By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
Over the course of 11 days, October 18-28, film fans and filmmakers from across the country will descend upon the ShowPlace ICON Theatre at the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park for the 2017 Twin Cities Film Fest.
More than 120 films – including features, shorts, animation and documentaries – will screen over the course of the festival. In addition, a large number of directors, producers, and actors will walk the red carpet, present their films, attend the mixers and chat with fans about their work.
Over the course of TCFF 2017, we’ll be chatting with some of those filmmakers and stars to find out more about what they’re bringing to the TCFF screens.
Film: Victor’s Last Class
Showtime: 2:15 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 21
Tickets/additional information: http://twincitiesfilmfest.org/films/victors-last-class/
With his directorial debut set to make its Minnesota premiere, Minnesota native Brendan Brandt took the time to chat about “Victor’s Last Class.”
Q: The synopsis of “Victor’s Last Class” is absolutely remarkable. Tell us about the film and how it came to be.
I’m an actor based in Los Angeles, and one day I was at a cast party for a play that I had just finished. My friend hosting the party was distracted and upset, and told me about his friend Victor who was about to end his life. I was fascinated by the story, and asked if I could meet him. At first I just wanted to talk and listen, but before we met I realized there was potential here to tell a story in some form, maybe a documentary. So in our first meeting I pitched him the idea. Although he was willing to talk to me, he was reluctant to allow a camera into the equation. He also didn’t want to commit the time. When I met him he was planning on dying in two weeks. He had a lot of pre-conditions that had to be met before he agreed to do the film. The biggest one was having me put together all the details of the acting class myself. Finding the students, getting the space, locking in times and dates, etc. Once all that was handled, I think he felt more at ease that I wasn’t a flake and I could get things done.
Q: If IMDB is to be believed, this is your first time directing a feature. What was it like to tackle such an intense and meaty subject matter right out of the gate?
It is my first time directing. It all happened organically. If I had known what it was going to take, I may not have undertaken it. When I started, I knew nothing about directing, or the technical aspects of filmmaking. I’ve been acting for quite a while, but that’s it. I was naive, unskilled, and a little pollyanna about it. And thank goodness I was, because that’s probably the only way this was able to get made. I took it one day at a time, took breaks when I needed to, and constantly believed it would all work out. It was intense and meaty, but I was surrounded by people who volunteered, donated, and encouraged me to keep going. That made all the difference.
Q: Where has the film screened and what has the audience reaction been like so far?
We took the rough cut to the largest (and maybe most prestigious) documentary festival in the world, IDFA, in Amsterdam. We were accepted into their “forum,” where you screen about 20 minutes of footage and pitch the film to all sorts of distributors and agents from all over the world. From that we secured international representation, and have since been broadcast on Israeli National Television, and have played in Slovenia and Poland. Domestically, we’ve screened in festivals in New York and Los Angeles, Kansas City, San Antonio, and now the Twin Cities. We also screened at a college just outside St. Louis. We’re still looking for domestic distribution. The audience reaction has probably been the best part of the whole process. People come up to me after screenings and feel safe enough to share their personal experiences with suicide, or losing their parents, or illness, or chronic pain, or whatever else they connected with in the film. It’s cathartic for them, and that makes me so happy. One comment I’ll never forget came from a stranger who told me through tears that the film felt like a “love letter from their best friend” who had killed themselves in high school. I’ve also gotten some wonderful FB messages from strangers in Israel. I want the film to release that in people, and I want it to compel them to talk about things we don’t normally talk about.
Q: What was it that drew you to submit your film for the Twin Cities Film Fest?
I grew up in Mankato, went to college in Morris, and lived in Stillwater and South Minneapolis before moving to Los Angeles. I worked at Tucci Benucch in the Mall of America. My brother lives in Golden Valley, and my mom and dad and another brother still live in Mankato. I come back often, and love Minnesota. I really wanted to have a screening in my home state, and the Twin Cities Film Festival is a kickass festival. Well run, great reputation, prestigious … it checks all the boxes. To be able to screen at a high-quality festival like this AND have it be in my home state is a great combination. I’m excited to be there.
Q: If someone is only going to see one or two films at the Twin Cities Film Fest, why should “Victor’s Last Class” be one of them?
Because it will be good for your soul. This documentary is not something you can fake or recreate with a $10 million budget. It’s a lightning in a bottle, once in a lifetime type story. It’s about something that matters. We have a messed up way of dealing with suicide and end of life issues in the U.S., and we ought to talk about it. There’s no propaganda, I don’t preach an answer. But it will make you think. It will absolutely make you laugh. And it’s less than 90 minutes. Don’t like documentaries? Think they’re boring? This will cure you of that.
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic and the owner of www.ManVersusMovie.com