MSPIFF: All Over the Walls, Rough Tender, and more

Festival films with a local connection

Absence/Presence

Saturday, April 23, at 4 p.m.

The long reverberations of a tragic loss form the center of this locally made documentary. A young man decides to confront the circumstances surrounding his older brother's death nearly 20 years earlier by embarking on a road trip to reconnect his friends and family to talk about that night. In these recorded conversations between a sister, his mother, and his brother's long out-of-touch friends, he realizes exactly how much he needs to come to terms with the past. The journey is truly heartbreaking and affirming all at once; the difficult decision to continue with this kind of project definitely becomes the right choice. The film is as much about the interviewer as it is about its subject: a man coming to terms with his brother's perfections, his imperfections, and the lasting impact he made with everyone he met. Andrew Newman

All Over the Walls

Man & Machine
Man & Machine

Details

Festival Facts

Dates: April 14-May 5

Location: St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 Main St. SE, Minneapolis

Admission: $11 ($10 for seniors, $9 for students) Visit the MSPIFF website for prices on opening- or closing-night films and multiple-show packages.

More info: www.mspfilmfest.org

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Monday, April 18, at 6:30 p.m.; free

Youthful idealism struggles against the reality of today's world in this locally made documentary, being shown at a free work-in-progress screening. Jacob is a mixed-media artist and body painter in his early 20s who decides to act on his dreams of opening a gallery/performance space/party scene in downtown Minneapolis. But this is no "ticket to fame and fortune" story—the first scenes of the film perfectly illustrate that. While Jacob's ideas are ambitious, they are worthy. The space is located, the team is assembled, and the planning begins. But then reality comes crashing in as it always does—catastrophically. The film is a compelling example of when dreams can and cannot be seized upon. The plans suffer a massive spiral downward, but the integrity of the artist's vision never comes into question. —Andrew Newman

Bengali Detective

Saturday, April 30, at 9:15 p.m.
Sunday, May 1, at 4 p.m.

It's easy to see why Fox Searchlight picked up the remake rights to Philip Cox's documentary. It may be a slice-of-life piece about a Kolkata-based private eye, Rajesh Ji, and his team at Always Detectives, but it is such a slice of life. This is a man driven by a deep passion, one that allows him to work long hours on seemingly impossible cases, deal with his clearly severely ill wife, and try to win a dance competition at the same time. It's the kind of character writers would love to have made up. The film takes up deep into the steamy streets of Kolkata, as Rajesh and his team investigate several cases, including a philandering husband, merchants selling fake products, and even a murder. The triple slaying is the most arresting part of the film, as clues and suppositions fly around the brutal murders of three young men. The families have been frustrated by the slow-moving official police (cases can take years to be investigated, and 70 percent of murders are never solved) and turn to the private detective for assistance. As this is a documentary, things don't turn out as they would in a crime novel, but the reality of Rajesh's life—and the bright approach he takes, no matter how dark his work or life get—propel it into something much deeper and satisfying. Ed Huyck

Incredibly Small

Saturday, April 16, at 9 p.m.

Meet Anne and Amir, a mismatched couple who remain mismatched through the dull 90 minutes of Incredibly Small, a local production in which the story behind its creation—the microbudget feature was made over two weeks in Minneapolis—is far more interesting than what ends up on the screen. The two lovers have just moved into a grungy 300-square-foot Minneapolis apartment, where it quickly becomes clear that the little they have in common is only intensified at close quarters. The main problem is that our central characters, especially Emir, aren't all that interesting or likeable. Emir is locked in delayed adolescence, avoiding growth that might bring conflict and absolutely tone deaf to the needs and wants of his girlfriend. It's not that the relationship is unrealistic, it's just not interesting enough to carry a full-length feature film. At times, filmmaker Dean Peterson lays on the quirk far too much—Amir's dream is to become a sculptor and craft a visage of Charles Barkley—while other scenes are made up mainly of uncomfortable silences. Stephen Gurewitz and Susan Burke inhabit their characters well and have a terrific scene together at the film's end that makes up for some of what has gone before, but overall Peterson has not given them enough to make Incredibly Small worthwhile. —Ed Huyck

MN Shorts: Docs and Animation

Tuesday, April 26, at 7 p.m.

The festival shows nearly a dozen short films made with Minnesota connections, including Man & Machine, a curious little tale of art and love. At first glance, directors Jesse Roesler and Jonathan Nowak have crafted a glimpse into the life of a European performance artist who plays music simply by moving around the instruments he plays. Then his partner is introduced. What first seemed to be a portrait of an artist becomes a portrait of a couple: two truly kindred spirits who unite in their sheer love for creation and for each other. While the sequences of the two manipulating their machines in studio and in performance are intriguing and unusual, it is their interactions elsewhere that become the heart of the film. Their connection to each other is clear from every word or look they share, and the people themselves become the focus—unusual and wonderful together. —Andrew Newman

MN Shorts: Narratives

Tuesday, April 19, at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 4, at 9:45 p.m.

