Third year a charm for Twin Cities Film Festival
Film quality, star power spur third-year growth
BY Jared Huizenga – SUN NEWSPAPERS
If the Twin Cities Film Festival were a human being, prior to 2012 it would have been considered a child.
But with more films, screenings and star power than during its first two years, it would appear the festival is officially no longer an infant.
“Any time you expand it’s always a risk,” Festival Director Jatin Setia said. “But all in all it was a tremendous success.”
That success included attendance that was up 30-40 percent over last year with a good chunk of those people first-time visitors to the festival – at least according to Setia’s informal polling system.
Setia explained that prior to each film he or whatever festival staffer was introducing it would ask the audience whether it was their first visit to the festival.
“About half of the people said they’d never been there before,” he said, noting that a show of hands vote is far from scientific.
“We had 5,000 visitors over the course of the nine days,” he said. “That’s huge to be able to go back to sponsors with numbers like that … especially with the larger sponsors.”
With national brands like T-Mobile and Stella Artois already on board, Setia hopes to bring in larger sponsors, including Target, going forward.
Larger sponsors will not only allow the festival to continue growing, he said, but it will also allow it to increase revenue and bring on some sort of paid, dedicated staff.
“My goal is to no longer be a volunteer organization,” he said. “It’s time to pay some of these hardworking people something.”
As an entertainment nonprofit, Setia knows TCFF can’t compete with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club for private donations, which means building relationships with sponsors, businesses around the ShowPlace ICON Theatre in St. Louis Park – where the festival is held – and the city of St. Louis Park itself is essential for long-term success.
“I want to have a long-time relationship with St. Louis Park,” Setia said. “I want people to support us and stick with it – it’s going to explode … I want St. Louis Park to kind of take ownership of it and say, ‘this is ours.’”
One of the great successes of this year’s festival was “Lumpy.” The film, which stars Justin Long, Jess Weixler and Addison Timlin, was shot in Minnesota and is written and directed by Minnesota native Ted Koland.
“It was the perfect storm for us,” Setia said of the film. “We were going after a couple of other films for closing night and then it showed up.”
Setia watched the film and believed it had a place in the festival primarily because of its Minnesota ties. He sent a copy of it to Steve Snyder, the festival’s artistic director.
Snyder agreed with Setia that the film had a place at the festival. And not only did it have a place, he believed it was the quality of film they were looking to show on closing night.
Momentum continued to build around the film as Long, Timlin and Koland signed on to be in-person participants.
The screening was among the first to sell out and there was enough demand that a second screening of the film was added – it also sold out.
“There were actually people asking if we could add a third screening,” Setia said. “But it just wasn’t in the budget to add another one.”
Setia was particularly impressed with Long, who arrived a day early to serve as a celebrity judge at the Oct. 18 “Cook Your Pantry Off” event, which served as a benefit for hunger prevention agencies. Long also took part in question and answer sessions following both screening of “Lumpy,” did the rounds with local media and spent a few hours at the festival after party at Crave.
Having a star like Long show up – his film credits include “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Accepted” and Fox TV’s “New Girl” – also sets the festival up for success down the line in terms of securing talent.
“You automatically put them at ease by putting them up at nice hotels and by using real press agents,” Setia said. “The value is they have a great time and report back positively.
“We’re trying to build a relationship with people in New York and L.A. … in the next 3-4 years we’ll be able to bring in three or four stars, whether they’re actors, directors or writers, per year.”
With that plan in place for the future, Setia has already started on the 2013 festival.
They’ll start accepting film submissions in late January, with an influx expected in March and April. They’ll continue accepting and watching films throughout the summer as they’ll get another rush after filmmakers find out whether or not their work was accepted to the Sundance Film Festival.
One thing Setia is sure of is that the festival will continue to seek out and find high quality films.
“Our programming has always been solid and this year was no exception,” he said.
In addition to “Lumpy,” the festival also included dramatic comedy “Silver Linings Playbook” and documentary “Detropia.” Both have already garnered critical acclaim – Rottentomatoes.com currently has them at 100 percent and 85 percent, respectively – and are considered Academy Award contenders.
With strong films like those on board, Setia knows that it will be a challenge to make 2013 even better.
“To say we’ve outdone ourselves this year only raises the bar even higher for the future.”
But that is a challenge he’s more than happy to take on.