Skin Flicks

The naked truth about putting together a regional showcase like the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. And a revealing body of blurbs about the best and the not-best of the fest.

As a result of the MSPIFF's bid to lure the local community, there's always a large Scandinavian component to the festival: This year finds a dozen or so Nordic films in the program, and most of them arrive free of charge courtesy of institutes like the DFI. "To screen a film in Minneapolis is mainly for cultural exposure," admits Skydsgaard, speaking on a cell phone while en route to Paris for pre-Cannes meetings. "Minneapolis is a funny place, because it rings a bell. I know that it [has] a good festival, but I actually don't know that much about it. It [occurs at] a bad time. When a festival is in late fall, while it's more quiet, you have more time to go into it--visit their Web site, look through the back catalogs. Now Berlin has just finished, and I'm busy preparing for Cannes.

"When there's a new Danish film, the producer will call and ask me to see it," continues Skydsgaard. "If I think it has international potential, we'll meet with the producer and the sales agent, suggest a festival plan, and strike a print of the film." These discussions are, of course, limited to certain festivals. "The [ideal] plan is for the film to debut at Cannes, Berlin, Venice, or Toronto. We try to open them at A-level festivals, because of the prestige and the potential for sales. Also, it sometimes coincides with the Danish premiere, so it allows for some very good Danish PR. And all the directors want to go to Cannes or Venice so they can brag about it to their friends."

For regional American festivals, Skydsgaard relies on experience and word of mouth. "We'll work with the festivals that we have a relationship with, or the ones that we've heard good things about. If there's a new festival that I haven't heard about, [the programmers will] come talk to me at our booth at Berlin or Cannes, and tell me how much they like the film. And if they have an awards competition, which is also very important, then I might give them the print." Naturally, it works the other way, too. "Sometimes a director goes to a festival and comes back saying that it has been very chaotic. Maybe we won't send a print next time."

While there were four Danish films in the 2000 MSPIFF, this year's program, like last year's, has only one: Per Fly's The Bench, which first screened at the market in Cannes two years ago. Despite winning five Danish Film Awards last year, The Bench--a well-acted yet flawed drama about an alcoholic dealing with newfound familial responsibility--has rarely shown up on the international radar. So it's no surprise to hear that the film wasn't the fest's first choice. "From minor festivals, we get so many requests [that] we have to decide what might be suitable," she says. "For Minneapolis, we got a request for other films that weren't available, so I suggested The Bench. I think that's how it came about. It hasn't been to many festivals, so I'm glad it's screening there."

Two films that MSPIFF programmers might have inquired about--the recent Dogme entries Truly Human and Kira's Reason: A Love Story--recently screened at the New Directors/New Films series in New York after debuting last fall at festivals in San Sebastian and Toronto, respectively. (The latter film screened in March at the international festival in Cleveland; the former screens later this month at the San Francisco fest.) So why wouldn't they make it to Minneapolis? "Because they aren't available," says Skydsgaard politely. "For most films, we only have one print, so we have to set our priorities. Of course, New York is one of the most important [places]. Most people in Denmark don't know where Minneapolis is."

Unlike sales agents, film institutes don't typically charge screening fees. But as the circuit grows, that might change. "We don't charge right now, but we're thinking about it," Skydsgaard says apologetically. "Five years ago, few Danish films were sold outside of Denmark, but now it has really changed. That means extra work: We have to check out the salespeople, talk to local distributors, and so on. And we have a new government cutting down on funding. I would love to screen our films everywhere, but [there are only] maybe 10 really important festivals, 30 others that are good, and a lot of smaller ones that aren't as valuable. If we could keep it down to those 150 or 200 festivals, it would be so nice--I would have more time to work on Minneapolis, for instance."


Not coincidentally, the films that often please festival audiences and sponsors the most are those that have already been picked up for domestic distribution: films with stars, or with an international reputation; films that cross over to viewers who might not appreciate dramas about, say, a Danish alcoholic dealing with newfound familial responsibility. Some U.S. distributors simply opt out of the R-list festival game, because those festivals rarely pay them screening fees--and almost none of them, save for a traveling fest in New Zealand, shares a percentage of the box-office take. On the list of films in this year's MSPIFF, there are, as usual, about a dozen or so titles from "mini-major" distributors such as New Yorker Films (Yellow Asphalt, The Way We Laughed), including three that have arrived courtesy of a new kid on the block: THINKFilm.

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