November 15 is GIVE TO THE MAX day and so I feel that it’s only fitting that I post the highlights from the 2018 coverage of The Twin Cities Film Fest. This year is my ninth year covering this amazing organization and I’m thrilled and inspired to see how much this film fest has grown!

TCFF is SO much more than just a film fest! Yes it is by definition a film festival in the sense that it gives an organized, extended presentation of various films with live screenings in a single city… but festival director Jatin Setia and the outstanding TCFF team has created an organization that not only champion AND support indie filmmakers (MN-based and beyond) but also provide education to youth and emerging filmmakers through its FREE educational programs (Film Fellows, Free Day for Youth, and Filmmaker Academy)!

So click on the banner above and consider donating to this non-profit organization that give local film artists a national voice… by doing so, you’re supporting MN arts and championing indie filmmakers! Yay you!

FlixChatter and team have been busy with reviews and interviews since TCFF 2018 started in October 17. Special THANKS to our phenomenal blog contributors: Laura, Holly, Vitali and Andy, for all your tremendous work watching and reviewing movies! You just have to type TCFF2018 in the FlixChatter search box and voila! you’ll see all of our coverage.

Since the TCFF has wrapped two weeks ago, I think there’s no bad time to post highlights from the 2018 session… on the red carpet, around the fest and on the amazing TCFF Wonderlounge.

This year, FlixChatter also have not one but two great media correspondent interviewing talents on the red carpet!!

THANK YOU Holly Peterson (who’s also one of our talented reviewers!) for interviewing Jon Heder and Kendall Goldberg for When Jeff Tried to Save the World.

Also THANKS also to Nick Raja for interviewing the dynamic duo Tom Arnold and David Arquette for Saving Flora.

Nick also did a red carpet interview with Michael Driscoll, the filmmaker of the stunning b/w noir short TWO BLACK COFFEES. If you’ve missed it, I’ve interviewed Michael earlier this year that you can read here.

There’s some issues to the red carpet video, but you can take a listen to the audio interview below:

Pictures sometimes speak louder than words. So here are some pics from around the fest that give you an idea how much fun we had at the fest!

(click on gallery to see a larger version)

Now, every year TCFF always get some awesome sponsors (thank you!) either for the red carpet or for the lounge where the nightly after-parties happen. This year we had the wonderful people at Can Can Wonderland as our lounge sponsors, hence we named it TCFF WonderLounge this year!

Who doesn’t love Elvis 🙂 Hanging out w/ hubby Ivan & TCFF volunteer + composer Jesse Richardson

One of my all time favorite features at the WonderLounge this year is this fun and addictive SimpleBooth (thanks UptopFilms!) where people can create photo experiences in GIF format with their unique iPad photo booths (can’t you tell I’m having way too much fun w/ it) 😛





Following accolades in Toronto, Peter Farrelly’s drama GREEN BOOK tops TCFF’s 2018 winners. Twin Cities audiences honor local productions “The Lumber Baron” & “Small Town ROBOT” alongside the electrifying documentary “United Skates”

 The Twin Cities Film Fest announced its 2018 award winners Saturday evening, recognizing films in ten top categories. The 11-day marathon of movies, educational sessions and industry events, which showcased more than 130 titles and facilitated a broader conversation around the social cause of animal welfare, named Peter Farrelly’s Green Book the year’s Best Feature Film.

When Jeff Tried to Save the World, a lighthearted drama that served as the official 2018 centerpiece, was one of the year’s most honored titles, named as a finalist in three separate categories (Best Feature Film, Indie Vision Breakthrough Performance, Indie Vision Debut Director). Star Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) walked away with the year’s top performance award.

The festival’s top non-fiction award went to Who Will Write Our History? Roberta Grossman’s harrowing account of the journalists, scholars and community leaders in the Warsaw Ghetto who risked everything to secretly document the daily atrocities committed against their Jewish neighbors. The film screened in partnership with the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival.

