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7 must-see movies screening at Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Fest

'The Lost City of Z'

'The Lost City of Z'

The 2017 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival kicks off tonight.

Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival

St. Anthony Main Theatre
$6-$13 single tickets; special packages available.

The lineup includes films from around the U.S. and the world, and with an especially strong selection of documentaries to choose from. Here are seven exciting films set to screen, categorized and listicle-ized for your convenience.

Most Buzzed About Film: The Lost City of Z

Opening this year’s festival is the hotly anticipated new outing from James Gray: The Lost City of Z. Departing from the urban milieu typical of his previous films (Two Lovers, The Immigrant), The Lost City of Z tells the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett as he embarks on a series of adventures deep in the Amazon rain forest. His mission: to prove his controversial theory that the Amazon once hosted a highly advanced pre-Colombian civilization (a theory that has become far less controversial in recent years). Epic in scale but intimate in tone, The Lost City of Z stars Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as Fawcett and Robert Pattinson (in yet another excellent, “serious” performance of the sort that he must hope will one day efface all memory of Twilight) as Fawcett’s aide-de-camp. Tickets to this showing may be hard to come by, but this is one of those rare festival films that may actually be coming to a theater near you.

Dates: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13; 7:20 p.m. Thursday, April 13.

Most Though-Provoking Documentary: Dolores

Dolores Huerta, a founder and key leader of the United Farm Workers, is one of the most distinguished civil rights activists of our time. This intimate documentary follows Huerta through her meeting with César Chávez, their leadership of the United Farm Workers, Huerta’s subsequent marginalization in the organization following Chávez’s death, and her continued activism in the 21st century. Perhaps the most striking element of this film is that it is just as interested in charting the sexism and prejudice that Huerta faced as a woman within left-wing activist circles as she did when confronting the establishment. Huerta is still prominent in contemporary civil rights movements -- she was a co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington back in January -- and if you’re interested in seeing her in person, she’ll be in attendance at the festival’s third showing of the film.

Dates: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 25; 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 26; 7:10 p.m. Thursday, April 27 (w/ Huerta in attendance).

(Image courtesy film press site)

Most Compelling Regional Film: Beyond Standing Rock

While you may not have been to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, there’s a good chance you or your friends checked in there on Facebook. As Native American rights activists have taken a stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline, documentarian Brian Malone has been there. Beyond Standing Rock covers events so fresh and recent that his film often feels more like journalism -- in the best sense possible -- than the kind of thing Ken Burns does for PBS. And yet, it never feels like a rush job. Malone’s camera presents us with crisp and striking cinematography, but also a measured exploration of the long history of betrayal, oppression, and resistance that have brought Native American activists to where they are today. The filmmakers will be in attendance at the showing of this film, which is great if you want to talk to people who’ve actually been to Standing Rock IRL.

Dates: 2:20 p.m. Saturday, April 29 (w/ filmmakers in attendance).

Most Intriguing Foreign Film: Mister Universo

In this delightful film from Italian filmmaker Tizza Covi and Austrian filmmaker Rainer Frimmel, we follow lion-tamer Tairo and contortionist Wendy through the backstage life of the modern circus. As a man who makes his living playing with lions and tigers, Tairo is somewhat superstitious, and possesses a number of charms to keep him safe, none of which he values more than the iron bar bent into a horseshoe by former Mr. Universe Arthur Robin. When his iron bar is stolen, Tairo fears he won’t be able to do his act anymore, so he sets out on the road to try to track down Arthur Robin and see if the aging strongman can’t bend him another charm. Mister Universo is Covi and Frimmel’s third film about the circus, and stars real-life circus performers playing themselves. Shot documentary style, this richly observed gem is the kind of revelation that makes film festivals so exciting.

Dates: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 25; 9:50 p.m. Thursday, April 27.

Most Potentially Controversial Film: Austerlitz

Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa doesn’t like to tell the viewer what to think. In recent documentaries like Maidan (about the Euromaidan protests in Kiev) and The Event (about the attempted Soviet coup in 1991), compelling footage of the subject in question is presented without voice-over commentary. Loznitsa brings a similar approach to Austerlitz, which depicts modern-day tourists as they visit the former Nazi concentration camps at Sachsenhausen and Dachau. What makes this film so upsetting is that these tourists might as well be at Disneyworld. They are tastelessly dressed -- there's a Jurassic Park T-shirt and a shirt that says “Fucking Fuck Censorship” -- and they are taking selfies in front of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign and the crematoria. Now, it’s not clear what Loznitsa thinks should be done about this -- to tell us wouldn’t be his style -- but Austerlitz makes a compelling argument about the need for a change in how we engage with the physical remnants of the Holocaust at a time when the last living witnesses are passing away.

Dates: 2:15 p.m. Thursday, April 20; 1 p.m. Monday, April 24; 4:50 p.m. Wednesday, April 26.

Most Exciting Genre Film: Daguerreotype

Japanese master Kiyoshi Kurosawa has been making his distinctive brand of horror film since the early ‘90s: atmospheric, understated, low on jump scares but high on existential dread, and engaged with social issues in a way that never feels preachy. Daguerreotype, set in France, is his first film outside Japan. It follows Jean (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet fame) as he begins an apprenticeship with Stephane, an obsessive photographer who believes that only the anachronistic 19th century daguerreotypes constitute “true” photography. But for a man whose emotional life is so thoroughly stranded in the past, where does he find the mysterious model for his modern daguerreotypes? And who is the shadowy woman whose presence subtly suggests itself to Jean whenever he enters Stephane’s creepy old studio? (And, as is often the case in this kind of film, has Jean never seen a horror movie before?) These and other questions will be kind of answered in this thoughtful and engrossing French outing from Kurosawa.

Dates: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 18; 4:25 p.m. Sunday, April 23; 9:40 p.m. Thursday April 27.

Most Dynamic Duo: The Unknown Girl

Since the late ‘90s, brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have become more or less the international face of Belgian cinema. Deeply politically engaged, and with an austerity that raises comparisons with French master Robert Bresson, the Dardennes have become increasingly well-known in the U.S. with films like The Kid with a Bike and Two Days, One Night. Their first new feature since the latter, The Unknown Girl tells the spare and incisive story of Dr. Jenny Davin, who becomes obsessed with the case of an African immigrant (the “unknown girl” of the title) who dies under dubious circumstances while Davin is on duty, prompting the usually aloof doctor to begin an increasingly emotionally involved investigation of the girl and her death. The Unknown Girl is a stellar new entry in their already distinguished filmography.

Dates: 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 14; 7:25 p.m. Saturday, April 22.