MSPIFF: Your passport to 58 countries via 145 films

Festival kicks off its 28th year in the Twin Cities

The allure of an international film festival is in some ways the allure of travel. It is a chance to intimately experience exotic and foreign cultures, but without the cost or the malaria pills. And like traveling abroad, you never quite know what to expect at a film fest. Will that intriguing title you choose be like the charming bistro you discover by accident, or more like the fleabag hotel that looked much better on the internet?

Beginning tomorrow, the 28th Annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival will be your passport to 58 countries, via 145 films being shown over the next two weeks at St. Anthony Main Theatre. City Pages will be your travel agent, offering a few tips on what to see—and avoid—on your cinematic journey.

MSPIFF opens this year with a World War II epic from Norway, Max Manus, a gripping true-life story about a group of teenage saboteurs who wreaked havoc on Nazi occupiers for five years. The festival includes films from every civilized continent, and from such rarely seen filmmaking countries as Albania, Bulgaria, Senegal, and Madagascar. Eight of the movies have Minnesota connections (see following pages).

The Unreturned
Christian Peacemaker Teams
The Unreturned
Scrap, by local filmmaker Paul von Stoetzel
Scrap, by local filmmaker Paul von Stoetzel

Details

28th Annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival:

April 15-30

Location St Anthony Main Theatre, 115 Main St. SE, Minneapolis; 612.331.4723

Admission $10 ($8 for students and seniors); $6 for weekday screenings before 6 p.m. Visit the MSPIFF website for prices on opening- or closing-night films, 6- and 12-pack packages, and all-access Gold Passes.

More Info www.mspfilmfest.org

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To book your passage to MSPIFF, visit www.mspfilmfest.org for a complete list of films, showtimes, and ticket prices and packages.

EXILED

A Twin Cities filmmaker examines the biggest untold story of wartime Iraq

by David Hansen

It's a stone's throw to a decade of war for the United States, a time that has seen the American media paint an unendingly nightmarish portrait of an occupied Iraq—a place of rubble and waterless desert, where humanity is divided into a grotesque trinity of archetypes—the sinister insurgent, the bewildered innocent, and the noble, if inept, American GI.

The American media has offered viewers a feast of coverage to be sure—no IED has gone unfilmed, no raid on an insurgent stronghold unphotographed—but it has been a feast of wax fruit, counterfeit and malnourishing, while desperately important truths go unreported.

The Unreturned, a feature-length documentary directed by Minnesota-born filmmaker Nathan Fisher, pulls off a feat of remarkable cinematic agility. A bald and intimate look into the lives of Iraqi refugees displaced to countries like Syria and Jordan in the wake of the war, The Unreturned is an artful and unflinching penetration of the wartime prejudices that the American public has been made to wear like Kevlar flak jackets, a potent cinematic solvent to the grotesque caricature of the Iraqi that the Western media has sold the world.

"I thought of myself as informed about the war," says Fisher, "but I was floored by this massive refugee crisis I'd never heard of. I'd known the media had done a terrible job covering the war, but I couldn't believe how badly they'd dropped the ball on the largest consequence of it."

Originally from St. Louis Park, Fisher emerged from his undergraduate education at Pomona College with a degree in politics and a keen interest in the important stories that have a curious way of hiding in the periphery. Fisher enrolled himself in the film program at New York City's New School, and as he began to develop a thesis project, curious and dismaying intelligence began to reach him: Since the American invasion of Iraq, a full 20 percent of the nation had fled to find asylum in border countries—a number that, depending on the estimate, now sits at between 2 million and 4 and a half million people.

Who were these millions of displaced? What were their lives? And most important, could they ever return to their native land? The more Fisher looked, the more he found that the largest displacement of humanity in half a century was going unreported, lost in a bramble of domestic politics and fevered propaganda.

"I'd been frustrated with the opposition movement and how it focused on domestic politics," says Fisher. "Maybe it was inevitable from the beginning, but with the obsession with George W. Bush, and with getting a Democrat in office, the discussion became about America and not about Iraq. With domestic politics involved, it becomes like any other entrenched debate. And when that happens, you have to figure out another approach and hit people where they haven't built a defense."

Borrowing gear from the New School, booking a winter flight to Amman, Jordan, in late 2008, and cold-calling every Iraqi refugee he could find, Fisher embarked on a close-quarters portrait of the Iraqi displaced, and the resulting film is a masterstroke of tenderness, intimacy, and perspective that shows the collateral victims of a war gone awry in all their vulnerability, hope, and courage.

From over 40 hours of interview material, Fisher profiles a half-dozen Iraqi refugees living in Amman and Damascus, interviewing them at length as they go about their daily occupations. In their struggles to find work and provide for their families, Fisher's characters speak with stunning candor about the American occupation, the constant threat of reprisal from Iraqi insurgents, and the experience of being forced into exile from their homes, businesses, and native soil. Theirs are stories that have been outlined and suggested but rarely illuminated so carefully, and with an unflinching lens Fisher executes a bold undoing of a culture-war reportage that has accomplished little more than wholesale dehumanization, from which the American viewer can easily keep a safe distance.

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