MSPIFF has over 250 films. Here are 15 must-see flicks.

'Roller Dreams'

'Roller Dreams' 'courtesy of MSP Film Society'

For over three decades, the MSP Film Society has hosted the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, an epic multi-week happening with screenings of 250-plus movies from over 70 countries. That’s a lot for film aficionados to process. We’re here to help you. Top selections this year include documentaries on Mr. Rogers, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, gay beauty contestants in Syria, and ’80s roller dancers. There are dreamlike arthouse flicks to debate over a glass of wine, there are super weird animation projects where wine is recommended beforehand, and there are even a few selections that might pop up again come awards season.

Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival 2018

St. Anthony Main Theatre
$8-$14 single tickets; $55-$70 6-pack tickets; $325-$450 festival passes

The movie we need right now

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

In cynical, soul-bruising 2018, the gentle wisdom of beloved children’s TV host Fred Rogers is a balm for the battered psyche. Director Morgan Neville’s documentary looks back at the life and legacy of America’s patron saint of kindness. Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, brought his values but not his dogma to his namesake PBS show, which taught three decades of children the importance of civility, empathy, and inclusion. Rogers was also a subtle subversive, stumping for public TV and fighting against racism in his own soft-spoken way. Neville is an excellent filmmaker whose previous works, 20 Feet From Stardom and Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal, rank among the top documentaries of the past decade. No screener was available for this one, which is a shame, because we could really use it. (We got a little misty just watching the trailer.) 4:20 p.m. Sunday, April 15, and 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 24 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Bryan Miller

'Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts'

'Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts' courtesy of Kim Stim

A feminist Indonesian Western

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

Director Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts examines sexual and societal perversion amid the pastoral purity of rural Indonesia. Good ol’ boy propaganda and the impunity of sexual violence by men are portrayed here with a bit of bitter humor. “Women are always trouble,” a man says to his sons at the sight of a machete-wielding Marlina (Marsha Timothy), who is hours removed from surviving a rape and near gang rape. Murderer is in no predictable revenge-movie rush for validation. Marlina has no proclamation, just the wish to exist, unbothered. With Surya’s steady, unflinching shots of the countryside, a story unfolds that is as sweet as it is sad and stingingly smart. The mood is often tensely wound before the film expertly shifts to well-placed exhales of interstitial scenic shots. Yet these scenic shots are also wrought with emotion, and will fuck you up every step of the way. 12:10 p.m. Saturday, April 14, and 9:35 p.m. Monday, April 16 at St. Anthony Main Theatre; noon on Saturday, April 21 at Uptown Theatre. —Solomon Gustavo

Diablo Cody strikes again


The coming-of-age comedy Juno, helmed by Jason Reitman from a debut script penned by former City Pages scribe Diablo Cody, proved to be a surprise hit of 2007. Their great chemistry was reaffirmed with their second project, 2011’s Young Adult, a caustically funny tale featuring Charlize Theron as a burned-out writer scheming to seduce her married high school flame. Along with Theron, Reitman and Cody have reunited for a third collaboration, Tully, the story of an exhausted suburban mother named Marlo whose sense of personal identity has been eroded by the incessant demands of her oblivious family. That is, until a preternaturally devoted “night nanny” enters her life. Enigmatically portrayed by Mackenzie Davis, the spritely Tully becomes an irresistible force of change in the household, compelling Marlo to restore her own sense of being while staking out her place in the larger universe. Based on early accolades citing the dynamic pairing of Theron and Davis, Tully looks to be another success for the Reitman/Cody team. 7 p.m. Saturday, April 14 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Brad Richason

