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Published October 15, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Fans of real-life drama and short films will have no shortage of options at this year’s Twin Cities Film Fest, set Oct. 21-31 at the ShowPlace ICON Theatre in St. Louis Park.

This is the first time in the festival’s six years that the event will open and close with documentaries. The number of short film blocks also rose, from five blocks last year to nine blocks this year.

“That’s a huge jump for us,” said Jatin Setia, founder and executive director of the festival. “We’ve had the most incredible influx of short films.”

Filmmakers submitted nearly four times as many shorts for consideration this year.

In all, festival organizers reviewed more than 800 submissions, choosing more than 120 films for screening.

They include documentaries, short films, indie works and studio productions like “The 33,” a feature film starring Antonio Banderas based on the actual plight of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped in a caved-in mine for 69 days in 2010. Famous actors in films featured at the festival include Katie Holmes, James Franco, Christian Slater, Ed Harris and Michael Caine, among others.

“If people like the named actors, we have plenty of films for them,” Setia said.

Moving documentaries

As for documentaries, the festival on opening night will feature “A New High,” which follows a mission director in Seattle who works with homeless individuals in a one-year rehabilitation program. Those who complete the program and are physically able in the end climb Mt. Ranier.

“It’s an earth-shattering emotional climb they come upon,” Setia said. “It’s not about the mountain itself but life on the other side of the mountain for them.”

The mission director featured in the film will attend the screening.

“It’s worthy of an opening day slot because it’s beautifully shot, and you fall in love with these people and you’re rooting for them,” Setia said.

The closing night documentary is called “Thank You For Playing.” Setia said it has been dubbed one of the most important documentaries about a video game. The film tells the story of a game developer with a child diagnosed with terminal cancer. The developer works to create a game about the experiences of raising a dying child.

“It’s a way to cope with the fact his son won’t be around, but this is one way he can keep him alive,” said Setia, who added that the film struck him emotionally since he has a 13-month son himself. “You can’t help it. Every guy out there is either a father or a son, so this hits you.”

While the game developer is on a tour to discuss his video game, which will be released late this year, his wife will attend the Twin Cities Film Fest screening to talk about her experience.

“She was his rock, basically, for the whole thing,” Setia said. “It’s a moving testimony about the power of art examining how we process grief, especially in the technological world we live in. We watched it and said, ‘This deserves a spotlight. It can’t just be in fest.’ We felt closing night was the perfect way to honor the film.”

Altogether, the festival will show nearly 20 documentaries.

Fest with a cause

Four films at the fest are tied to this year’s cause of addressing homelessness. Each year, the festival seeks to bring awareness about an issue. Past themes have included bullying, hunger prevention, poverty and sex trafficking.

This year, the Twin Cities Film Fest is partnering with Minneapolis-based YouthLink, which serves as a resource center for homeless youth. According to the nonprofit, on any given day about 4,000 youth are homeless in Minnesota. Not all are on the streets; some move from place to place to get by.

“You won’t know they’re homeless,” Setia said. “They could be college students and living on couches every night.”

He said he has learned much from YouthLink representatives on the subject. Staff and homeless individuals who use the organization’s services will speak at a panel discussion. The festival will also provide free admission to a short film on the subject of homelessness called “Entitlement.”

Another film on the topic is called “Out in the Cold.” It follows director J.D. O’Brien, who is expected to attend, and his friend as they spend two weeks in a Minnesota winter as if they were homeless, talking with individuals who are homeless along the way about their past and present lives and their hopes for the future.

“This is one of the reasons we do what we do – not just for us but to learn,” Setia said.

Celebrating Minnesotans

Including “Out in the Cold,” about one-third of festivals’ films have Minnesota connections, such as films shot in Minnesota or featuring an actor, producer or other prominent individual with ties to the state.

The Twin Cities Film Fest will honor John Hawkes with its North Star Award for Excellence. The actor, who is originally from Alexandria, Minn., is slated to accept the award Monday, Oct. 26. The fest will show a new indie film featuring Hawkes called “Too Late,” a crime drama filmed in five 20-minute shots in which a private investigator seeks to find a missing woman. Additionally, the festival will screen other Hawkes films, including “Winter’s Bone” and “Me and You and Everyone We Know.”

“It’s our version of the lifetime achievement award,” Setia said of the North Star Award for Excellence. “It’s a brilliant, brilliant body of work thus far in his career. He’ll be here, so that’s awesome.”

Other Minnesota film ties are more subtle. A film called “The Quiet Hour” received funding from Minnesotan investors but was filmed overseas. Setia said filmmakers are expected to fly in to discuss the film along with the Minnesotans who funded it.

Lots to do

The festival will feature nightly educational panels and mixers at the former Love Culture space across the street from the theater in The Shops at West End. Anyone with a ticket from a film that day may attend for no charge. The mixer space will be three times as large as last year’s spot, Setia noted.

“We’re going all out,” he said.

He noted a film fest visitor could grab a cup of coffee at a West End business, attend a documentary, have lunch at a partner restaurant, take in another screening and an industry panel, grab some more coffee, check out a question-and-answer session and then go to the party and perhaps run into a filmmaker of a movie from earlier in the day before heading home and going to sleep in preparation for doing it all over again the next day.

General admission to each film or block of shorts is $12 while gala screenings for the opening and closing nights are $20 each. Festival passes that provide attendance to a specified number of films are available for $50-120.

For a complete schedule and more information, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org.

Contact Seth Rowe at seth.rowe@ecm-inc.com