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North by North International Film Festival announces wide-ranging lineup

The five-day festival will feature over 80 films of various lengths, including some shot in the Northland.

Image of two people cooking in a restaurant kitchen: a girl, wearing a mask and tie-dye shirt, out of focus in foreground; a woman, looking towards the girl, in focus in the background.
A still from "Bad Axe," the opening night film at the first annual North by North International Film Festival.
Contributed / Zeitgeist
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DULUTH — Zeitgeist has announced the lineup for its first North by North International Film Festival. Over 80 films of varying lengths will be presented at the nonprofit's Zeitgeist Zinema from April 27 through May 1.

"The principal aim of the festival is to provide a platform to filmmakers that often don't have access to industry funding and support," reads the festival description on submission platform FilmFreeway. "We are passionate about programming films from filmmakers that are working in their own communities and outside of major film industry hubs. We are excited about films that are being made with limited budgets, from small towns, and from resourceful filmmakers."

The festival kicks off April 27 with "Bad Axe," a documentary about an Asian-American family speaking out for social justice even as they struggle to keep their restaurant afloat in the small city of Bad Axe, Michigan, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Director David Siev, a member of the family, will be present for the screening.

Enrolled participants can take classes in video production, editing, documentary film, narrative fiction and screenwriting.

"When I first read about this film," said festival organizer Matthew Koshmrl in an interview, "I thought it might be challenging to go through all of this trauma that we've all experienced collectively over the last two years. But it was really incredible to see how this family was able to meet each of these challenges and get through them and become stronger."

"Through a character-driven, cinema verite approach, I wanted to connect themes of transgenerational trauma, racial identity, and what the modern-day American Dream truly is," said Siev in a director's statement. "The fear of losing that dream my parents had worked so hard to build affected us as our family (and country) plunged into crisis; however, it also brought us all closer together as a family, community and Americans."

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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 the Khmer Rouge regime. When he returned home to Michigan during pandemic lockdowns, 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 the community organizations partnering with the North by North festival. Other films are presented by the American Indian Community Housing Organization, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and the Duluth Branch of the NAACP.

A man and a woman in medieval costumes whisper conspiritorially.
"Glob Lessons" is a feature about two performers who tour children's shows across the Upper Midwest.
Contributed / Dean Peterson

The festival will include a wide range of other feature-length films and shorts in genres ranging from documentary to drama to science fiction. Some of the films, including the horror movie "Beyond the North Woods" and the road trip comedy "Glob Lessons," were entirely or partially shot 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 disturbances. "I was thinking (about) Logan Paul," said Todd, referencing the YouTube star who "notoriously went to the Japanese '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 walk in the North Country won't end well. "It's a horror movie, so the woods punish them for their sins, basically."

At night in a snowy forest, a man walks resolutely to the right as another man, wearing a reflective jacket, follows him with a light.
A YouTuber gets in over his head in "Beyond the North Woods," a selection in the first North by North International Film Festival.
Contributed / Lance Todd

Blocks of short films to be screened in the festival include family films, comedies, science fiction and more — including a block of films seen on public TV stations WDSE and WRPT. There will also be a pitch competition, in which a dozen Midwestern filmmakers will face a panel including industry professionals and make the cases for the movies they want to produce. Six will be selected to receive financial support.

"Because of the state of film festivals over the last two years," Koshmrl said, "a lot of filmmakers have not been able to travel to film festivals. A lot of them have been primarily virtual. I think because of that, and that we're in person this year, a lot of the filmmakers that we have programmed are going to be at the festival."

Zeitgeist also hosts the North by North Film School , which offers classes year-round in Duluth and at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm. "We really want to give a platform to filmmakers that are making films within their own communities," Koshmrl said, "and do not necessarily have industry funding and industry support already."

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The new film festival also supports Zeitgeist's mission to continue building a local audience for independent films, Koshmrl said.

"In our region," he said, "just because of the way the industry works, we do not get some of these smaller independent films that might speak to our communities much more directly and have better representation than Marvel films, for example. That's a big goal for our film festival ... we're very community minded, we want to be able to introduce filmmakers who are working within their own communities, but also represent our community with those films."

Koshmrl said Zeitgeist wanted to launch the festival during the academic year to accommodate college students. "We're partnering with the University of Minnesota-Duluth," he said, "and so we decided we wanted to have it during a semester. In the future, we're planning on expanding our partnership."

With the newly minted North Star Story Summit — including the Catalyst Story Institute, the Duluth Superior Film Festival and the Minnesota WebFest — slated for fall, spring seemed like the ideal time. "It's late April," he said, "and the weather's not the greatest. Come into a movie theater and enjoy a film."

Chicago's legendary comedy company will work with the nonprofit organization to offer education and festival programming.

Shari Marshik, executive director of the Upper Midwest Film Office, said she welcomes the new spring festival alongside the fall events: "Any time that we can have creators here in the Northland, we're so supportive and excited for that."

She noted that North by North is "very much focused on raising the voices of local people, local storytellers, local films," as well as those from outside the area.

"We want to support all of them," said Marshik, "because that's more creators that could come in and (work) here and or support local creators that can now create the projects here."

Todd, who's been a lifelong Duluthian except for two years attending film school in Los Angeles, said that having previously had work featured in the Duluth Superior Film Festival, he's excited to be part of another Northland film showcase.

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Filmmaker Matt Koshmrl, seen here reviewing footage in 2021, is the organizer of the North by North International Film Festival.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

"There are multiple big festivals in town," he said. "Our industry is booming right now. It is been my childhood dream, and I am so excited to see it happening."

Tickets and badges for the North by North International Film Festival, along with schedule 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 "Bad Axe" photo caption. It was originally posted at 10 a.m. April 8. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Related Topics: MOVIESDULUTHEDUCATION
Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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