The 2018 Audience Awards went to Barry Andersson’s The Lumber Baron, a period drama about the heir to a failing lumber business and the enduring rumors of a treasure left behind by his grandfather; Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler’s “United Skates,” a documentary about the art, economics and underground subculture of American roller skating; and “small town ROBOT,” a locally-produced short film about the acclaimed robotics team at Greenbush Middle River High School and their journey to a world championship to compete against 300 other teams from around the world.

Director Mark Taylor took home the Indie Vision — Debut Director trophy, for his drama Saving Flora, which had its U.S. premiere at the festival last week. Starring Jenna Ortega, David Arquette and Tom Arnold, the film’s story of one girl’s unbreakable bond with an elephant, and her mission to save the kind creature, marked the highlight of this year’s TCFF Changemaker Series. Several of the leading stars were in town to celebrate the debut.

“One of this year’s unforgettable highlights was ‘Saving Flora,’” said TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia. “The passion of that filmmaking, the broader mission behind its story, and the electricity that was on full display that night in the movie theater, between the audience and the advocates and the visiting filmmakers….that’s everything that makes a film festival special. It’s not just watching a movie — it’s being part of a transcendent experience. It changes you as a person.”

Minnesota filmmaker C.J. Renner was honored with the Indie Vision — Breakthrough Achievement award for his direction of American Tender, a widely praised drama about a robbery, a double-cross and one memorable first date.

“C.J. Renner exemplifies the talent, commitment and energy to be found in the Minnesota filmmaking community,” said TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper. “And ‘American Tender’ is exactly the kind of homegrown independent project that we’re so proud to celebrate and showcase here at TCFF. C.J. always surprises us, he’s going places, and we’re so thrilled that so many smart filmgoers from across the country discovered his talent right here at the festival this year.”

The 2018 Fun Is Good Bill Murray Comedic Shorts Award went to Matt Hirst’s hilarious 12 Sips to Glory, about one man’s epic orange soda taste test.

Here’s the complete listing of 2018 award winners:

2018 Award Winners

Best Feature Film: “Green Book,” directed by Peter Farrelly

Click image to read FlixChatter’s review

Best Documentary: “Who Will Write Our History?” directed by Roberta Grossman

Best Short Film: “Claire Means Well,” directed by Aaron Gervich

Audience Award, Feature: “The Lumber Baron,” directed by Barry Andersson (Runner-Up: “If Beale Street Could Talk,” directed by Barry Jenkins)

Audience Award, Non-Fiction: “United Skates,” directed by Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler (Runner-Up: “93Queen,” directed by Paula Eiselt)

Audience Award, Short Film: “small town ROBOT,” directed by Joe Brandmeier (Runner-Up: “Claire Means Well,” directed by Aaron Gervich)

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Performance: Jon Heder (“When Jeff Tried to Save the World”)

Indie Vision — Debut Director: Mark Taylor (“Saving Flora”)

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Achievement: C.J. Renner (director of “American Tender”)

Fun Is Good Bill Murray Comedic Shorts Award: “12 Sips to Glory,” directed by Matt Hirst

TCFF 2018 Changemaker Award: Rachel Mairose, founder and executive director of Secondhand Hounds

CONGRATS to all the winners!!

Stay tuned to my TCFF recap post (with my own picks of FlixChatter favorites) as well as more reviews + interviews from some films screened at the film fest!


TCFF 2018 Film Spotlight: SAVING FLORA & interview with writer/director Mark Taylor

Since we’ve past the halfway mark of the Twin Cities Film Fest, I think I have seen enough movies to indicate which ones have been my favorites. Well, Saving Flora is definitely one of those that I thoroughly enjoyed and I can see myself watching again! Thank you Mark Taylor (and Synkronized Films) for taking the time to chat with me!

Flora is a circus elephant who can no longer perform her tricks. The night before she’s scheduled to be euthanized, the circus owner’s 14-year old daughter, Dawn, sneaks Flora from the circus. All that stands between them and the safety of the elephant preserve is two hundred kilometers of woods, one raging river, two elephant hunters and the fear of not making it.

How did this project come about for you and what’s the inspiration for the story?

