Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ten Minutes with Richard Hansen, Director of the 2nd Annual Duluth International Film Festival

A friend of mine said that when he went to the Duluth Film Festival last year he was blown away. His expectations were modest, but after the first film he couldn't believe what he just saw. Then he took in the second, and the third. Ultimately he attended 11 films and participated in may of the dialogues with directors that can be part of a film festival experience.

Two weeks ago I met Richard Hansen, director of the event, and was sufficiently impressed with his vision and enthusiasm to make sure we had lunch together last week. I now understand why an international film festival would make its home in Duluth. It's my hope that Hansen and associates is sufficiently successful to make this the next Sundance.

Ennyman: How did you come to Duluth and what prompted you to start the Duluth International Film Festival?
Richard Hansen: Riki McManus of the upper MN Film office and I had a mutual friend named Andrew Peterson who suggested that Riki and I meet. He knew Duluth was a great spot and that Sound Unseen could expand here. I meet with Riki about 3 years ago. We became instant friends and I fell in love with Duluth. There were so many supportive people and organizations, it became a no brainer to develop the festival franchise here.

Enny: I heard nothing but rave reviews over last year's films. What is the process for deciding what films will be shown?
RH: Well, that’s very flattering, Ed…thanks for saying…We have an outstanding staff of programmers who literally scour the globe looking for films that will fit into our festival. Last year alone, we had representatives at Sundance, South by Southwest, Tribecca, Berlin, Rotterdam, Toronto, Seattle and numerous other festivals. These guys are professional programmers who book for other organizations and festivals, so everybody is always looking. As Adam Sekuler, one of our programmers likes to say ‘We’re professional lookers.’

We also like to choose filmmakers who we think have bright futures in the industry and are just all around good people. This makes for much better visiting guests. We like making new filmmaker friends then asking them to come hang out with us in Duluth. We do have some thoughts on what we think will play well here in the Twin Ports area…sort of a Duluth style, so that plays into our selections as well.

Enny: Will there be actors, directors, writers and/or producers here?
RH: Yes, yes, and yes…and even some film distributors. We like to have a range of industry professionals come in. We’re especially proud to have Gina Belafonte as our featured guest. She is the producer of our Opening Night film Sing Your Song, which is a documentary on her father, Harry Belafonte. (right) She produced the film so it is really, obviously a very passionate and heartfelt project for her. It’s only screened a Sundance, South by Southwest, Tribecca and Berlin…which are 4 of the most influential festivals on the planet. Sound Unseen Duluth is its final festival screening before it goes to HBO…so obviously we’re really pleased that we got the film.

Additionally, we’ll have over a dozen directors/actors/producers/industry professionals in attendance. This is a great part of what we are doing, because each of these talented people become really accessible to festival participants. There will be question and answer sessions after all of the films with a filmmaker present, and they’ll all be at the parties and events…they’ll be walking down the street and on the lakewalk enjoying Duluth just like all the rest of us do. We think this something that makes our festival special.

Enny: In addition to the films, you also have music and art. What's unique about this facet of the festival?
RH: We’ve had a focus on music and art within the festival since its inception a dozen years ago in Minneapolis. This is our niche in many ways. We think film, music, and art are such natural crossovers, that it just made sense for us to work on more than just showing movies. So many filmmakers are artists or musicians, and most everyone who enjoys this type of film also appreciates art and music…it seemed very obvious the work it all in together.

Both last year and this year we have a Film Competition where we screen 6 music related films and have jurors decide on which one they like best. There are so many great music related films out there, we think this is a great way to celebrate that fact.

Enny: Who picked the UMD student selections and when will they be airing?
RH: UMD students picked the UMD student selections! Working with UMD this year has been outstanding, and we wanted to find a way to incorporate this great university into what we were planning. There is a great bunch of young minds coming out of UMD who burn for this type of opportunity, so we let the bright and ambitious kids take the lead on selecting some of the UMD selections. The shorts collection will screen Friday June 11th at 5 pm at Zinema. The kids are as excited as is the UMD staff.

Enny: Thank you, Richard, for all your efforts to bring such an event to our beautiful shores.

EdNote: The project could still use some financial support to obtain additional special funding. I strongly encourage friends of the arts to visit the Film Festival Kickstarter page to help bring this event to full fruition.

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