The Flyway Film Festival knows how to party. The annual Flyway Kickoff Gala has become one of the area’s favorite festivities, featuring gourmet hors d’oeuvres, wine, entertaining speakers, the awards ceremony for best films and honorees, and live music. This year’s event will begin at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, October 19th at the Villa Bellezza Winery in Pepin, Wisconsin. Tickets are $40 and are available on the Flyway website.

The keynote speaker for the ninth annual festival will be Stephanie Klett, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, who is also a film buff, humorist, and television host. Klett will speak about film festivals as economic engines for tourism in the state of Wisconsin.

Klett was born and raised in Beloit and is a graduate of Beloit College. Having served as a volunteer for years at the Beloit International Film Festival, she is aware of the important role film festivals play in their communities.

“The Flyway Film Festival puts on a tremendous event for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work, and for movie buffs to share their passion,” Klett said. “It’s a celebration of the artistic soul of this Mississippi River region. I’m delighted to be a part of the festivities this year.”

Along with Klett, hometown pride will be on stage in the person of Louie Fisher, an emerging filmmaker who grew up in Pepin. He screened his first film at the Flyway Film Festival in 2008 when he was 15, and he recently graduated with a degree in film from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Fisher will speak about the importance of the Flyway to his education and career as a filmmaker.

“I had made some videos before the first Flyway in 2008, but it wasn’t until seeing that body of work that I realized that filmmaking was a realizable goal,” said Fisher.

“My first experiences at Flyway really opened my eyes to ways that the medium can be pushed creatively, and it exposed me to a world of filmmaking that I might not have otherwise had the chance to explore.”

Fisher’s latest short film, “White Doe,” will be a part of the “Student Shorts” program on October 22nd and 23rd.

The musical guest at the 2016 Kickoff Gala will be Eau Claire singer-songwriter Jerrika Mighelle. Mighelle began her performing career in the band QuinnElizabeth, a remarkably talented group of sisters who “create a wall of vocal harmonies backed up by unfussy percussion and solid guitar work” (Volume One).

jerrika-mighelleAs a solo performer, Jerrika has created a sound that reflects self-discovery, love and loss. Her strong voice, imaginative guitar compositions, and style of honest humor have endeared her to audiences around the region. Her first CD will be released in November.

Films begin on Thursday, October 20th and run through the 23rd. More than forty documentaries, narratives and short films will screen at four locations along the Mississippi River: the Villa Bellezza Winery in Pepin, WI; Big River Theatre in Alma, WI; WideSpot Performing Arts Center in Stockholm, WI; and the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, MN. The full schedule of films is on the Flyway website,