I was a creative director at the advertising agency Saatchi in Los Angeles and was getting frustrated creatively and wanted to writes a story that I felt had some sort of meaning, something that had soul. I’d always loved family films and knew how influential my favorites ones growing up had been to me. I knew that I was going to want to direct this story also as just handing it over to an already established film director was going to short change my creative journey. I stories that depict the relationship between a child and an animal and having trained as an advertising Art Director I do tend to see things very visually. What better visual than a small child and an elephant. It was important for me that the young child was a girl, I have many strong females in my life one of which was my seven year old daughter Maya. It was easy to see her making such a journey with an elephant if she had the desire. I started writing Saving Flora with my writing partner David (at the time also a fellow creatively frustrated ad guy), we both love animals  and although against animals in circuses we also knew we had to have compassion and an understanding of circus life .

David Arquette as the ringmaster

2. There’s always something so mystical and maybe dark about the world of circus, but yet Saving Flora has a lightness and sweetness to it given it’s a family film, was that tough to achieve that balance?

Yes, as I mentioned before, David and I are very much animal lovers but we did spend time with former circus owners and performers and Flora (Thai) herself. Everyone we met was extremely loving and caring and there was very much a family vibe amongst them all. We never intended this story to be a statement about elephants in circuses but a story about the bond between a girl and an animal.

3. I would like to ask you about casting, but firstly I’m curious how it was working with elephants as your directorial debut. Were there a few elephants cast as Flora?

There was only ever one elephant cast and that choice was a no brainer. We visited Thai and her owners a number of times before the shoot. She’s amazing. Not only had she been in a number of films before but she is an older elephant also and her story in some ways related to Floras. Elephants cost a lot of money to feed and keep every year and she is not funded by a charity Thai has to work for her keep. Indians weddings mostly. She is very much loved by her owners and you can feel their concern for the years to come.

Thai (playing Flora) with Jenna Ortega

4. I adore Jenna Ortega as Dawn, she is completely charming and believable in her relationship with Flora. How did you find her, did you do a big casting process? The boy who played Sebastian is also pretty great.

We had looked at lots of girls to play Dawn but when Jenna was put forward she not only helped us define Dawn’s character but also define some of the tone of the film. Jenna’s latino heritage inspired our choices for casting the other characters also. It made us shake things up a bit and create a world that was a bit more representative of America.

Jenna Ortega as Dawn

5. How’s the process in getting the appropriate bond between Dawn and Flora for the film? 

That was easy. An amazing elephant and a fearless lead actress. The first scene they had to shoot together was Dawn lying down asleep on Flora. Thai lay down on her side and Jenna instantly crawled into her neck and snuggled up. It really was magical. 

6. Visually the film looks stunning. Where did you film this and how long was the entire shoot?

It was a 21 day shoot so we knew we had our work cut out for us, especially as we were essentially filming a road movie. We also needed to shoot with the 50 mile LA film zone. Luckily our location guy Frank was amazing. We settled on a private area of land called Newhall ranch, a little town with a train station called Piru, a few days at Piru lake and a day at Angeles Crest. Newhall ranch is 126,000 acres and within reason we could move around quickly and efficiently within it creating different textures and environments depending which way we pointed the camera. I always knew a circus, a girl and an elephant in the desert would look amazing but I was lucky  enough to have my friend and DP Michael Pessah on the film. I had directed a number of commercials that Michael had DP’d and we had developed a great working relationship based on trust and respect. We worked our asses off.

7. Lastly, what’s the most challenging part of the shoot, but on the flip side, what’s the most surprisingly delightful part of filming?

The most challenging part of the shoot was definitely the 21 days to shoot it in combined with the 4 to six hours of shooting time with the elephant for only ten days and the limited amount of hours you can shoot with a 15 year old. The surprising and very delightful part was the magic that happened in the filming. I was told that things would go wrong in the making of the film but I felt so blessed to be doing the film in the first place that I felt that if things did go wrong then they would go wrong for a reason and that reason was to make the film better. And I was right. Magic happens on set if you allow it to.

Thank you Mark Taylor for chatting with me!

Check out this TCFF red carpet interview with our host Doug Sidney:

Stay tuned for FlixChatter video interview w/ actors David Arquette and Tom Arnold at TCFF red carpet!