Monday, April 23, 2012

Report from the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival

Memorial Day's true theatrical debut last Saturday was memorable on many levels, a few of which I'll recount here.

First, there was the comment made by a friend of mine as we headed from the venerable Nicollet Island Inn over to St. Anthony Main, where all MSPIFF films are shown: "Is that line for your movie?" I looked over to see the entire tunnel leading to the theater (which resembles a sort of ground-level skyway) filled with people. Yes, this was a home crowd, but it was still an amazing sight. (Apparently, Memorial Day was the first of 200 MSPIFF features to sell out.)

Given the "friends and family" aspect, the crowd began the production a bit rowdier than most, as each crew member's respective faction clapped and whooped when that person's name appeared in the opening credits. But then a silence descended for the rest of the film. I've been to half a dozen screenings now, and this is always a nervous moment. Are people quiet because they're engaged or not engaged in the material? Our military audiences have tended to be more emotive during the film. Other audiences have been more subdued until the end. You just never know.

When it was over, I breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing what sounded like a sincere and authentic burst of sustained applause. One never knows in these situations if people are just being nice, but I know you can't completely fake enthusiasm (or tears, for that matter, and I did hear some sniffles along the way).

Afterwards, director Sam Fischer invited every cast and crew member present to join him for an audience Q&A. I was asked if I have a military background, which opened the door for me to tell one of my favorite stories: While filming in the Kasota limestone quarry, a former Special Forces soldier (now a top-level Army public affairs executive) told me how much he enjoyed the script and asked me if I had any military background ... to which I smiled and responded, "Sir, I'm holding a latte." (Actually, it was an iced espresso with Half and Half, but oh well.)

The most original question we've ever received came from a teenager who asked one of the actors, "So how did it feel to die on camera?" That led to a rather interesting discussion of the use of prosthetic body parts in film ... and gave me quite an education on that front.

Upon looking on for any new reviews inspired by the showing, I spotted this:

"My husband, a Vietnam Vet, cried during the movie. He is still silent about those days, but the movie affected him deeply. I recommend [Memorial Day] highly for its ability to draw you in and keep you. You meet and bond with the characters and see the conflict in their lives about generations of wars, and at the end you are still thinking about how war affects those you know and love."

Many thanks to that viewer, and I hope this movie might one day open the door for her husband to open that proverbial footlocker. That's what this is all about. 

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