lavoygerWhat kind of film festival announces the winning films before the film screenings have even begun?

“The kind that welcomes audiences of all backgrounds and independent film-viewing experience,” says Flyway Film Festival director Rick Vaicius. The Flyway will show films tonight through Sunday in Pepin, Stockholm, and Alma, Wisconsin and Red Wing, Minnesota.

Vaicius announced the 2016 winners at last night’s “Flyway Kickoff Gala” at the Villa Bellezza Winery in Pepin.

“It’s true that most festivals make the award announcements at the end of the fest,” he says. “We figured that announcing them at the beginning would help people who are new to the independent film world make their choices about what to see at the Flyway.”

Adds Vaicius, “All the films we select for the festival are excellent. But the awards list is like a curated set of films for people who aren’t sure where to begin.”

Now in its ninth year, the Flyway Film Festival has been awarding the “Flyway Ax,” a unique – and heavy – stone sculpture by renowned Wisconsin sculptor David Culver, in the categories of short and feature-length documentary and narrative films, as well as several special award categories.

This year’s awardees are:

Narrative Short: The End of Mara, by Kim Garland
Narrative Feature: Americana, by Zachary Shedd
Documentary Short: Lavoyger, by Rachel Bardin
Documentary Feature: The Nine, by Katy Grannan
Seed&Spark Narrative Short Special Award: Spunkle, by Lisa Donato
MN/WI Showcase Short: Onere, by Kevin Pontuti
MN/WI Showcase Feature: The Legend of Swee’ Pea, by Benjamin May
Breakout Filmmaker Award: Bear With Us, by William Stribling
Linda & David Brassfield “Flyway Spirit” Awards: Louie Fisher and Cole Johnson

Descriptions and screening times of all films can be found on the Flyway Film Festival website,

The “Flyway Spirit” awards, sponsored by Pepin realtors and film aficionados Linda and David Brassfield, are given to filmmakers who embody the ambitious, inclusive spirit to which the Flyway aspires. Both of this year’s winners are from Pepin: Louie Fisher grew up in the area and recently graduated from film school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Cole Johnson, age 14, attends Pepin High School. Both of them were inspired to pursue their own filmmaking by their early experiences of seeing films at the Flyway. This year, they each have a film that will be shown at the Flyway.

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. 

Tickets for films are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. A list of films is available on the Flyway website,

Photo: Rachel Bardin’s “Lavoyger” won the Best Documentary Short award at last night’s Flyway Film Festival award ceremony.