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2 Minnesota-made films attracting major attention at Sundance

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Some high-profile movie publications are noticing a pair of Minnesota-made films showing at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Writer-director Justin Simien's social satire "Dear White People," which was shot a few months ago at Twin Cities locations including the University of Minnesota, the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis and Summit Ave. in St. Paul, got high marks in a review in Variety.

Although the Hollywood trade publication says the film has flaws, they still call Simien a "fresh and funny new voice on the scene." Variety also says the film – which is about a group of black students at an Ivy League school – is "bolstered by an excellent cast that should find an especially appreciative audience among young black moviegoers."

Among the cast is Naomi Ko, a 23-year-old graduate of Rosemount High School. Ko, who also graduated with a degree in art history and English literature from the University of Minnesota in 2011, tells the Pioneer Press that the film has already led to more opportunities, including a role in a corporate film for Target and a job rewriting a comedy pilot.

The film has yet to secure a distributor and schedule a release date.

Also competing at Sundance, held annually in Park City, Utah, is the mystery “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” which is based on a debated story of a Japanese woman who came to Minnesota believing the fictional film “Fargo” was real. As the result, the woman allegedly conducted a search for the $1 million that Steve Buscemi’s character, Carl Showalter, buried at the end of Joel and Ethan Coen’s crime caper.

The Los Angeles Times called "Kumiko" – which features "Pacific Rim" and "Babel" Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi in the title role – "a quiet but bizarrely fascinating scripted film."

Filmmaker brothers David and Nathan Zellner shot the movie at the Afton Alps ski resort in Afton, and at a farm field in Cottage Grove.

“We were just fascinated with the way story could go – a modern-day folk tale and the notion of a treasure hunt,” Nathan Zellner told the Times.

The film blog What Culture ranked "Kumiko" No. 10 on its list of the "15 Most Anticipated Films of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival," and "Dear White People" at No. 14.

Time Out New York also included "Kumiko" on its list of top 10 must-see films at Sundance.

In addition, New York magazine's Vulture blog declared "Dear White People" one of the 15 most intriguing films at the festival.

"Comedies always play well at Sundance – there's only so many sad indies you can take in one week – and this one looks sharp as can be," Vulture said.

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