TORONTO — Introducing one of maybe two people I know at the Toronto International Film Festival who likes the Coen brothers’ new movie: Al Milgrom.
“It’s a very satisfying film for me,” Milgrom says of the Coens’ “Burn After Reading,” which opens today at area theaters. “I’ve never been a real Coen brothers touter as such, but they’re [from Minnesota], and we have to support the local team.”
My chance encounter with the driving force of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival has occasioned a chat about movies we’ve seen at the festival, and about the festival itself in relation to Milgrom’s own, which will appear in its 27th annual edition come April.
“It’s not always certain how many of festival film directors’ names are really known to the hoi polloi in Minneapolis,” he says with a shrug. “Toronto is a different scene. Half the tickets here seem to be sold on the name of the director. The audience in Toronto seems to be more up on the international film scene.”
Milgrom has been coming to the Toronto festival for more than 25 years, getting around on his trusty bike, talking to everyone he knows (which is everyone, it seems), and ducking in and out of screenings as his curiosity dictates. I was in the home stretch of Léa Pool’s mildly endurance-testing family drama “Mommy is at the Hairdresser’s” when I saw Milgrom come into the theater and take a seat near the front, where he stayed for the remainder of the screening — about 15 minutes. For him, the festival is not a series of rarefied entrees so much as a free buffet from which to sample a wide variety.
“I’ve always maintained that Minnesota film culture derives from international film festivals,” he says. “Otherwise it would be an ad torn out of the New York Times.”
Among the hundreds of Toronto offerings, Milgrom is particularly fond of a philosophical documentary called “Examined Life,” directed by Astra Taylor (“Zizek!”), whom he’s trying to interview for KFAI. He also likes “Everlasting Moments” by Swedish director Jan Tröell (“He’s a 75-year-old guy now and he’s still making terrific movies”), and Spike Lee’s “very ambitious” film “Miracle at St. Anna,” set in Italy at the tail end of World War II.
“I was pleasantly surprised to find a movie that combines genres we never really associated with Spike Lee: Italian neo-realism and the German war movie,” he says. “And in terms of racial politics, the film is not as militant as I thought it would be — although [Lee] certainly gets his points across about the conflict between black and white GIs in WWII.”
Speaking of conflicts, Milgrom acknowledges that the newly announced fall program at Oak Street Cinema — which starts in a week with a three-film tribute to Isaac Hayes and ends Nov. 3, the night before the election, after a four-day run of a new documentary about Garrison Keillor — will almost certainly be the long-endangered theater’s last waltz.
“We just have to sign the papers for [the sale of] the Oak Street. Then it’s up to the [Minnesota Film Arts] board to decide what to do with the money.”
Among the various options ostensibly available to the MFA board is one recently rumored and not discounted by Milgrom — the purchase of the St. Anthony Main multiplex, where much of the last M-SPIFF was held.
“[Board member] Tim Grady has talked about it,” he says. “But I don’t know myself whether [the purchase] will happen. The questions are whether the St. Anthony Main is losing money, and whether the current owner, John Rimarcik, would be interested in selling.”
Meantime, there’s a 150-film festival for Milgrom to book. I offer to walk with him to the Manulife Centre, site of most of the festival’s press and industry screenings, but he politely declines, choosing to hop on his bike and peddle hard to the next show, no doubt already in progress.