The festival shows nearly a dozen short films with Minnesota connections, including Good Morning, Beautiful, an intriguing drama/thriller that examines the psychological depths of a sudden tragedy. A man is forced to cope with desperate grief after the sudden death of his infant daughter. He feels distanced from his wife and friends, and there's a curious rash developing on his arm that his doctor ignores. But as he finds himself surrounded by gruesome acts of violence, his grip on reality begins to loosen. With a style and tone reminiscent of David Cronenberg and David Lynch, director Todd Cobery creates a chilling atmosphere, even if it appears just a bit too familiar. Its influences are quite clear, but the film is presented in such an in-your-face and no-holds-barred manner that the final objective is reached. It becomes a surreal portrait of exactly how far a man can fall if his life is shaken roughly enough. —Andrew Newman

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History

Sunday, May 1, at 2 p.m.

For this documentary on the 20-plus-year lifespan of the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects in St. Louis, director Chad Freidrichs has gathered an astonishing wealth of newsreel, broadcast news, and industrial film footage from the immediate post-World War II period to the early 1970s. The footage captures the planning, development, building, and rapid, horrifying decay of one of the first high-rise projects to be built in the U.S. What started as a promising experiment in bringing African-Americans out of tenements and providing spacious, affordable dwellings rapidly became a nightmare, as the structures fell victim to neglect by city authorities who, for mostly racially motivated reasons, refused to maintain them. The plummeting of the city's overall population due to white flight and consequent closing of many key industries—in addition to drugs, gangs, unemployment, and the bizarre stipulation that families living on welfare at Pruitt-Igoe could not allow the fathers to live with them—added further cracks to this "poor man's penthouse." Several former tenants add a fascinating narrative to this enthralling saga and recall how an initially pleasant urban community turned into a crime-ridden rattrap with few functioning plumbing or electrical facilities. They also recall how residents organized to fight the authorities, including staging the nation's first public housing rent strike. This is one of the best documentaries to come out in recent years and deserves consideration for an Oscar. John Ervin

Rough Tender

Wednesday, April 20, at 9 p.m.

On the surface, Rough Tender looks like a standard-issue bad-boy-meets-good-girl movie. Beneath the surface, that's still pretty accurate, but the film carries enough darkly comic charisma to elevate itself. The players here are violence-prone loner Barrett, who dresses like a '50s greaser and lavishes affection on his '68 Nova, and customer service rep Melanie, whose wholesome good looks are offset by her habit of babbling semi-coherently about every little thing. As their mismatched affair unfolds, director Joe Dressel maintains a peculiar tension that keeps the proceedings engaging even as it hits many of the expected notes. Michael P. Nelson's photography masterfully captures the crisp foreboding of a Twin Cities autumn, and the leads share an offbeat chemistry that stays just shy of too quirky. While the film's low budget sometimes shows, the end result is a friendly, funny dual character sketch infused with just the right amount of Minnesota gloom. —Ira Brooker

Thicker Than Water

Sunday, April 17, at 4:30 p.m.

Tony Rappa is a typical hockey-loving Minnesota kid. But he also has severe hemophilia, so his fun on ice is limited to the no-checking variety. This film by Bradley Rappa, Tony's uncle, documents a family's determination to balance the young boy's desire for an active lifestyle with the ongoing health care needed to avoid dangerous "bleeds" from physical trauma. There are several storytelling layers, beginning with the medical science of hemophilia itself, and expanding into a complex, uplifting, and sometimes heartbreaking experience that spans generations. Tony is a delightful ambassador on the subject. He knows his limits, but with the support of doctors and family he also pushes them a bit, demonstrating a mature capacity to continuously redefine "normal" to suit his zest for life. Caroline Palmer

Triumph67

Friday, April 15, at 7 p.m.

Triumph67 is a thoughtful piece that would have been effective as a short but is an endurance test as a feature. Director Dan Tanz's locally shot feature is an often wordless, sparsely populated (by people and storylines) meditation on a Palestinian-American in Minneapolis. Mohannad Aziz, who works in two endangered mediums as a movie critic for radio, struggles to come to terms with the death of his older brother, Sami, a photographer. He does so by reconnecting with Flora, a Minnesota woman with whom Sami had a summer fling in London in 1987, and for whom Mohannad continues to feel his own passions. He also discovers that Sami and Flora had a son, now a resentful young adult with whom Mohannad, in his guilt over his brother's death and his love for Flora, tries to forge a bond. In the lead role, Mohannad Ghawanmeh (who is also curator of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival) gives an understated but compelling performance. The photography by Jeremy Wilker captures Twin Cities landmarks in all their warm-weather lushness, and director Tanz directs his cast with professionalism. But the thin story is stretched beyond the breaking point with long periods of dead silence, the characters captured in soul-searching solitude or staring at one another. Things are occasionally livened up by 16mm home movies of Sami (Kareem Aal) and amusing appearances by a bumbling American suitor of Flora's. Clearly, somewhere in the 93 minutes of inertia is a 20- to 30-minute gem. —John Ervin

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