MSPIFF: Your passport to 58 countries via 145 films

Festival kicks off its 28th year in the Twin Cities

"In the beginning, it was just a look at this gigantic refugee crisis, one of the largest in 60 years," says Fisher. "But it got more refined once I came back and was looking at the footage and had it translated. It became a story about the middle class, and how the insurgency has targeted them as a deliberate tactic to keep Iraq from being rebuilt."

Hear "refugee" and one likely imagines the tent camps of Mogadishu, endless hellscapes of the starved, naked, and half dead. But here the unreturned are English teachers and cooks, engineers and translators, Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians. They are Iraq's skilled middle class, the primary targets of the urban insurgency, the very people Iraq so desperately needs if it has a prayer of resurrection, and who now struggle in the refugee-choked cities of Amman and Damascus. This startling revelation is the film's most surprising boon. Unlike the caricatures, Fisher's characters are people of aspiration and despair, whose appetites and identities are fully dimensioned and, at last, achingly familiar.

"For any sort of realistic assessment of what's going on," says Fisher, "you need to know that Iraq was a middle-class country, and that these people had the same hopes and aspirations that Americans do. In order for Iraq to be rebuilt, these people need to return. They're the educated and the skilled. But they can't go back until Iraq is safe. It's the catch-22."

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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The Unreturned screens Sunday, April 25, at 3 p.m.

MINNESOTA MADE

Homegrown films at the festival

Scrap

Thursday, April 29, at 8:45 p.m.

What constitutes art and what constitutes obsession? Is there even a difference between the two? Local filmmaker Paul von Stoetzel tries to answer that question in his new documentary Scrap, an examination of two eccentric artists and the works that compel them. One artist: a Colorado man who's been building a castle (by himself) for the past 30 years. The other: an industrial wrecker who re-created himself as a spiritual doctor who builds sculptures to send his soul into space after he dies. The film project originally focused on several pieces of American architecture, but von Stoetzel turned his attention to the two sites after meeting their unusual creators. Scrap is the latest documentary from von Stoetzel, whose award-winning SNUFF: A Documentary About Killing on Camera has been seen across the country. Two of von Stoetzel's shorter films, the documentary My Friend Root Rot and the horror short Dinner Date, are now working their way through the festival circuit. It was likely a wise decision to focus solely on the two artists, as Scrap is a fascinating look at the lives of these men. It pulls no punches in showing how their work has dominated their lives—and the lives of their families. To Tom Every, his scrap-metal park has become the playground of his alter ego. His work reflects the ups and downs of his life and, in the film's most touching scenes, his relationship with his wife. But it is Jim Bishop's story that pulls you in and never lets go. Aside from the castle itself—which is a sight to behold—the hardships Bishop went through to continue his work are often shocking, ranging from lawsuits and court dates to the death of a son. And yet he continues day after day, moving from pleasant jokiness to infuriated rants at a moment's notice. While these two bizarre artists could easily fill separate films of their own, von Stoetzel keeps the story tight yet comprehensive. And in a world where so many people say their work is their life, it's truly captivating to see two people who actually mean it. Andrew Newman

Open

Monday, April 19, at 7 p.m.

The lives of modern-day hermaphrodites, pandrogynous, and transgender people are explored in Open, the first feature film from writer-director Jake Yuzna. Shot in locations around the Twin Cities (including the Walker Art Center and Mall of America,) the film tells the story of Cynthia, a hermaphrodite who meets Gen and Jay, a couple using surgery to merge their facial features to represent their union as one entity. Inspired by their love, Cynthia embarks on a journey to discover exactly who she is. At the same time, transsexual Syd meets and falls in love with a young man—but Syd's hormone treatments soon put their budding love to the test. Featuring the film debuts of most of its cast, Open pulls together real hermaphroditic, pandrogynous, and transgender performers to give the film an insider's look. Yuzna, who's worked everywhere from pornography to Robert Altman films, received support from the National Endowment for the Arts to make his film—making him the youngest filmmaker to do so. Open was featured in 2010's Berlin Film Festival, where it was awarded the Teddy Jury Award. And while the movie is often compelling, the parts don't really add up to a whole. Oftentimes the acting seems flat, and while Yuzna shows great skill as a writer, he delves a little too far into melodrama. Syd's storyline in particular seems ripped from tabloid fodder, which distracts from the more resonant pieces of the film. Open is never more effective than when Gaea Gaddy is onscreen. As Cynthia, Gaddy gives a truly honest and touching performance. It's an assured screen debut, and she easily carries most of the weight on her shoulders. Yuzna's film is full of good intentions, but it can't avoid falling into the soap-opera-like relationship trap. —Andrew Newman

Power and Control: Domestic Violence in America

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