FESTIVALS: Indies Twin Cities Style; Walker Takes A Look
by Jeremy Swanson
(indieWIRE/ 05.30.01) -- In between the tour-de-force of Cannes and the full-throttle Hollywood summer hype, it's easy to overlook some of the smaller (yet still spirited) indie film events held over May. While Minnesota may not exactly be known as an independent cinema haven, a dynamite film series, "A Look Apart," screened at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, featuring two U.S. premieres, one international premiere, and several other award-winning works by 10 first-time directors. The series closes this Thursday, May 31, with a screening of Edo Bertoglio's soon-to-be archival classic "Downtown 81."
Curated by Cis Bierinckx, "A Look Apart" offered a diverse batch of independent films that explore new ways in manipulating visual and narrative form. It was an ambitious series that, beyond giving local audiences a rare chance to experience first-rate emerging filmmakers, evidenced a strong indie film undercurrent within the Twin Cities. "People should know that something is going on here," says Bierinckx of the Walker Art Center and the Twin Cities film scene. "It is always difficult to get recognition here in the Midwest."
Bierinckx definitely helped Midwestern filmmakers and filmgoers gain respect in "A Look Apart" by screening one of last year's most exciting indie documentaries, which happened to be filmed and produced in Iowa. Monteith McCollum's "Hybrid" mixes the biography of a pioneering centenarian farmer with the history of genetically modified corn, not to mention an array of exquisite shots of the vast Iowa countryside. The documentary, still seeking a distributor, took home a slew of awards over the last year, including a grand jury prize for Best Documentary at the 2001 Slamdance International Film Festival.
A far cry from the Midwest cornfields in terms of culture and style, South America made the most powerful presence within the series. Two films from Argentina screened, the most compelling of which was "The Faith of the Volcano." In her psychological study of a forlorn teenager and a jocular middle-aged man, first-time filmmaker Ana Poliak presented a visually stunning film, adding further momentum to the excitement coming out of Buenos Aires. Another South American film in the series, Uruguay's "25 Watts," in fact, won an award at the rising Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema in May. Coming off as a "Slacker" from south of the Equator, the film also earned the Tiger Award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. One of the U.S. premieres in the series, "West Zone," also came from South America. While its director hails from France, the film was shot in Brazil and is comprised of three chilling true confessionals from Brazilian gang members.
The only international premiere in "A Look Apart" came from India and attempted the unthinkable feat of blending social commentary with some all-too-familiar Bollywood conventions. Filmmaker P. Sheshadri's first feature, "Munnudi," follows the hapless tale of a coastal Indian village where poor women are married off to traveling Arab men only to be abandoned when the men return to the Middle East. Besides evincing cultural tension between Muslims and Hindus, the film also subtly moves beyond the boundaries of typical Indian cinema.
All in all, "A Look Apart" exhibited a spirited display of indie films from the U.S. and overseas. In addition to the international selections mentioned above, the series also included New York Underground Film Festival Best Feature winner, the haunting "Migrating Forms," and the aforementioned "Downtown 81," a new film about artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the New York of the 1980s, which the director started making twenty years ago. These are the kinds of risky films that are fueling the rising indie scene in the Twin Cities.
Even though Bierinckx has only been the museum's film curator since September, the Walker Art Center has been in step with the area's indie scene since its inception. The museum has long held a reputation as a stalwart of modern art in the U.S., even drawing comparisons to the Museum of Modern Art in the New York Times. Its influence on the art world is only bound to expand, too, as the museum will undergo a 90-million dollar expansion and renovation over the next few years. The cinema, which seats about 350, will also receive a technical make over.
Curating at the Walker, Bierinckx has come a long way since his first film gig. (When he was 14 years old growing up in a small village in Belgium, Bierinckx started a film club with some of his buddies.) But he maintains that his passion for independent cinema is just as vibrant as it was then.
"In Europe, we call them small movies for small theaters," he says. "They're not for every audience. These films are about challenging yourself. You have to really see them instead of just undergoing them, which is something more passive. This is the cinema of the future."
[Jeremy Swanson is a freelance writer and film dilettante/critic in Minneapolis. He writes regularly for City Pages and The Utne Reader.]