Movie Blog: Twin Cities Film Fest Opens Tonight

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One of the students in "Waiting for Superman" puts the pencil to work. (credit: Paramount Pictures)

One of the students in “Waiting for Superman” puts the pencil to work. (credit: Paramount Pictures)

This evening marks the opening of the first annual Twin Cities Film Fest, not to be confused with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, which runs each spring. (If this new fest really gets off the ground, the two will make for a great set of seasonal bookends.)

The fest runs from this evening through Saturday, and boasts more than two dozen films, including a number of shorts, documentaries and movies with that special Minnesota flavor.

The opening film this evening is Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary Waiting for Superman. The focus of the Inconvenient Truth director’s latest is the shocking failure of public school systems to provide students with even the most basic tools they need to continue on in college and beyond. (The topic is clearly a hot one, and has actually spurred a spate of docs this year.)

Superman follows five students struggling to make the grade and awaiting the arrival of an agonizing lottery drawing which will decide whether or not they will be allowed matriculation-salvation at a charter school. Aside from the anxious students and their families, Guggenheim’s movie delves into the bureaucratic morass responsible for public schools’ plight. The critics have been near-unanimous, but, somewhat unsurprisingly, there are some representatives of teachers’ unions who contest the movie’s depictions.

The Tuesday night screening at the Mall of America (at which Guggenheim will be present for a Q&A) is, alas, sold out, but will open at the Uptown Theater on Friday.

The remainder of the fest will bring the local premieres of some E-ticket offerings, both studio and indie. Interestingly enough, every single title in the “studio” category is based on a true life story, Oscar formulas being what they are. Here are the biopic contenders:

Nowhere Boy. Kick-Ass nerd-hunk Aaron Johnson fills young John Lennon’s Beatle boots as he spends his halcyon days fixating on his mother Julia and, in general, proving Freud right. (Sept. 29, 7 p.m., Block E)

Conviction. Sam Rockwell is getting mondo Oscar buzz for his performance as a man sentenced to life in prison in this true life story. Hilary Swank plays his sister fighting to overturn his conviction. (Sept. 30, 8 p.m., Block E)

Secretariat. Diane Lane whispers sweet nothings into the ear of a future Triple Crown-winning horse in this likely to be exceedingly tasteful, swingers-era Seabiscuit. (Oct. 1, 7 p.m., Block E)

Fair Game. Naomi Watts is Valerie Plame and Sean Penn is her husband Joe Wilson in Doug Liman’s depiction of the CIA leak scandal. (Oct. 2, 7 p.m., Block E)

Perhaps more importantly, here are some of the features and documentaries with strong Minnesota connections:

Phasma Ex Machina. Colin Covert suggested in the Star Tribune that Stephen King would adore this tightly-budgeted supernatural/sci-fi affair, which is a homegrown stab at Primer territory about an inventor who builds a device that bridges the gap between life and death. (Sept. 29, 7 p.m., Block E)

World’s Largest. Another director in attendance here. Amy Elliot’s doc looks at small town Americana’s own stab at architectural folly, using the term in the traditional sense. Minnesota towns are well represented here, from Vergas’ giant loon to Olivia’s big ol’ ear of corn. (Sept. 29, 9:30 p.m.; Oct. 2, 1:30 p.m., Block E)

Channel News. DIY Minnesota cinema gets its own auto-critique in Jacob Kindberg’s domestic drama about a brother and sister who bond (and don’t) making movies in their home. (Sept. 30, 4:30 p.m.; Oct. 2, 3 p.m., Block E)

Man Made. You can’t fault director Vaughn Juares (in attendance) for limiting the scope of his vision. Man Made is a sort of Rosemary’s Baby for the cloning era, with the sort of obvious subtexts that might make Machete seem nuanced in comparison. (Sept. 30, 6 p.m., Block E)

The Nature of Existence. Trekkies director Roger Nygard will be present at this screening of his new film, a tongue-somewhat-in-cheek attempt to ask humanity’s best and brightest (and otherwise) the big, inconvenient questions. (Oct. 1, 7 p.m., Block E)

A Good Day To Die. Directors David Mueller and Lynn Salt will be in attendance after the screening of their profile of Dennis Banks, who helped found the American Indian Movement to assist urban natives right here in Minnesota. (Oct. 2, 6 p.m., Block E)

Eric Henderson is a web producer and film blogger for WCCO.COM.

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