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REVIEW: Thrilling, Boundary-Pushing Film Score Fest 2023

Charlie McCarron, the Executive Director of the Film Score Fest, introducing a festival film at the History Theatre on Saturday, June 10.

Last night, the 2023 incarnation of Film Score Fest debuted at the History Theatre in St. Paul. The screenings of 15 short films with live orchestra showcased an amazing creative variety, including many unique and moving gems.

Since its debut in 2014 as a collaboration between MNKino (a local film-making community) and Composer Quest (a local music composition community), the Film Score Fest has grown in scope and spread. A notable addition to this year’s festival was the launch of a BIPOC scholarship program and additional mentorship, which has enriched the variety of participating creators without sacrificing quality. In its current incarnation, the Film Score Fest is led by Executive Director Charlie McCarron.

For the Film Score Fest, filmmakers and composers apply separately or in teams, with separate applicants being paired into new teams that create short films using a festival theme. This year’s theme, time, manifested in many different ways that were alternately moving, comedic, and more. Where else would you find a farcical, stylized time travel comedy (Larry Wydra and Khary Jackson’s No Time Like the Present) mashed up against a delightful little film about crocheted fish learning to love and fight back against marauding scissors (Huxley Westemeier’s Unraveled)?

Audience members socializing during intermission at the 2023 Film Score Fest.

Some of the festival highlights, as measured by audience applause, included:

  • Curiosity (film by Seth Grabow and Philip Wels, music by Benji Inniger), an engrossing and inspirational exploration of a young girl’s journey into STEM. If the Arts Reader were scoring these, this would have received our festival award.
  • No Time Like the Present (film by Larry Wydra, music by Khary Jackson), a piece whose cartoon voices, building tension, and visual-musical humor elicited laughter from the beginning to the end.
  • Abu (film by Benji Perez Gonzalez, music by Basil Considine), a visual essay on quotidian life that metamorphoses into a meditation on life-threatening illness and family. The inventive score made notable quotation of songs by Minnesotan birds.
  • Into Focus (film by Joua Lee Grande, music by Olly Manning), a heart-wrenching exploration of alienation, loneliness, and depression, with music and delivery that tugged expertly at the heartstrings. Special mention to the performances by cellist Ed Cadman and pianist Franco Holder.
  • Little Godzilla (film by Kat Aymeloglu, music by Emily Boyajian), a simple but very humorous cartoon that moved children and adults alike.

The 16-player orchestra was ably led by conductor Kurt Hattenberger, navigating music that ranged from esoteric and experimental to jazzy, classical, and sound study in nature. With indoor entertainments now firmly re-established, the History Theatre provided a superior venue for experiencing the evening’s thrilling program.

Audiences at an earlier installment of the Film Score Fest. Photo courtesy of the Film Score Fest.

The Film Score Fest is a state treasure and a can’t-miss event.

Selected Films / Scores

Abu – Benji Perez Gonzalez, Basil Considine
And Another – Pallav Kumar, Christine Palmer
Curiosity – Seth Grabow, Philip Wels, Benji Inniger
Decision to Love – Mai Moua Thao, Liam Moore
Give And Take Time – Audra Day, Charlie Cohn
If Not Now When – Adam Chau, Mark Okern (not screened at the festival)
Into Focus – Joua Lee Grande, Olly Manning
Little Godzilla – Kat Aymeloglu, Emily Boyajian
Macbeth (5.5.22) – Tatjana Dankovic, Ken Takata
Midlife Housing Crisis – Jason P. Schumacher, Josie Just
No Time Like the Present – Larry Wydra, Khary Jackson
Picture Start – Rodney Johnson, Nick Rudnik
Radiance – Chris Lange, Mitchell Dietz
The Other Side – Kish Daniels, Alexandra Skevington
Time Changes Everything – Isha Moore, Thomas Johnson
Unraveled – Huxley Westemeier

Amy Donahue