Bravery for when LGBTQ pride is life-threatening

Mr. Gay Syria

It’s hard not to fall in love with Hussein, the titular star of Ayse Toprak’s documentary Mr. Gay Syria. Charming and affectionate, with a tendency to spout off eloquent observances in a dreamlike way, Hussein easily wins a makeshift beauty pageant put together by gay Syrian activist Mahmoud Hassino in Istanbul. All of the contestants are Syrian refugees, and Hassino’s grand plan is that by having the winner sent to the Mr. Gay World contest, it will help bring attention to the plight of the LGBTQ community in Syria and in other countries where refugees have fled. The film is both about Hassino’s quest for international attention and Hussein’s personal journey as he grapples with whether to come out to his family or have them find out when he inevitably shows up in the press. Hussein could face physical harm if he’s exposed, and lose his beloved daughter from a forced arranged marriage. Mr. Gay Syria is an incredible portrait of people who are searching for hope, despite the most extreme challenges. 11:45 a.m. Saturday, April 14, and 2:45 p.m. Thursday, April 26 at St. Anthony Main Theatre; 5 p.m. Friday, April 20 at Uptown Theatre. —Sheila Regan

Come for the fab fashion, stay for striking thoughts on gentrification

Roller Dreams

From the late ’70s through the early ’90s, roller dancers came together and created a community on a smooth piece of concrete at Venice Beach. The area was primarily African American, poor, and overlooked. On Saturdays, people would bring their roller skates to the beach, where they would practice dance moves, hang with friends, and mentor new skaters. Roller Dreams follows the key players in this movement. But it’s not just a documentary about roller dancing. It’s a film about racism, appropriation, and gentrification. As the Venice Beach phenomenon grew in popularity, studios began making movies that erased the black origins of the trend. After the L.A. riots, police grew increasingly nervous over the non-white crowds. There were noise ordinance arrests, and the city eventually agreed to tear up the concrete mecca, effectively stifling what had been a key part of the neighborhood for nearly two decades. With its end came new development projects and upscale businesses, further displacing the people who actually made the area cool. Through interviewing key players, Roller Dreams reflects on this unique moment in time, and the impact of its demise. 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 13 at Capri Theater; 2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Jessica Armbruster

A drama led by a powerhouse trio of women


It’s bad enough having one terrible mother; young Alba has two. In Barrage, Alba, played by Thémis Pauwels, opens her eyes to the faults her grandmother, who raised her, and her mother, who gave her up. This all comes to a head when the latter returns with hopes of rekindling their relationship. Isabelle Huppert gives an understated performance as Elizabeth, the controlling grandmother who acts more like an authoritarian tennis coach than a loving parent. Huppert’s real-life daughter, Lolita Chammah, plays the prodigal daughter/mother Catherine, whose ambitious plot to take over parenting duties goes disastrously wrong due to her her own demons. In the hands of Chammah, the erratic Catherine nevertheless draws empathy, but it’s Pauwels’ wide-eyed vulnerability that gives the film its hook. Laura Schroeder’s direction gets off to a slow start, but the trio of incredible actresses make up for this with compelling performances. Surrealistic flourishes in the last third of the movie also bring an intriguing extra layer. Barrage was the Luxembourg entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. 10:45 a.m. Saturday, April 14 at St. Anthony Main Theatre; 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24 at Uptown Theatre. —Sheila Regan

The best worst date movie

'On Chesil Beach'

'On Chesil Beach' courtesy of Bleecker Street

On Chesil Beach

We didn’t receive a screener for On Chesil Beach, but if we had, we wouldn’t watch it on a date. This drama of manners and sexual repression is based on English author Ian McEwan’s brief, devastating novel of the same name. Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle star as an innocent young couple deeply in love in early 1960s Britain, just before the onset of the sexual revolution. Their adherence to strict social mores—not to mention their own naiveté—sets their relationship on a path toward a disastrous wedding night. Years from now, this film will take the chill out of someone’s Netflix and chill. On Chesil Beach is also notable for reteaming the recently Oscar-nominated Ronan with writer McEwan; she landed her breakout role in Joe Wright’s 2007 adaptation of McEwan’s Atonement. On Chesil Beach was directed by Dominic Cooke, and features Emily Watson. 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Bryan Miller

Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg is our fearless leader


Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is so hot, we couldn’t even get an advanced screener to let you know how awesome it is. Still, judging from the trailer alone, this documentary looks like it’s going to be great. With footage of the notorious RBG herself pumping weights, whipping out shattering dissents, and becoming an icon, the film is going to appeal to her admirers—and probably win some new ones. The doc provides some background on Ginsburg’s legacy as the second woman in the United States to serve on the Supreme Court, sharing some of the history behind her superstar status. The filmmakers had access to the justice’s personal life, allowing for interviews with family members and others in her inner circle. You don’t want to miss this one. 7 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 12 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Sheila Regan

A timely piece about police violence

Crime + Punishment

Police departments around the country are facing increased scrutiny over abuses of those they’ve sworn to protect. Delving into the volatile issue, documentary filmmaker Stephen Maing’s latest work, Crime + Punishment, focuses on the illegal quota system utilized by the NYC Police Department. Between 2014 and 2017, Maing spent countless hours accompanying NYPD officers, documenting not just their methods, but the explicit expectation to exceed a benchmark of summonses and arrests. Asserting that poorer communities were targeted by police because residents often don’t have the resources to successfully contest the charges, Maing offers candid first-person accounts from officers in the so-called NYPD12, a group whose members risk career-ending recriminations to expose institutional misconduct. Culled from over a thousand hours of footage, Maing’s work is startlingly immersive, taking audiences into the heart of the NYPD to draw a direct link between unscrupulous law enforcement practices and the tragedies left in their wake. 7 p.m. Friday, April 27 at Capri Theater; 1:20 p.m. Saturday, April 28 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Brad Richason

'I am Not a Witch'

'I am Not a Witch' courtesy of Film Movement

When superstitions hold women back

I am Not a Witch

I Am Not a Witch is bold at every turn. The film follows Shula (Maggie Mulubwa), an eight-year-old girl who is sent to a witches’ camp in the Zambian desert after she is accused of sorcery. After banishment, Shula remains a true individual. Even when her options are bad, making choices is the only way for her to exist. Director Rungano Nyoni based her film on real-life stories from women in Zambia and Ghana, where she spent some time at such confinements. Here she daringly illustrates—in a style that’s part classic fairytale enchantment, part futuristic wonder—how widely held cultural superstitions are used to hold women back. Witch’s most powerful scenes are between women weighing in on how they have next to no choice in life. This is an amazingly ambitious film. It’s a little unwieldy, but Nyoni’s fanciful journey is well worth the ride. 7:20 p.m. Monday, April 16 and Saturday, April 21 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Solomon Gustavo

Understated animated weirdness

Have a Nice Day

When young Xiao Zhang steals a bag of money from his gangster boss to fix his girlfriend’s botched plastic surgery, he sets in motion a blackly comic series of catastrophes that entangle various desperate characters, including hopeless lovers, a butcher turned hitman, and an inventor with a pair of X-ray sunglasses. It’s all rendered in fairly minimalist animation from auteur Liu Jian, who created the film almost entirely on his own over the course of three years. The mashup of absurd plot twists and grimy realism highlights the economic struggle in the margins of a small, shabby city—one that eerily resembles plenty of languishing American metropolises. The grimly naturalistic story makes little use of the infinite possibilities of animation, and even at under 80 minutes the film feels a bit padded. But Liu’s distinctive aesthetic and deadpan delivery set Have a Nice Day apart from other Chinese gangster films and endless American post-Pulp Fiction knockoffs. 9:55 p.m. Friday, April 13, and 9:50 p.m. Sunday, April 22 at St. Anthony Main Theatre; 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 18 at Metro State University. —Bryan Miller

