone.

Growing female filmmakers represented

The gender disparity in Hollywood when it comes to female talents AND filmmakers have come under scrutiny of late and I certainly welcome the opportunity for discussions. So I’m always glad to see more and more women in the the notoriously male-dominated industry and pushing through challenges to get their films made.

These are just some of the female filmmakers whose films – big studio films/indies/docs/shorts – are screening at TCFF:

  • Shalini Kantayya – Catching the Sun
  • Patricia Riggen – The 33
  • Pamela Romanowsky – The Adderall Diaries
  • Emily Ting – It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong
  • Stéphanie Joalland – The Quiet Hour
  • Vanessa Magowan Horrocks – Keepsake
  • Courtney Ware – Sunny in the Dark
  • Debra Granik – Winter’s Bone
  • Kelly Huang –A Refugee’s Story: Khamsay Huang (short)
  • Annie Silverstein – Skunk (short)

A variety of MN-connected films

It thrills me that Minnesota have such a booming arts & film culture… we have nearly 50 MN-connected films playing at TCFF just this year alone! Now, when we say MN-connected, it doesn’t always mean they’re filmed here or that the topic is about MN, but we also have MN-based producers financing Hollywood films.

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Some of those filmmakers/producers are coming to town, such as Andrew Putschoegl for NERDGASM, Justin Mikelson for The Dust Storm, and Zac Adams & Tim Vandesteeg for Autism in America doc. I also got a chance to interview executive producer Ralph S. Bovard for the indie sci-fi The Quiet Hour.

A plethora of great short films

ShortsBlockI tell myself that I need to see more short films, but I don’t always get around to checking them out. I’ve just reviewed a great short film In Vitro by actor Toby Stephens recently and I always think that short films can be just more effective and compelling than feature films.

So it’s great to see that TCFF continue to feature short films in blocks with various themes, i.e Land of 10,000 Stories, Coming of Age, Love American Style, Shoot to Kill, etc. I’ve seen a few of them and are REALLY impressed by the skills of these filmmakers in crafting engaging stories efficiently told in such a short time. In many ways, developing a short film serves as a launching pad for some filmmakers trying to break into the industry, so there’s definitely a ton of promising work represented here.

Insightful educational panels

I have to give kudos to Matt Cici who’s in charge of this year’s Educational Events. I came to know Matt from his directorial debut Lambent Fuse, and earlier this year he’s also played the lead in The Center. He’s put together a collection of great film panels, featuring screenplay reading and discussions on film trends. The best part? These events are FREE and takes place at TCFF Lounge right at Showplace ICON Theater, so if you’re going to see a movie anyway, might as well attend one of the panels and get great insights from film experts and those who’re working in films that are screening at the fest.

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Two of the panels I can’t wait to participate on are:

  • The Future of Film (Saturday, 10/24 @ 1pm-2:30pm)
    A discussion on the state of the film industry with some of the top media professionals in the publishing industry. Featuring film experts from publications like Variety & Twitch Film
  • Capturing the Image (Saturday, 10/31 @ 11am-12:30pm)
    A discussion on the challenges and tools of telling stories through images. Featuring award-winning cinematographers/directors of photography, i.e. Checco Varese who shot one of TCFF’s gala films, The 33.

Access to Talents & Filmmakers

Perhaps the best perks as a TCFF blogger is the opportunity to chat with filmmakers and talents involved with the fest. I definitely have the most interviews, perhaps more than the last two years combined! Most of the filmmakers/producers have been so gracious and kind in responding to my interview requests, so stay tuned for the interview posts in the next two weeks. Special shout out to directors Emily Ting, Philip Weyland, Brent Baum, Ryan Lacen and David Spaltro for taking the time to do the email interviews, can’t wait to see all of you at the fest!!

Great venue for films & mixers!

Of course the venue of a film festival is crucial for theatergoers and filmmakers to enjoy and it really doesn’t get any better than Showplace ICON Theatre at the Shops at West End! It’s become my favorite theater with its comfy VIP section and great lounge upstairs (fabulous burgers!).

Just one of the perks of for TCFF festival goers year after year is the mixers/after party. You can check out the Mixer schedule to see which band is playing on a certain night. Anyone with a ticket from a film that day may attend for no charge. We’re also offering a TCFF Festival Lounge Pass this year for people who just want to enjoy the mixers without buying a film ticket. The mixer space at the former Love Culture space across the street from the theater is three times as large as last year’s spot!

