ST. PAUL -- Influential Twin Cities critic, teacher and film enthusiast Al Milgrom leaves behind a powerful legacy after dying at age 98 on Sunday, Dec. 20.

The founder of the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Society in 1962, Milgrom advocated for the formation of a film curriculum at the University of Minnesota where he went on to teach cinema and start the Rivertown Film Festival in Stillwater, which became the now-acclaimed Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

Despite his age, Milgrom directed his own films until the day he died and was known in the theater scene as a charming, dogged, persistent and impassioned lover of cinema, especially foreign and independent films.

Although she only knew him a “mere 15 years,” Susan Smoluchowski, the executive director of the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Society, said Milgrom knew more about cinema than anyone, and could hold a conversation with filmmakers from everywhere from the Czech Republic to a small country in Central Africa.

A father figure and mentor to many in the film community, Smoluchowski said Milgrom was known for his passion for cinema and complexity of character. Determined and sometimes difficult, she remembers him as always able to find ways to get the funding or help he needed, sometimes with a twinkle in his eye and mischievous grin.

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“There were many sides to Al, there were a lot of contradictions. But he was driven in everything that he did by this love of cinema,” she said. “You know, he would (sometimes) get irritated with people for not paying enough attention to a film. He thought that they should be, because he knew that those films deserved the attention.”

Graeme Stout, the director of undergraduate studies in the Studies in Cinema and Media Culture department at the University of Minnesota said he remembers Milgrom for his tenacity and love of conversation.

Friends for over a decade, Milgrom would often show up in his office wanting to talk more about a book or film they watched in the past but wanted to continue discussing.

A common figure at movie screenings and film festivals, Stout said people could often tell if they were watching a good movie if they could spot Milgrom standing in the back, observing. Popping in and out of theaters, he would try and see as many movies as he could, and his whole career advocated for film as an important form of cultural and artistic expression even in a time where it wasn’t seen as such, he said.

“It’s a very difficult job, try to wrap up 98 years of life,” Stout said. “He was able to create here in the upper Midwest, a very specific very special environment that allowed film to be seen, to really generate an audience, and to create those structures like the film society that allow unique voices within cinema to come here.”

A 2018 short video by Twin Cities PBS’ MN Original titled “The World’s Oldest Emerging Filmmaker” featured Milgrom’s career.

Milgrom was born to Russian immigrants and grew up in Pine City, Minn. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and worked as a journalist — including time at the St. Paul Pioneer Press — after the war.

He is survived by his sister, Elle Stern; children Jacalyn Lechner, Marsha and Ben; two grandchildren and former wife Jeanette Hofstee Milgrom. Services have yet to be finalized.