This vacation from hell is actually pretty soothing

All You Can Eat Buddha

All You Can Eat Buddha starts out as a charmingly humorous art-house flick, but somewhere in the middle it enters another dimension, one with telepathic octopuses, penis art collages, and necrosis. Mike (French actor Ludovic Berthillot) is a large man of many appetites and few words. He’s alone on vacation at the El Palacio, located on an unnamed tropical island. Here he enjoys the pleasures of an all-inclusive stay: days spent getting sunburned at the pool, buffet binge eating, and plenty of sex with strangers. When Mike decides to prolong this stay indefinitely, things start to get a little weird. Outside the resort, the island is going through a revolution. Inside, Mike finds himself with strange healing powers after saving a beached octopus. His mystical state can only do so much, however. The hotel deteriorates amid political unrest, and so does Mike’s health; he has chosen to stop taking his diabetes medicine. All You Can Eat Buddha lulls you in with the simple joys of vacation, but it also reminds you that good things can’t last forever. The film is French-Canadian cinematographer Ian Lagarde’s directorial debut. 4:50 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 22 at St. Anthony Main Theatre; 5 p.m. Thursday, April 26 at Uptown Theatre. —Jessica Armbruster

An unstuffy history lesson

'Bisbee ’17'

'Bisbee ’17' courtesy of 4th Row Films

Bisbee ’17

In 1917, nearly 1,200 mine workers with alleged union ties in the town of Bisbee, Arizona, were rounded up by local law enforcement, loaded onto railroad cattle cars, and sent into the New Mexico desert, where they were left to fend for themselves. The so-called “Bisbee deportation” is the subject of Robert Greene’s haunting documentary, Bisbee ’17, which finds the current residents of Bisbee reckoning with the town’s legacy. To some, the episode is a shameful chapter, while others view it as a harsh necessity. Greene depicts the range of opinions and emotions without excessive judgment or commentary. Known for blurring the lines between fact and fiction in documentaries like Actress and Kate Plays Christine, Greene stages re-enactments of the events surrounding the “deportation,” with town residents playing the parts. Even during those sequences, the distinction between what’s current and what’s historical remains fluid, and while Greene eventually lays out the facts of the incident, he does so in an impressionistic fashion that is more about capturing a mood than delivering a history lesson. It’s an approach that’s genuinely affecting in its artificiality. 9:20 p.m. Sunday, April 15, 4:15 p.m. Friday, April 20, and 1:50 p.m. Wednesday, April 25 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Josh Bell

For alien encounters in Japan

Before We Vanish

Renowned Japanese genre filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa explores a low-key alien invasion in Before We Vanish. The movie starts out with a rush of violence but soon settles into a more sedate rhythm, as Kurosawa introduces three extraterrestrials who’ve taken over human bodies in what appears to be a reconnaissance effort. Two take the forms of bratty teens, and seem to have no qualms about their impending destruction of humanity, while the third ends up in the body of Shinji (Ryûhei Matsuda), a young married man whose wife gives him a different view of life on Earth. The aliens’ practice of stealing “conceptions” directly from people’s minds leads to some fantastically creepy moments, with the kind of detached menace that Kurosawa has developed in movies like Pulse and Cure. But as the movie focuses more on Shinji’s burgeoning humanity in its plodding second half, it becomes more sentimental than unsettling. The broader Kurosawa’s scope becomes, the less effective he is at surprising and jolting the audience. 9:20 p.m. Saturday, April 14, and 4:10 p.m. Thursday, April 19 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Josh Bell

A Navajo Nation family sees the silver lining

The Blessing

This documentary from Emmy-winning filmmaking duo Jorden Fein and Hunter Robert Baker follows a Navajo Nation family over the course of five years. During that time, the patriarch has mixed feelings about working as a coal miner. The gig provides for his family, but at the cost of the destruction of a sacred mountain. Meanwhile, his high school daughter struggles with her sexual identity, as she comes into her own as a player on the boy’s football team while also competing for homecoming queen. The conundrums this family deals with—injuries that affect employment, fears of finding a place when you are different, environmental repercussions—are harrowing. However, The Blessing is actually an uplifting film, one that explores basic humanity. 5:15 p.m. Sunday, April 22; 7:10 p.m. Monday, April 23; and 9:10 a.m. Saturday, April 28 at St. Anthony Main Theatre. —Jessica Armbruster

Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival 2018

St. Anthony Main Theatre
$8-$14 single tickets; $55-$70 6-pack tickets; $325-$450 festival passes