Written by: Kyra Beske and Jenna Grochow
There are film festivals occurring all over the world, but Minnesota gives cinephiles the opportunity to experience international film right at home. Minnesota has their own Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul that not only presents the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, but programming 365 days a year. Located at the St. Anthony Main Theatre, the MSP Film Society diversifies audiences by bringing international engagement locally. This would not be successful without the donations, sponsors, and volunteers to keep the art of film alive. The MSP Film Society stays successful through fulfilling their mission statement in the act of daily programming, the film festival, and audience engagement.
What is MSPIFF?
Why travel out of state? Locally, there are opportunities such as the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul to appreciate film. The Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul was founded in 1962 and is Minnesota’s foremost 501(c)(3) non-profit film exhibition organization. Located in Minneapolis and presenting films at the St. Anthony Main Theatre, this film society hosts an annual film festival in April and daily programming 365 days a year. Anyone can get involved in the MSP Film Society by volunteering, donating, or even become a member. The Film Society is preparing for their 38th annual film festival filled with cinema, events, parties, panels, and competition.
The films that are presented by the MSP Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul can be seen at the St. Anthony Main Theatre located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The theatre was opened in 1985 by Engler Theaters of Minnesota. This theatre opening was part of the renovation of old factories and warehouses into a street with shopping and entertainment. Bordwell mentions in the discussion of cinemas, “As shopping centers grew from strip malls into vast, enclosed structures offering acres of parking, and as suburban young people became the primary audience, the movie house of the 1970s was likely to be a multiplex” (Bordwell, 110). Over the years, there have been many changes to the St. Anthony Main Theatre due to ownership and renovations. In 2003, Stone Arch Cinemas purchased the theatre and has kept it well attended and preserved for the MSP Film Society to showcase their films on multiple screens.
The MSP Film Society has volunteer opportunities called the Cine Squad to keep it up and running in a successful manner. The Cine Squad is a team of volunteers that spreads the word about the MSP Film Society’s engagement such as individual films, the annual film festival, themed screenings, and more. This is an opportunity to hang out with other cinephiles. Cinephiles or “More specifically, cinephilia could be labelled an individual character trait of persons in the cinema audience, watching films frequently and in a devoted manner, which could be regarded as a peculiar way of spending free time” (Bosma, 21). The Film Society could not be successful without their cinephiles as volunteers. In return for the Cine Squad dedication, volunteers receive rewards including memberships, vouchers, swag, free admission, and more. Being a volunteer in the MSP Film Society leads to volunteering and preparing for the big annual film festival.
The Festival Purpose
The MSP Film Society carries out their mission statement through their annual film festival, regular themed series, and daily programming of international cinema. Their mission statement is “to foster a knowledgeable and vibrant appreciation of the art of film and its power to inform and transform individuals and communities” (38th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival). They follow through with their mission statement by making international cinema available to the local audience. The choice of films includes award-winning, new, and classical films that represent different perspectives and experience to better inform and engage the community. It is a celebration of cinema that is all inclusive.
There are many aspects to the MSP Film Society and the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival to execute in creating a successful program and it could not be done without the help of their volunteers and sponsors. There is major funding by sponsors such as the Nation Endowment for the Arts, Cedarwoods Foundation, and Pohlad Family Foundation. With these sponsors, it is important that “The ‘core business’ of film festivals remains the presentation of the best possible programme, selected by a strictly independent staff” (Bosma, 71). Programming is key to the MSP Film Society and the MSPIFF. This is how they will receive continuous support from local, national, and international audiences by following through with their mission statement in mind.
When trying to find the programs from the past years of MSPIFF and the MSP Film Society’s past programming it proved to be difficult. The Archive section on their website is incomplete with only a section for their Cine Latino program and the 2015 MSPIFF program, stating at the bottom of the page “more coming soon.” We sent an email to an address, listed under the “About Us,” tab to inquire and see if we could get someone’s direct contact information to ask more questions that we weren’t able to find the information for about past and current programming, but we never received a reply. We had to search various news sources, such as the Star Tribune, to find in-depth information on what the programming was last year and previous years for MSPIFF. The MSP Film society has a more detailed “Programs” page of their website that gives brief descriptions of all their programs and events they host throughout the course of a year; however, they are still lacking an archive of past programs and events they have held that are not still currently put on. Another difficult aspect of their website, is while it is convenient to have both the MSPIFF and the MSP Film Society sharing the same web address, it is sometimes difficult to tell which one you are reading information about, for example when you click on the “Programs” tab you will receive completely different information, depending if clicked on it after you looked at the film society’s page or the film festival’s page, but the website doesn’t look any different. A suggestion that would greatly improve this navigation of the website would be to add some simple color coding to indicate if one is viewing MSPIFF information or the MSP Film Society information.
The Minneapolis International Film Festival and the MSP Film Society work together to create a successful, diverse range of programming year-round. MSPIFF and the MSP Film Society both select and curate film programs that give viewers worldly experiences. The MSP Film Society has multiple annual and special programs focused on celebrating specific nations’ heritages, according to their programs and series listing on their website, such as Cine Latino, “the region’s only showcase of Ibero and Latin American cinema” and Lumières Françaises, a series “developed to showcase the ongoing importance of French-language cinema and the deep French roots in Minnesota,” along with many other programs hosted at different times of the year. The film society hosts daily screenings of different films, most often shown at the St. Anthony Main Theatre. Since the film society does year-round programming, they are able to keep their followers and audience up to date, through use of their website, social media, and app.
