Two dozen years ago, Al Milgrom's inaugural film festival began—in Stillwater, under the inauspicious name of Rivertown U.S.A.—with a screening of The Marathon Family. Scarcely regarded today, this Yugoslavian farce from director Slobodan Sijan (How I Was Systematically Destroyed by an Idiot) features five generations of morticians—including the clan's 120-year-old great-great-grandfather—who feud over the family business after the unexpected death of 150-year-old Pantelija Topalovic. Was the paterfamilias of Minnesota alt-film exhibition aware in booking The Marathon Family that he was kicking off his own communal endurance test, one that would consume entire generations of audience members and festival staffers, himself included?
No matter. All that counts for a film festival is what's on the screen, and Milgrom has defied any number of cultural pallbearers by keeping his baby alive for a quarter-century. For a decade the event has been known as the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, but old Rivertown tradition remains this year with an opening nighter, Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako (Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Riverview Theater), whose courtroom talkathon makes no concession to commerciality. Indeed, according to our critic Nathan Lee (see p. 27), the movie grapples with the definition and purpose of a so-called festival film. (The actor Danny Glover, who co-produced this challenging and very good movie, will be on hand to help put it over.)
Elsewhere in our coverage, reviewer Dylan Hicks endures an M-SPIFF marathon of his own, and without leaving the house (p. 17); and the man responsible for all this running around—Milgrom, of course—accounts for his obsessions over the last two and a half decades. For help navigating the M-SPIFF's 80 films from 40 countries, screening for 11 days at five Minneapolis locations, check out the ticket and venue information below. And to all who value this local/international institution: Keep on reeling.