Twin Cities’ Cinema Paradiso

For the second year in a row the Twin Cities film festival boasts a diverse array of local, regional, national and world cinema.

In the new travel-doc “Welcome to America: 50 States, 50 Days” Rodney and Roger Johson trek across America before landing in Hawaii.

Photo courtesy TC Film Fest

In the new travel-doc “Welcome to America: 50 States, 50 Days” Rodney and Roger Johson trek across America before landing in Hawaii.

by Raghav Mehta

What: Twin Cities Film Festival
When: Today through Sunday (See for a full schedule.)
Where: The Shops at West End, 1621 West End Blvd, St. Louis Park
Cost: Gold Pass (10 Films): $80; Silver Pass (6 Films): $40

In an age where digital media is considered the new standard, most Americans are more likely to stay at home and browse through Netflix before getting in line at the nearest AMC.Movie-going, they say, is slowly becoming a dying tradition. And with ticket sales dwindling, film festivals have become somewhat of a last refuge for the worldâÄôs remaining cinephiles.

Now in its second year, the Twin Cities Film Festival will kick off today at St. Louis ParkâÄôs West End with a screening of acclaimed filmmaker Lee HirschâÄôs documentary âÄúThe Bully Project.âÄù

Co-founded by University of Minnesota alumni Jatin Setia and Steve Snyder, and Board of Directors head Bill Cooper, the Twin Cities Film Festival is a six-day cinematic marathon that offers a diverse assortment of big-ticket studio features (âÄú50/50âÄù and âÄúLike CrazyâÄù), local productions (âÄúLambent FuseâÄù and âÄúWelcome to America: 50 Days, 50 States,âÄù), world cinema and short films.

âÄúThere wasnâÄôt a festival [in the Twin Cities] that catered to the general public. There are niche festivals here that are great, but there wasnâÄôt the whole red carpet feel,âÄù Setia, the festivalâÄôs executive director, said. âÄúThere wasnâÄôt anything that had more of a wide appeal.âÄù

In addition to the eclectic lineup, the festival also boasts a number of panel discussions, Q&AâÄôs and even a âÄúgaming initiativeâÄù that explores the concept of merging video games and cinema to create an entirely new form of visual art.

But despite the variety, the festival isnâÄôt trying to model itself after Sundance or Tribeca. ItâÄôs a nonprofit-based organization focused on developing an environment where both amateur and veteran filmmakers can network and support each otherâÄôs work. For instance, there wonâÄôt be any buyers or big studio representatives out there seeking new blood.

âÄúEverything is an event, and itâÄôs very much about a community. ItâÄôs about fostering a visual arts industry in the Twin Cities and the Midwest,âÄù Snyder said. âÄúIt tries to help people figure out how to make this their career.âÄù

ThereâÄôs plenty of local talent lined up for the week too.

Sunday will feature a screening of the coast-to-coast travel doc âÄúWelcome to America: 50 States, 50 Days.âÄù Directed by St. Paul residents Rodney and Roger Johnson, the film documents the brothersâÄô journey across the country over the course of half a summer. The brothers and their crew landed in Honolulu, Hawaii, on the Fourth of July, marking the end of their trek across America.

âÄúThe simple stated goal was when an audience got done watching the movie, we wanted them to ask themselves two questions: When is my next vacation and where do I want to go? We wanted to inspire people to set out and see America,âÄù Roger Johnson said.

Like Johnson, Hamline graduate and âÄúLambent FuseâÄù director Matt Cici praises the film festival atmosphere. He said thereâÄôs an added bonus too: exposing your film to an audience that might otherwise never see it.

âÄúIâÄôve never done a feature. And I think feature and shorts are very different. For that itâÄôs more of a celebration of the film,âÄù Cici said. âÄúItâÄôs a showcase of your film in front of a bunch of people who you may or may not know.âÄù

While most movie-goers might treat films as nothing more than potboiler escapism, guys like Setia and Snyder see it differently. ItâÄôs an experience. And itâÄôs one thatâÄôs enhanced when itâÄôs shared with other people. Setia, who was born and lived in New Delhi for the first 10 years of his life, reminisces on his early experiences at the theater when, even then, he knew it was more than just entertainment.

âÄúI remember that camaraderie when you go to a film and you donâÄôt really know who youâÄôre sitting next to. It could be a millionaire; it could be a rickshaw driver,âÄù Setia said. âÄúAnd when the lights go down, everyoneâÄôs enjoying the same thing.âÄù