MSPIFF shows off Minnesota's creative filmmaking community

Demon Love, Horror and Hope, White Man's World debut with flair

Demon Love

Kidnapping. Heartbreak. Monsters from hell. What kind of romantic comedy is this?

The film Lo doesn't fit easily into any one film genre. Even the movie's producer, Brainerd-area native Aaron Gaffey, says so. "It's a demon love story, but it's not," he says. Maybe it would be better described as a horror movie with a love story? No, says writer-director Travis Betz. "It's not a horror movie, but it has demons. It's not a monster movie. It's not a science fiction movie. Ultimately it's a movie about humanity and love." Finally, Gaffey lands on a happy medium. "It's more of a fable, you know. It just so happens that in this love story there are demons. People don't necessarily know how to take it."

Lo, produced by Brainerd-area native Aaron Gaffey
Shannon Hourigan
Lo, produced by Brainerd-area native Aaron Gaffey
Pride of Lions, a film by Minnesotan brother/sister team  John and Louise Woehrle
Bill Carlson
Pride of Lions, a film by Minnesotan brother/sister team John and Louise Woehrle

Details

MSPIFF Info

April 16-30, 2009

SCREENING LOCATIONS
St. Anthony Main: 115 Main St. SE, Mpls.; 612.331.4723
Oak Street Cinema: 309 Oak St. SE, Mpls.; 612.331.3134

ADMISSION
$10 ($9 online; discounts at box office for students and seniors). Visit mspfilmfest.org for prices for opening- or closing-night films, 5- and 10-movie packages, and all-access Gold Passes.

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Watching the film, it's easy to see why people are either uncertain about branding it or quick to slap the "romantic comedy" label on it. The plot draws from conventional romantic movie storylines: Boy meets Girl, they fall in love, Girl finds herself in a precarious situation, Boy risks everything to find her and get her back. But what Betz does with this traditional plot arc is unusual.

The entire film takes place in Justin's (the Boy in the above scenario) apartment. And Justin's girlfriend, April, isn't the average damsel in distress; she was abducted and taken to hell by a demon. That prompts Justin, a soft-spoken, polo-shirt-clad man, to summon a demon of his own. Enter Lo, a potty-mouthed, chain-smoking megalomaniac who toys with Justin's emotions while lying through his teeth (or at least his disgusting, toothless mouth hole). To complicate matters further, the heartbroken Justin is confined to the pentagram he painted on his floor to get Lo to appear. Inside his little island he's relatively safe, but one step outside and he's demon dinner.

But it's not all fear and heartache. Betz deftly inserts dark levity throughout the film in the form of a talking gash on Justin's hand, a demon band singing a Buddy Holly-like rock ballad, and Lo's comedic contempt for Justin and his distinctly human effort to be reunited with April. The challenge in making a horror/love story funny, Betz says, was knowing just how far to go.

"Every time I write something dramatic, I have to fight the urge to twist it into a comedy," he says. But, he continues, "I truly love taking dark situations and finding the humor in them."

So far, Betz and Gaffey say, audiences have responded positively to Lo's patchwork of comedy, romance, and horror, even if mainstream Hollywood hasn't yet. Now, two years after the film was shot (it took all of six days to complete), what Gaffey and Betz crave is larger audiences and feedback. MSPIFF is the second festival for the film, and its creators plan to attend more before releasing it on DVD. Because, as Betz notes, after spending this much time with a film, it's easy to lose sight of the project. —Ben Palosaari

"It's been an ongoing part of my life, so I have no judgment on it anymore," he says. "I need others to tell me if it's good or not."

Lo screens at Oak Street Cinema on Saturday, April 25, at 6 p.m.

Horror and Hope

Minnesota filmmakers document Sierra Leone's recovery from a nightmarish civil war

Any reporter knows that the story you are looking for isn't always the story you find. John Woehrle discovered the same on a trip to Sierra Leone.

The writer, performer, and teacher, and Minnesota native (now relocated to California) traveled to West Africa with one of his students, who was about to meet her biological father for the first time. The father was the chief of a village, so Woehrle thought that capturing the first encounters on film might make for an interesting look at a "princess" returning to the place of her birth.

That's not what he found.

Instead, Woehrle found a country still recovering from the ravages of an 11-year civil war—a war in which a favorite tactic was mutilating victims, leaving thousands of amputees in its wake.

Fueled both by a desire to help and to tell the story of the Sierra Leoneans in their words, Woehrle enlisted his sister, Twin Cities-area filmmaker Louise Woehrle, to make a film with him. The result, Pride of Lions, has just begun to wend its way through the festival circuit, including a presentation at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival.

Pride of Lions looks at the recently ended conflict through the eyes of several survivors, some of whom suffered horrible mutilation at the hands of the rebels. The film includes stories of Dr. Barrie, a physician who attended medical school in the West but returned to his birthplace to start a clinic to provide prosthetics to amputees; a diamond miner raising his amputee nephew, who was injured by the same bullet that killed his mother; and Lazarus, a man who had both arms cut off by rebel soldiers but is willing to forgive his attackers.

The film also follows John Woehrle from his first visit to Sierra Leone in 2004, as he tries to create organizations to work with Barrie and other locals interested in improving agriculture and other aspects of daily living.

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