The Twin Cities Film Fest has swiftly established an identity for itself in the teeming local movie scene. It's a trim, tightly edited autumn alternative to spring's expansive Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. Rather than scouring the globe for undiscovered treasures, TCFF founder Jatin Setia and his team seek out a handful of worthwhile studio films, locally produced movies of note and socially conscious documentaries. The staff expects 5,000 visitors for this year's selection of 40 features and 20 shorts screening at St. Louis Park's Showplace Icon. This year they considered more than 300 submissions -- an increase of 35 percent over last year. Clearly, word is getting out.
Looking for laughs? Check out the apocalyptic comedy "It's a Disaster" (7 p.m. Sat.), with Julia Stiles, David Cross and America Ferrera as L.A. hipsters whose regular Sunday brunch is interrupted by Doomsday. Feeling nostalgic? Sunday's 12:15 p.m. matinee is a 30th-anniversary edition of "E.T." with previously censored images of guns and Halloween jokes about "terrorists" restored, as in the original. Feel like giving a hand to local talent? There are scads of Minnesota shorts and even a feature (closing night's Justin Long romantic comedy "Lumpy," 8:30 p.m. Oct. 20) in the mix.
TCFF traditionally presents a first-night documentary about an issue of social concern. This year's opener, "A Place at the Table" (8:30 p.m. Fri.), is a well-reported and devastating look at hunger in rural America. Deftly combining portraits of families lacking food security, expert interviews and info-graphics, the film opens eyes, minds and hearts. Raj Patel, author of "Stuffed and Starved," addresses the paradoxical link between malnutrition and obesity, both signs that poor people can't afford food they need to stay healthy. The film also digs deep into the stories of dignified, persevering people dependent on charity food banks for their next meal. It evenhandedly addresses America's emotional and ideological tug of war between wishing to help the less fortunate and worrying that someone might be getting a free ride. Throughout, it offers resonant landscape images of a country so fertile it could easily feed its own population abundantly if national priorities favored that outcome.
The lineup embraces intriguing indies and big-name awards bait, as well. There's already energetic Oscar buzz about "The Sessions" (6:30 p.m. Tue.), with John Hawkes as a man in an iron lung and Helen Hunt as the sex therapist who helps him lose his virginity. Expectations are also high for "The Silver Linings Playbook" (6:30 p.m. Oct. 18), a kooky romance from writer/director David O. Russell starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. "Sopranos" creator David Chase makes his feature film debut with "Not Fade Away" (6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 ), a 1960s story of would-be rock stars in suburban New Jersey. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener headline "A Late Quartet" (8:30 p.m. Oct. 19), concerning the interpersonal challenges that confront a celebrated string quartet facing an uncertain future.