Here are a couple of picks for what I think are the best bets this weekend at MSPIFF. I should point out that I haven't seen any of these films, so I could be off base on some off this stuff. But that just adds to the excitement, right? Come back on Monday for what I'm excited for next week.
•Friday, early evening
Top Pick -- Kinshasa Symphony; Fri Apr 15 - 6:45, Sat Apr 16 - 5:30 (Actor present)
A capital city for a country ravaged by war is probably the last place you'd expect to find a symphony orchestra. Overcoming such nuisances as musicians without training and instruments without strings, conductor Armand Diangienda has been leading the Kimbanguiste Symphony Orchestra since 1993. Writing in Der Spiegel, Elke Schmitter says, "Kinshasa Symphony doesn't omit the hardships. An orchestra that replaces broken violin strings with bicycle brake cables and constructs a bell out of scrap metal will never sound exactly like the Berlin Philharmonic.... The film doesn't try to lecture. Instead, it relies on the impressions made by images, music and the stories of the people involved." The film won the Audience Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
2nd Choice -- Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff; Fri Apr 15 - 7:15, Sat Apr 16 - 1:15 (Director present)
This documentary tells the story of one of the most influential cinematographers to ever work in Hollywood. He boldly embraced color filming early, landing him jobs with Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston. The movie screened at the Cannes Classics program in 2010.
•Friday, late evening
Top Pick -- We Are What We Are; Fri Apr 15 - 10pm, Mon Apr 18 - 9:30
This film is part of MSPIFF's "Late Night" series for a good reason: It's an unusual family drama from Mexico where the death of their patriarch leaves the members struggling to continue their cannibalistic lifestyle. The film played at the 2010 Cannes Film Market, the business side of the film festival. In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw writes that director Jorge Michel Grau shows, "how violence and madness are the genesis of a ritual designed to create, not redemption exactly, but rather a Black Mass of effacement, one that locks the celebrant into a hell of guilt and fear."
2nd choice -- Curling; Fri Apr 15 - 9:30, Sat Apr 16 - 8:00 (Director present)
A quiet Canadian picture from Denis Cote, who will be present at the screening. It's the story of a father keeping his daughter in complete isolation, so to shelter her from the scarring nature of the outside world. This film played at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Top Pick -- Happy, Happy; Sat Apr 16 - 3:45, Sun Apr 17 - 5:00
This Norwegian film presents an honest portrayal of infidelity, along with stellar acting from its lead Agnes Kittelsen. But this story of affairs isn't a downer, as the Sundance website says, "Set in the dead of winter in the middle of nowhere, the locale of Happy, Happy is crucial to balancing the film as both sex comedy and drama." The movie won World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for a drama at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
2nd Choice -- Yellow Bittern: The Life and Times of Liam Clancy; Sat Apr 16 - 2:45, Fri Apr 29 - 6:45
I like a good documentary on influential cultural figures that I've never heard of, and this movie certainly fits the bill. Before dying in 2009, Liam Clancy's career in music spanned 50 years and influenced the likes of Bob Dylan and U2. The review in Tiny Mix Tapes states, "The artist's natural gift for storytelling sets the pace of The Yellow Bittern, which thankfully never drags or becomes tedious throughout its two-hour runtime, which is quite a feat considering the fact that it’s essentially a monologue."
Top Pick -- How To Start Your Own Country; Sat Apr 16 - 5:15, Mon May 2 - 9:30
My interest is always peaked when I see the name Guy Maddin. He's not attached to this documentary, but the director, Jody Shapiro, has produced many of his films and was the cinematographer for My Winnipeg. Shapiro visits some truly bizarre micronations, including the Republic of Molossia, which is in Nevada and bans everything that originates from Texas. The film played at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.
2nd Choice -- The Light Thief; Sat Apr 16 - 7:30, Wed Apr 20 - 9:00
This Krygzystan film has a bit of a messy structure, I'm told, but it's charming enough for audiences to overlook that. Despite rampant government corruption, one man attempts to bring electricity to his valley during the 2005 Tulip Revolution. The characters, portrayed by amateur actors, are endearing, as Natasha Senjanovic writes in The Hollywood Reporter, "Never portrayed as yokels, the villagers may be cut off from the world but they are astutely aware of their position in society. This is not how the West sees the East, but how someone from the East views the downward spiral of his country." This played at the Cannes program "Directors' Fortnight."
Top Pick -- A Useful Life; Sun Apr 17 - 2:30, Thu Apr 21 - 5:30
When a film theater in Uruguay shuts down, an elderly man is forced to live his own life without the shelter films provided him. Slant Magazine writes, "[Director] Veiroj is fixated on cinema as an instructive and maternal presence in our lives—a force that often shields us from the very truths it frequently represents." The film played at the Toronto International Film Festival.
2nd Choice -- Modra; Sun Apr 17 - 2:30, Mon Apr 25 - 4:45
It's a coming-of-age story, but, before that spooks you too much, I should say it's in a way that's genuine and easily relatable. A Canadian teenager brings her testosterone-fueled schoolmate to summer with her and her Slovakian family before going to college. This is the film's US premiere.