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  • Jared Huizenga

TCFF Spotlight: Daruma

Over the course of 10 days, October 19-28, film fans and filmmakers from across the country will descend upon the ShowPlace ICON Theatre at the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park for the 2023 Twin Cities Film Fest.

More than 140 films – including features, shorts, animation, and documentaries – will screen over the course of the festival, both in-person and online. In addition, a large number of directors, producers, and actors will walk the red carpet, present their films, and take part in Q&As and discussions about their work.

Over the course of TCFF 2023, we’ll be chatting with some of those filmmakers and stars to find out more about what they’re bringing to the TCFF screens.


Film: Daruma

Screening: 7:45 p.m., Tuesday, October 24

Authenticity. In an industry that tells tales, some of them quite tall, authenticity is something that can be hard to come by. 2022 Best Picture winner "CODA" was lauded for its authenticity in casting a predominantly deaf cast to tell a story about a predominantly deaf family. In that same vein, "Daruma" is drawing praise and attention for having two lead actors with disabilities. The cool part? The movie itself isn't about disabilities - the characters just happen to be a wheelchair user and a veteran double amputee. In advance of its October 24 screening, director/cinematographer Alexander Yellen and screenwriter/producer Kelli McNeil-Yellen discussed the film.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your film.

"Daruma" is the first narrative film to star two leads with disabilities in a narrative NOT about overcoming disability. It stars two authentically cast leads in the main roles, Tobias Forrest and John W. Lawson, as well as beloved CBS "Blue Bloods" star Abigail Hawk and the legendary Barry Bostwick ("Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Spin City"). We also have a number of fun cameos by cast from other well-known shows like "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," "Z-Nation," and "The Wire."

Q: Now tell us something about it that we might not be able to glean from the trailer or description.

This film is a truly independent film, made entirely outside of the studio system. It’s a miracle any film gets made at all, but one like this? With this subject matter, tiny budget AND made during the height of the pandemic when COVID protocols made it nearly impossible to film? That it exists in the world is nothing short of miraculous.

We are also developing a huge social media following because this film has really tapped into an underserved audience: one in four persons in the world identify as having a disability, yet less than 2% of all films and television depict PWD (persons with disabilities) on screen. And here, in "Daruma," we’ve got both Toby and John, in this great buddy/antagonist road trip story, a total departure from what people are used to when they hear about a project like this and people are curious and want to see it. When they do, they’re really moved by it. This film makes people laugh and cry and really question things: we’re really proud of it.

We’ve gotten some early reviews here:

Q: If someone is only going to see one film at the Twin Cities Film Fest, why should it be this one?

This is one film that will probably shock and surprise you. After our first screening, we had dozens of audience members come up to us and say things like, “I had no idea,” or “that’s something I had never even thought of before.”

Q: Prior to TCFF, where has the film screened, and what has the response been so far?

We’ve only screened one other place, at our world premiere at Dances with Films at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Demand for the screening sold out in five days and there was such a long wait list for more tickets that they had to move us into a larger theatre with basically double the capacity of the original theatre. We sold THAT theatre out. We got a standing ovation at the end of the screening: it was absolutely incredible.

Q: What was it that drew you to submit your film for the Twin Cities Film Fest?

This is such a reputable, well-run festival and is known for curating films of a certain caliber. We jumped at the invitation to screen with TCFF. We also found out after we announced the screening that a number of our cast and crew are from or have lived in the Twin Cities region, namely our lead actor Tobias Forrest, who believe it or not, is going to receive a Best Acting Award in a televised broadcast by the Media Access Awards on PBS hosted by Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur.

Q: What’s next for your film after this festival?

We’re next playing at a major festival on the East Coast at the end of the year that we’re not allowed to announce yet. We’re also in talks with a number of distributors to acquire the title and want to make sure we sign with the right team. Day in and day out people send us messages on our social media asking us how and where they can see the film next. We hope to have an answer for them soon!


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