In 2010, there were empty theaters at showings during the Twin Cities Film Fest, the event's first year in existence.
"It was a bit discouraging," founder and executive director Jatin Setia told the Star Tribune.
What a difference four years can make.
Now, for the festival's 2014 run, films with Hollywood stars such as Reese Witherspoon, Adam Sandler and Benedict Cumberbatch are on the docket.
The 10-day event, which kicks off Thursday at the ICON Theater in St. Louis Park, is attracting viewers with anticipated blockbusters added to the line up of smaller projects.
Setia told Bring Me The News Thursday morning that while it's crazy busy the first day of the festival, he embraces it.
"I look forward to the craziness every single year when I wake up that first morning, it's a big rush," Setia says. "You prepare all year for this, so to see it come together is awesome."
Nearly 80 films will be featured, which is more than any in the previous years. The films range from prestigious to unknown and are listed on the festival website.
Included this year are local premieres of big titles, such as the film kicking off the festival, "Men, Women and Children" starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner; "The Imitation Game" starring Benedict Cumberbatch as World War II code breaker Alan Turing; and "Wild" based on the book of the same name by Duluth native, Cheryl Strayes, which stars Reese Witherspoon as she solo hikes the Pacific Coast Trail in search of herself.
Setia says this year's TCFF differs from the previous ones because there's a growing sense of awareness of the festival by sponsors, media and audiences.
"They're finally taking notice that we're not going away," Setia tells Bring Me The News. "It's a struggle for any nonprofit, and a struggle for any entrepreneur film organization to get on the map. The time frame for them is typically three to five years, and if you happen to survive that long, sponsors are like, 'OK, you're legit and you're going to stick around.' This year there are more eyes on the festival and that's great."
In addition, Setia says, more and more studios are noticing the festival, which also validates what he and his colleagues are doing.
"It means the absolute world to us to have on us from across the country, from the East Coast to the West Coast, from studios and independent production houses that have major stars attached to their films," Setia says. "They see what we're doing here and see how filmmaker-centric we are, and know we have amazing audiences in Minnesota. They finally have a platform here to showcase their product. That's been our mission from the beginning."
The Star Tribune reports 6,200 attendees are expected and at least four screenings have been sold out so far. If those estimates are correct, that will be nearly double the ticket sales the fest saw in 2012.
Setia told the Star Tribune he hopes showing Oscar-worthy movies will get Minnesotans to show up, but then they'll stay to appreciate the indie films and passion projects in the lineup, nearly half of which include local ties.
Minnpost lists films with Minnesota links including centerpiece film "Hunger in America," a documentary narrated by James Denton who is scheduled to be in attendance, and "Kumiko the Treasure Hunter," about a Japanese woman who searches for the fictional treasure from "Fargo" in a Minnesota winter, among others.
Tickets for individual films range from $10-$25 and a variety of festival passes can be purchased on the festival website.
Here are a few trailers from films scheduled to play at the festival: