A love letter to Flyway

A love letter to Flyway

Apr 17, 2012
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Let me say this first: this is a love letter about a festival that’s rejected me twice.

2011 Kickoff Gala- Film as art installation by Coleman Miller

No, not Sundance, South By, or the other big tables at the festival casino – we’re talking the mother of all indies, the mecca of the git-er-done’s, 2012 Flyway Film Festival, in mighty Pepin, Wisconsin. What? You haven’t heard of it? Well that’s fine. Move along. I want to keep it to myself.

I first learned about Flyway from a video Lucas McNelly posted of Rick Vaicius talking about his festival and the no-application fee. Seemed cute. Aw. No fees! They just want films. Should be easy to get in.


I soon learned a lot more people than Lucas had Flyway on their radar as a “must attend.” These are filmmakers I look up to. Filmmakers whose movies I own. Filmmakers with distribution deals. Filmmakers with clout – not the kind with the k.

Ted Hope introduces COLLABORATOR Directed by Martin Donovan

As I watched my first Flyway come and go on Twitter, the Who’s Who of indie film declared their love for Flyway: King is a Fink. Gary King. Jon Reiss. TED HOPE. So why are these filmmakers – and this is the clincher for me – flying in for an out of the way festival in Wisconsin that they don’t even have a film in. Why? One word: pie.

Well, pie and respect. Nothing goes with pie like a side of respect.

Let’s chat about the pie. Sheri Candler and I were waxing poetic about the pies of Pepin one night, as festival director Rick Vaicius taunted us with rumors of local pastries that make you see stars. (One evening, the conversation grew so painful I made my friend drive me to a pie shop. I am not kidding. I couldn’t drive because I had been drinking margaritas heavily, drowning my Flyway-less woes.)


But the real reason I want to go to Flyway (and am moderately obsessed with it) is that it is a festival  that well-known filmmakers respect. And I believe this is mutual admiration, borne out of the festival’s respect for the medium. It’s the care in choosing films from around the world that make the most of everyone’s time. It’s knowing that your film won’t get in based on some light banter – it has to be earned. And it’s one of the few – if not the only – festival that just might be a meritocracy.

Jon Reiss delivers the 2011 Flyway Keynote speech

Filmmakers and audience members take in the 2011 Keynote speech

Bottom line, Flyway feels like the kind of idealized fest that a young Robert Redford dreamed of: attracting high quality films and people, creating an opportunity for learning and sharing, and rarely even bringing up the question of money. Nobody buys their way into Flyway.

I get a sense of community that I rarely see at other festivals. Filmmakers volunteering. People sharing, spending time with each other, really talking about their passions and their struggles. Friendships form. It’s more of a retreat than a festival. I wish more festivals would adopt the model themselves.

Julie Keck (@kingisafink) wins the 2011 Spirit of Flyway Award (Gary King- left)


I’ll get there, eventually. I don’t even care if I have a film or not in the fest, I just want to go and soak up the conversation, the war stories, the camaraderie. I want to be educated and inspired. And, I want pie. I can get all of that at Flyway.


By Wonder Russell (@BellaWonder)

Wonder is an actor and filmmaker in Seattle, WA.

Current projects include http://summerhomefilm.com, in festivals now.

Revelation Film Project is her directorial debut, coming online Summer of 2012 http://facebook.com/revelationfilm.

She is an occasional contributor to Film Courage and blogs at bellawonder.com

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About the Author



Rick is the founder and director of the Flyway Film Festival.

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