DULUTH – Zeitgeist has announced the lineup for its first international film festival North by North. More than 80 films of varying lengths will be screened at the nonprofit’s Zeitgeist Zinema from April 27 through May 1.
“The primary aim of the festival is to provide a platform for filmmakers who often do not have access to industry funding and support,” reads the festival description on the FilmFreeway submission platform. . “We are passionate about programming films from filmmakers who work in their own communities and outside of the main centers of the film industry. We are enthusiastic about films made on limited budgets, in small towns and by resourceful filmmakers .”
The festival kicks off April 27 with “Bad Axe,” a documentary about an Asian-American family who stand up for social justice even as they struggle to keep their restaurant afloat in the small town of Bad Axe, Michigan, during the pandemic. of COVID-19. Director David Siev, a member of the family, will be present for the screening.
“When I first heard about this film,” festival organizer Matthew Koshmrl said in an interview, “I thought it might be hard to get through all this trauma we’ve all been through. collectively over the past two years. But it was truly amazing to see how this family was able to meet each of these challenges, overcome them and become stronger.”
“Through a character-driven approach and cinema verité, I wanted to connect themes of transgenerational trauma, racial identity, and what the modern American dream is really about,” Siev said in a statement from the director. “The fear of losing this dream that my parents had worked so hard to build affected us as our family (and our country) plunged into crisis; however, it also brought us all together as a family, a community and as Americans. “
Siev’s mother is Mexican-American, while his father is Cambodian-American. Before the pandemic era chronicled in “Bad Axe,” Siev made his first film, “Year Zero,” about his father’s fight for survival in Cambodia under Khmer Rouge rule. When he returned home to Michigan during the pandemic shutdowns, Siev explained, “I filmed every day that year, capturing the mixed emotions we felt as we lived through a year of fear, anger, joy and hope.”
“Bad Axe” is presented by the Twin Ports Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Collective, one of North by North’s partner community organizations. Other films are presented by the American Indian Community Housing Organization, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and the Duluth Branch of the NAACP.
The festival will include a wide range of other feature films and shorts in genres ranging from documentary to drama to science fiction. Some of the movies, including the horror flick “Beyond the North Woods” and the road trip comedy “Glob Lessons,” were either wholly or partially filmed in Minnesota.
Lance Todd, the filmmaker behind “Beyond the North Woods,” said his film is about an out-of-town YouTube creator who comes to Duluth to investigate a mysterious series of disruptions. “I was thinking (of) Logan Paul,” Todd said, referring to the YouTube star who “notoriously went to Japan’s ‘suicide forest’ to film a video.”
Todd, who said he was inspired by ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and its use of fictional found footage, hinted that this particular North Country walk will not end well. “It’s a horror movie, so the woods are punishing them for their sins, basically.”
Blocks of shorts to be screened at the festival include family films, comedies, sci-fi and more, including a block of films seen on public television channels WDSE and WRPT. There will also be a pitch competition, in which a dozen Midwestern filmmakers will compete against a panel including industry professionals and pitch the pitches for the movies they want to produce. Six will be selected to receive financial support.
“Due to the state of film festivals over the past two years,” Koshmrl said, “many filmmakers have been unable to make it to film festivals. A lot of them have been mostly virtual. I think because of that, and that we’re in person this year, a lot of the filmmakers that we’ve lined up will be at the festival.”
Zeitgeist also hosts the North by North Film School, which offers year-round classes in Duluth and the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm. “We really want to give a platform to filmmakers who are making films within their own communities,” Koshmrl said, “and who don’t necessarily already have the industry funding and support.”
The new film festival also supports Zeitgeist’s mission to continue to build local audiences for independent films, Koshmrl said.
“In our area,” he said, “just because of the way the industry works, we don’t get some of these little independent films that could speak to our communities much more directly and have a better representation than Marvel movies, for example. That’s a big goal for our film festival…we’re very community-minded, we want to be able to showcase filmmakers who work within their own communities, but who also represent our community with these films.”
Koshmrl said Zeitgeist wanted to launch the festival during the school year to accommodate students. “We’re partnered with the University of Minnesota-Duluth,” he said, “so we decided we wanted to have it for a semester. Going forward, we plan to expand our partnership .”
With the all-new North Star Story Summit — featuring the Catalyst Story Institute, Duluth Superior Film Festival, and Minnesota WebFest — slated for the fall, spring seemed like the perfect time. “It’s late April,” he said, “and the weather isn’t the greatest. Walk into a movie theater and enjoy a movie.”
Shari Marshik, executive director of the Upper Midwest Film Office, said she welcomed the new spring festival alongside the fall events: “Anytime we can have creators here in Northland, we’re so united and excited for it.”
She noted that North by North is “very focused on raising the voices of local people, local storytellers, local films”, as well as those from outside the region.
“We want to support them all,” Marshik said, “because there are more creators who could come and (work) here and/or support local creators who can now create projects here.”
Todd, who has always been a Duluthian with the exception of two years at film school in Los Angeles, said that having already had work shown at the Duluth Superior Film Festival, he was thrilled to be part of a another Northland showcase.
“There are several big festivals in town,” he said. “Our industry is booming right now. It was my childhood dream and I’m so excited to see it come true.”
Tickets and badges for the North by North International Film Festival, along with program details, are now on sale at zeitgeistarts.com.
This story was updated at 11:40 a.m. April 8 to correct the name of the film festival in the caption of the “Bad Axe” photo. It was originally released at 10 a.m. on April 8. The News Tribune regrets the error.