Art films, indies and more

Minnesota Film Arts’ two screens offer dozens of great movies every month.

by Tom Horgen

So it’s Friday night and you’re jonesing for a flick. You could do the proverbial “I’m a freshman at college” thing and watch your “Fight Club” DVD for the hundredth time. Or you could strap on your boots, take a short walk and boom – step into one of the great film venues located right here on campus.

Every night of the week, the University is teeming with opportunities for students to view, learn about and get involved with film.

Consider Thursday’s offerings. You could catch Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” at the Oak Street Cinema, or “Bowling for Columbine” at the Coffman Theater, or how about the acclaimed documentary, “Spellbound,” at the University Film Society? Life is good if you’re just looking for a movie theater, and even better if you’re a film buff.

So let’s take a peek at some of the places keeping America’s favorite pastime (movies, not baseball) flourishing on campus.

The University Film Society, or U Film for short, was founded in 1962 and has spent decades showing independent and foreign films at the Bell Museum Auditorium. Its founder, local cinema icon Albert Milgrom, still travels to film festivals all around the world – such as the Toronto, Munich and Berlin film festivals – searching for little gems to bring back to the University. Many of the foreign films shown at U Film can not be seen anywhere else in the Twin Cities, and sometimes, nowhere else in the country.

“You can really experience the world by going into the theater week after week,” said Adam Sekuler, the program coordinator for Minnesota Film Arts, the nonprofit organization that runs both U Film and the Oak Street Cinema.

This notion that we can see the world through film is what the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival is all about. The 22nd annual event, organized by Minnesota Film Arts, will show more than 100 films from over 50 countries April 2 to 17, 2004. It’s become tradition now to open the festival with a well-known filmmaker. Last year, Robert Duvall presented his film “Assassination Tango” at the opening ceremonies.

U Film’s sister theater, the Oak Street Cinema, is a darling one-screen film house that’s been a haven for film buffs since its 1995 opening. As a repertory theater, the Oak Street gives filmgoers the chance to see masterpieces from any era – everything from “Citizen Kane” to “Rashomon” to “Pulp Fiction.”

The theater often creates weeklong or even month-long director retrospectives. Earlier this year, its 14-film showcase of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa was a big hit.

The Oak Street is only one in a handful of theaters that will do this type of programming, said Jenny Jones, the managing director at Minnesota Film Arts.

One other film organization that should be of interest to students is the Minnesota Programs and Activities Council Films Committee, which showcases films for free.

The student organization plays new and old movies, though they tend to favor more contemporary selections like “Old School” and “Chicago.” They screen the movies, which are either projected on film or from DVD, at the Coffman Theater, the St. Paul Student Center Theater and the West Bank Auditorium.

The Films Committee is always looking for volunteers to provide input on programming and to help out at screenings.

So with almost any night of the week packed with options, the question remains: what’ll it be tonight – Scorsese’s most controversial film, Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning documentary or the acclaimed documentary about the National Spelling Bee – three great films showing within blocks of each other? Which direction will you go?