The Twin Cities Film Festival (TCFF) is in full swing this week as it welcomes attendees to its 14th year of showcasing films created by Hollywood studios and directors to local filmmakers. The festival takes place at Showplace Icon and Kitchen at The Shops at West End in St. Louis Park from Oct. 19-28, and features several panel discussions, red-carpet premieres, and activities for visitors to enjoy.
This year’s festival has 140 films scheduled for viewing, with 90 of the films programmed for the screen with an additional 50 films available for audiences to stream online. Viewers can also watch films for free at the Icon theater during weekday matinees, as a way for the festival organizers to promote accessibility for film lovers.
TCFF has a series of programs to highlight films from marginalized communities that gives diverse filmmakers the opportunity to screen their films alongside critically acclaimed works. The series categories are: Empower, which highlights films from people of color; Black on Screen, to showcase works from Black filmmakers; Out LGBTQ+ for filmmakers of diverse gender and sexual identities; and “Her” to spotlight works from women.
Jatin Setia, a self-described lover of film, founded the festival in 2010, after leaving his career in corporate America following the 2008 financial crisis.
Since then, Setia has worked to foster a sense of community for filmmakers and moviegoers in the Twin Cities.
“Going to the cinema is always a collective community experience for me,” he said. “There wasn’t a festival in town that catered to people who like movies. There’s specific festivals in our region that cater to very specific niches.”
Committed to filling the void, Setia organized the first festival at the now-closed AMC Block E 15 theater in Minneapolis. Back then, there were over 30 films screened and roughly 800 attendees.
The following year TCFF moved to St. Louis Park where it would hold its festival for the next 13 years. In 2020, it opened an office next door to the theater as a base of operations, where it now offers visiting filmmakers a lounge space during the festival and hosts events throughout the year.
Local films and filmmakers
While several studio films take center stage at the festival, there are films created by local filmmakers that are screened alongside these star-studded projects.
Adrian Wilson, a Minnesota filmmaker, is set to premiere his short film “Unplugged” during the Black Voices MN film block on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. The film centers on Karlee, a young woman grappling with her cellphone addiction and the inability to escape digital life. Wilson took inspiration from projects like, “They Cloned Tyrone,” “Black Mirror,” and the works of Jordan Peele.
This is Wilson’s second film to play at the festival. Last year, he screened a documentary titled “A Letter to Bryson,” which captured lessons that he shared with his seven-year-old son, Bryson, about being a Black man in America.
Over the years he’s developed his work in narrative and documentary filmmaking and credits TCFF for his progress.
“I’ve encouraged my friends, ‘Even if you don’t come and watch all the films, you can come and be a part of this,’ because you’re around so many creative people, so many actors. I even met an entertainment lawyer last year,” he said.
Fans of documentary film also have a wide variety of films to choose from such as “Arise Firebird,” “Birthing Justice,” and “On the Outside.” The festival will also have a free screening of “The Juneteenth Story: From Galveston, TX to Minnesota,” on Oct. 26, at 12:15 p.m.
The film was directed by Monique Linder, a Minnesota filmmaker, and captures Minnesota’s connection to Juneteeth’s history and its recent establishment as a state holiday. Linder shared her excitement in bringing the film to TCFF, and shared where it took place.
Linder’s production company, OMG Studios, worked to capture stories directly from subjects tied to the history of Juneteenth. She traveled down to Galveston, Texas, and spoke to the descendants of those who were enslaved to share their family’s story, which had been passed down over generations.
“We wanted our local community to really hear their message about Juneteenth and not just Juneteenth,” she said. “It’s a bigger message in the film about community uniting and coming together. That we have to confront our history of slavery and lynching together before we can move on to the future.”
The film features interviews with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, Senator Bobby Joe Champion, Dr. Josie R. Johnson, and Mahmoud El-Kati.
Outside of the festival, Setia shared that TCFF is actively engaged in the local film community by giving filmmakers opportunities for professional work.
Supporting Twin Cities filmmakers
“We’ve put about $300,000 cash into filmmakers’ pockets over the last four years to make paid content. Which again, at the end of the day, it’s experience and it’s work and they get to hone their craft,” Setia said.
TCFF also has an education program to develop filmmakers and a distribution arm where they’ve helped seven independent filmmakers find distribution for their films.
Setia shared that he would like to see bigger films be brought to Minnesota to give local filmmakers the opportunity to work with industry giants. He’s encouraged by the recent changes at the legislature that have expanded Minnesota’s tax credits toward film production.
“If the work isn’t here, you don’t have to stay here,” he said. “But with the legislation that just got passed with the eight-year sunset and [the] $25 million, as opposed to the $5 million cap. That’s a step in the right direction.”
According to Setia, many producers, directors, and actors who visit Minnesota for the first time during their festival stop are surprised to see its diverse landscape and see it as an alternative to a typical Hollywood lot.
“I’ve certainly had plenty of filmmakers fly in [saying] ‘I was flying over. I saw lakes and I saw the greenery and I saw the changing leaves. What can we do here?’ So then we connect them with the film and television board. We connect them with location scouts here,” he said.
This year, the festival’s closing night film will be “Downtown Owl,” by Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe, which is based on the novel by Minnesota native Chuck Klosterman. The film made headlines last year after part of its production took place in Minnesota with Vanessa Hudgens, Ed Harris, and Henry Golding starring.
Setia reached out to Sony over the summer after they had acquired the film and offered to make it the closing-night film at the festival. Within a week they accepted his offer.
“I want to show the film here because I have so many amazing people that worked on the film. A couple of them actually work with my staff, so we want to see it,” he said. “They appreciate the fact that we’re going to put a spotlight on a film that was shot here.”
TCFF has seen its fair share of celebrities attend the festival whose works were being screened. Last year festival goers heard from Chris Mulkey and Bo Bridges. In the past, festivalgoers had a chance to spot Laverne Cox, Lea Thompson, Chris Kattan, and Tom Cavanagh among others.
With the current SAG-AFTRA strike, there is a noticeable absence of celebrities at this year’s festival. However, TCFF has announced that it is welcoming Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard for a screening of his new film “Showdown at the Grand” on Oct. 27, at 6 p.m. Howard will also take part in the festival’s Spotlight Event on Oct. 28, at 4 p.m., where he is set to receive the TCFF Indie Vision Legacy Award.
Setia had been in conversation with Howard and his film’s distributors to have the film screened at the festival since June but encountered a roadblock once the actor’s strike began. Once the film received a waiver from the guild, Howard and the other actors who were part of the project were able to promote the film. Those interested in the festival and its events can learn more on TCFF’s website and purchase passes for in-person and virtual screenings there.