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Being around film fans

Last but not least, the best part of attending any film festival is being around fellow film fans! It’s awesome meeting new people who share the same passion, whether it’s just people who enjoy watching movies or those in the industry making them. It’s a fantastic place for networking or simply hang out with fun people who love movies!

I’m thrilled that this year I’d get to meet yet another fellow film blogger! Mike from Just Me Mike blog is actually coming to Minneapolis to cover TCFF! I’ve come to know Mike over the years and enjoyed reading his blog, so it’ll be a treat to hang out with him in person starting tomorrow. Of course I also look forward to hanging out with my friends and FlixChatter blog contributors Ted S. (whom most FC readers already know) and Sarah J. who’ve helped cover TCFF in the past years!

So thank you Jatin Setia, Naomi Dahlgren, Steve Snyder, Bill Cooper, Dani Palmer & the rest of TCFF staff for always bringing your A-game year after year in bringing us this awesome film event!!


Well that’s just a sampling of why I’m super excited for TCFF 2015! Stay tuned for a complete coverage of the fest and see which movies you wouldn’t want to miss!

Five for the Fifth: OCTOBER 2015 Edition

FiveForFifthAutumn2015

Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. I feel like I just did my Five for the Fifth not too long ago, September practically ran away from me. But Autumn is my all time favorite season. Not only is the crisp, cool weather is just perfect and refreshing, I also love Fall fashion and the fact that there’s TCFF to anticipate in October as well as a slew of great Fall films to look forward to.

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It made me think of films set in Autumn. Right off the bat I think of When Harry Met Sally, but films like Dead Poets Society, St Elmos Fire, Class, The Village, and another one starring Meg Ryan You’ve Got Mail all have scenes involving gorgeous foliage that put me in an Autumn mood.

So what’s your favorite movie(s) set in the Autumn season?

2. I haven’t done a spotlight on an actor in my FFTF in a while but since yesterday is Liev Schreiber‘s birthday, I thought I’d highlight this underrated but talented actor. I actually haven’t seen too many of his work, to be honest, but of the ones I have seen, I enjoyed his performance, i.e. The Manchurian CandidateThe Painted Veil, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and The Butler. I even saw his directorial debut Everything is Illuminated at TIFF in 2005, which I thought was very good.

LievSchreiber

When I checked on his Wiki page, I was surprised to learn he has won a Tony in 2005 for his performance in the play Glengarry Glen Ross. Right now he’s juggling film roles as well as his Showtime series Ray Donovan. Wow, talk about a versatile talent who can wear many hats. He apparently can speak Russian, too, as he’s playing Russian chess grandmaster Boris Spassky in the upcoming film Pawn Sacrifice. Check out this clip:

What’s your thoughts on Liev Schreiber? Which of his performance(s) is your favorite?

….

3. I gotta include some new trailers and I thought I’d highlight two very different films just to keep things interesting. First off, we’ve got the latest one from SPECTRE that finally puts Daniel Craig face to face and bantering with Christoph Waltz.

Well I wasn’t enthused with the new Bond theme song Writing on the Wall which sounds more like writhing against the wall from the excruciating pain of having to listen to Sam Smith’s whiny voice. But I sure hope that the film will be much better!

Now, the second trailer that caught my eye recently is A Bigger Splash that has a rather intriguing premise: The vacation of a famous rock star and a filmmaker is disrupted by the unexpected visit of an old friend and his daughter. It also has quite a cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson.

It looks like a lot of fun but things are likely about to turn real ugly real fast. But hey, Fiennes looks like he’s relishing in his comedic side again.

So what are your thoughts on either one of these films?


4.
I was going to do a separate post on this and I still might do that later in the year. Having just seen ROOM last night and was very impressed by Brie Larson‘s performance, it made me think of other strong female performances of the year so far.

On the top of my head, I immediately thought of these fine ladies…

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  • Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina
  • Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Karidja Touré in Girlhood
  • Carey Mulligan in Far From the Madding Crowd
  • Juliette Binoche + Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Now, I haven’t seen Sicario nor Brooklyn yet, but I’ve heard lots of great things about the performance of Emily Blunt and Saoirse Ronan, respectively.

If you had to pick just three, who would make YOUR list of best 2015 female performers?

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5. 
This month’s Five for the Fifth’s guest is Anna from Defiant Success Blog!

BooksToFilms

There are so many movies (and potential award candidates) based on books being released in the coming months, i.e. Carol, Brooklyn, The Revenant, The Martian, Macbeth, In the Heart of the Sea, among others. would you read the books as well as seeing the movies?

So would you read the books as well as seeing the movies? If so which one(s)?


Well, that’s it for the October 2015 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 😀