MSPIFF brings global cinema, local films to Main Cinema

The festival’s 2023 lineup featured films from around the world as well as local films, such as a documentary on the Duluth rock band Low.


The Low documentary is called “Cue the Strings.” Photo courtesy of Kelly Nathe.

by Ethan Lambert

The 42nd annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF) started on April 13 and runs through Thursday, primarily at the Main Cinema in Minneapolis (formerly the St. Anthony Main Theatre).

The festival showcased about 200 films from about 70 countries, including some local filmmakers. Some screenings took place at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis and the Landmark Center in St. Paul.

MSPIFF programming director Jesse Bishop, who has been with the organization for 15 years, emphasized the festival’s mission of giving young artists a platform. About a quarter of the featured films were made by first-time feature-length film directors.

Bishop also said the festival prioritized student attendance by offering discounts.

Elaborating on this year’s film selection, Bishop expressed the importance of the local film community to the festival.

“One of the things we like to strive to do is not only show work from around the world but also work from our own backyard. There’s a great Minnesota filmmaking industry and scene here, so we champion those works as well right alongside all the international,” Bishop said.

Low documentary

One of the local documentaries at MSPIFF this year is “Cue The Strings – A Film About Low,” a 73-minute documentary on the renowned rock band from Duluth. The documentary contains material filmed before the release of the band’s first studio album up until the band’s final show in September 2022, just two months before drummer and singer Mimi Parker’s death.

Parker’s husband and bandmate Alan Sparhawk described the documentary as an artistic expression of the band’s decades-spanning career from the viewpoint of director Philip Harder.

“It’s an invitation into one mind’s experience with Low,” Sparhawk said. “It’s an abstract impression of a very long and deep and beautiful experience.”

Before collaborating with him on music videos for Low, Sparhawk had already been a fan of Harder’s work. When the band and their record label were planning the shoot for their first music video, Harder jumped on board as director.

“We needed to do a video, we were pretty fresh to the business and pretty naïve,” Sparhawk said.“We shot it out on the ice on Lake Superior and it was a pretty epic thing.”

“Cue the Strings” is an abstract take on the band’s career filled with music videos, short films and some material from Low’s last show in Duluth.

“The film is pretty loose, it’s really kind of impressionistic — there’s not a lot of linearity,” Sparhawk said.

An early version of the film premiered in 2013 under a different name but has since been expanded upon by Harder, according to Sparhawk.

“It used to be called ‘How to Quit Smoking,’ which I loved,” Sparhawk said. “I think Phil essentially has gone back and rethought the film and he took a lot of material here from the last eight or 10 years that was not in the film.”

After Parker’s death last year, the film took on a new significance.

“In the shadow of Mim’s passing, it sort of immediately made sense to re-edit it, re-do it, put it together differently and present it as something that’s kind of an unspoken chronicle or anthology so to speak of the time,” Sparhawk said.

Students show up

Graeme Stout, the University of Minnesota’s film studies coordinator, considers MSPIFF a great opportunity for students to see a diverse range of films, especially considering the discount students get at the festival.

“It’s spread out over two weeks and then usually there’s another week of added-on films that are some of the best that were at the festival. That flexibility I think is one of its key strengths.” Stout said.

Stout said MSPIFF has an especially strong selection of documentaries, experimental shorts and coming-of-age stories. He credits organizers Deborah Girdwood, Craig Rice and Jesse Bishop for their ability to bring in interesting films that otherwise wouldn’t make it to a mid-sized American urban market.

University fourth-year student Jack Rahill made plans to attend MSPIFF this year after attending a screening at last year’s festival. This year he said he felt especially excited to view a new A24 dramedy at MSPIFF.

“I’m going to see ‘Showing Up.’ I kind of want to get into Kelly Reichardt’s films and the cast is really interesting,” Rahill said.

Rahill also spoke highly of the Main Cinema as well as the Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Society.

“It feels nice supporting local independent theaters because they are kind of dying, you also get some perks, they do free screenings for members once a month and that’s really nice,” Rahill said. “I’d recommend the theater in general because I know students get a discount on tickets. It’s a pretty short walk between campus and the theater, and it’s a nice walk too.”