The Minneapolis International Film Festival and the MSP Film Society celebrates both their local roots and heritage as well as international influences. The programs for MSPIFF covers a diverse a range of interests and backgrounds, as stated by Peter Bosma in his book Film Programming: Curating For Cinemas, Festivals, Archives, “the fundamental challenge for the film festival curator consists of dealing with the privilege to get the intense attention and dedication of a lot of different people during several days or a whole week or more.” MSPIFF wants to please and include as many people as possible, rather than focusing on a niche audience market as some other film festivals do, and they do this by offering a variety of film showings over a two-week period. MSPIFF seems to aim to expand its audience’s worldview with their theme for the 2018 festival, “Where the World Comes into View,” by showcasing films in curated programs for the festival such as: “Asian Frontiers,” “Images of Africa,” and “World Cinema.” As stated by De Valck, film festivals offer viewers a unique opportunity for learning more about different cultures from around the world, “Film festivals provide global exhibition opportunities and exposure for many wonderful films that would probably fail to find an audience otherwise” (De Valck, 97). MSPIFF successfully provides unique programming to its audience every year through not only showing people from different countries and cultures, but people of different backgrounds and identities.
The festival also seeks to engage with everyone and anyone, focusing on people of different age groups and genders, by having curated programs such as “Women & Film,” “LGBTQ Currents,” and the “Nextwave Youth Film Competition.” MSPIFF also celebrates its local Minnesota heritage, focused on by the festival’s senior programmer, Craig Rice as he told Star Tribune, “Rice primarily focuses on Minnesota filmmakers “because that’s my passion,” and finds that there are too many producing high-quality work to include them all.” There are both juried and audience awards given for “Minnesota Made Narrative Feature” and “Minnesota Made Documentary Feature,” giving everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion and vote. The other awards voted on by the festivals audience each year include: “Narrative Feature,” “Documentary Feature,” “Narrative Short,” and “Documentary Short.”
Impact and Effectiveness
There are 250-plus movies from 70 different countries that the MSP Film Society provides for their audiences. Rice said “‘It’s a focused look at the whole international context,’ he said, noting the works on display from Africa, China, the Middle East and by Native Americans” (Covert). Some of the MSPIFF’s must see top films in 2018 include Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (dir. Morgan Neville, 2018) from USA, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (dir. Mouly Surya, 2017) from Indonesia, and Have a Nice Day (dir. Jian Liu, 2017) from China. Having films from all over the world creates this international engagement for locals to experience.
Each year MSPIFF keeps growing and gaining a larger audience base. Currently they attract and welcome over 45,000 people annually to the film festival, making it the largest film festival in the Upper Midwest region of the United States. Along with the large audience coming to view the films, MSPIFF “welcomes the attendance of more than 150 filmmakers from around the world,” according to FilmFreeway. Twin Cities Business reported, last year’s 2018 festival attendance was negatively impacted due to an unfortunate snowstorm, “”Due to the storm, our Saturday numbers were less than half [of what they were] the prior year,” said Peter Schilling, the festival’s publicity and outreach manager” (Ostuni, 2018). Even with the unfavorable weather conditions, there were still loyal attendees that managed to sell out a few films such as: Tully and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? After Saturday’s storm, the rest of the 2018 festival went off smoothly and reached their overall average turnout, attendance wise.
Supporting international independent cinema through donating is the perfect way to keep it running successfully. The MSP Film Society gives people different opportunities to donate and help fund future activities for their audiences. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and continuously needs the help of their members and supporters. One of the ways to support is by doing a general donation or donating to a special program such as MSPIFF, Iranian Film Series, Cine Latino, Nextwave, Czech That Film, and Cuban Film Festival. There is also corporate matching and volunteer giving where you may be able to double your gift or have your volunteer hours matched. Planned giving recognizes a specific film and donates to help their success and impact. Then there is their AmazonSmile shop program where Amazon donates 0.5% to the Film Society when you shop on AmazonSmile. Lastly, there is a Gift of Stock that the donor can receive significant tax benefits. These donation opportunities help keep the MSP Film Society creating unforgettable experiences through the power of film.
The MSP Film Society stays successful through fulfilling their mission statement in the act of daily programming, the film festival, and audience engagement. Through connecting with people locally, nationally, and internationally, the MSP Film Society continues to grow. When the MSPIFF is over in April, the opportunities for audiences to watch film does not end, as the MSP Film Society provides daily programming 365 days a year. As we found that there are some issues regarding finding information on past events or promotions about their social media, the MSP Film Society is doing many other things right to keep the art of film alive and supported.
“38th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival – April 4-20, 2019.” MSP Film Society, mspfilm.org/festivals/mspiff/.
Bordwell, David. Pandora’s Digital Box. The Irvington Way Institute Press, 2012.
Bosma, Peter. Film Programming: Curating For Cinemas, Festivals, Archives. Columbia University Press, 2015
Covert, Colin. “With 157 Features from All over the World, Twin Cities Film Festival Has Something for Everyone.” Star Tribune, Star Tribune, 5 Apr. 2018, m.startribune.com/with-157-features-from-all-over-the-world-twin-cities-film-festival-has-something-for-everyone/478919553/.
De Valck, Marijke. “Film Festivals: Successful or Safe?” pp. 97–108.
“Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.” FilmFreeway, filmfreeway.com/mspiff.
“MSPIFF Has over 250 Films. Here Are 15 Must-See Flicks.” City Pages, City Pages, 11 Apr. 2018, www.citypages.com/arts/mspiff-has-over-250-films-here-are-15-must-see-flicks/479317193.
Ostuni, Amanda. “Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival Among Hardest Hit by Weekend Blizzard.” Twin Cities Business, 17 Apr. 2018, tcbmag.com/news/articles/2018/april/minneapolis-st-paul-international-film-festival-a.
Scott, Steve. “St. Anthony Main Theatre.” Cinema Treasures, Cinema Treasures, cinematreasures.org/theaters/15952.