Flyway Film Festival announces award winners at opening night Kickoff Gala

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. 

Got a Flyway Pass? Here’s what to do next

dougieland-flyway-officeYou’ve got your pass reserved, either by having purchased it (thank you!) or by getting it as a reward for your excellent volunteer work (thank you!) Now what? Here’s how to reserve tickets for films.

  • If you bought a pass online, you’re already registered in the Elevent Ticketing system. So you can follow the instructions below to reserve tickets for specific films.


  • Pick up your actual printed pass at the FLYWAY OFFICE, 202 Main Street (also known as Dougieland Studios, pictured above), during these hours:

    Wednesday 12-5
    Thursday 12-6
    Friday & Saturday 10-6
    Sunday 10-3

  • If you’re getting a comp pass, you need to pick it up and register at the Flyway Office (see above). 

Using Your Pass Pre-Festival

As you peruse the film guide at, you can add any screenings that interest you to your wish list. If you want to manage or create additional wish lists, head to your Elevent profile here:

To ensure you get to attend the screenings and events you want, pass holders are strongly encouraged to select tickets in advance. As a pass holder, you’ll have early access to claim tickets.

Once you log into Elevent at, you’ll be prompted to start fulfilling one of your passes. Select which pass you want to use and select “Fulfill.” Any tickets you reserve now won’t cost you anything — one-per-screening comes free with your pass.

Did you create a wish list? Great! Use it as a guide. Click on your name and choose Wish List. Select the number of tickets you want to each event and press “Get Tickets.” That’s it.

You can also use your pass on our online film guide. Browse to find screenings you want. If you are logged in and fulfilling your pass, you can add free tickets to your shopping cart and claim them for free.

You will get any tickets you reserve in an email confirmation (Check your junk mail if you don’t get it after a little while).

Undecided? No problem. You don’t have to reserve all of your tickets right away. You can come back later and fulfill some more.

If you bought passes for others, you can claim tickets for their passes the same way.

Using Your Pass During the Festival

Remember to show up at each event at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the screening or event to ensure entry. Just bring up the tickets you reserved on your smartphone and show it at the venue.

Where were those tickets? They are attached to the email confirmation we sent you. Can’t find that email? Check out your Order History on your smartphone ( and press the Get Tickets button.

If you want to go to something and don’t have a ticket, visit the box office. Your passes can get you tickets there, too.

If you arrive less than 15 minutes prior to showtime, you can also use your pass in the Wait List line. While entry is first-come, first-serve, your pass can get you in for free.

Each pass can be used to book a maximum of one ticket per screening or event. All passes are non-transferable and non-refundable.

Helpful hint: This is the first year the Flyway has worked with Elevent Ticketing, and it’s all new to our volunteers who are helping you get your passes. Also, everyone who “works” for the Flyway is a volunteer. So please be patient and don’t threaten to get anyone fired :-) 

Heading to Flyway? Here are some FAQs


Ask us anything. Pretty much.

Q: Is everything basically in the same place it was last year?
A: Oh HELL no. The Flyway Office is at Dougie Padilla’s fabuloso studio at Second & Main (formerly the Lake Pepin Art & Design Center). The Filmmaker Lounge (soon to be the Flyway Minema) is on Second Street in what used to be an empty storeroom. The Villa Bellezza Winery opened a giant new room called the Vat Room (because there are wine vats in it) for the screenings. Click here for the addresses.

Q: Which is a better deal, buying a Festival Pass ($120), a Screening Pass ($85), or individual film tickets ($10)?
A: Math is hard. But if you’re going to the Kickoff Gala ($40) plus eight films, which would be a pretty good amount of films over four days, you should definitely get a Festival Pass, because you get first dibs on films that might sell out. If you’re not planning to go to the Gala, you should get a Screening Pass. And if you actually hate movies and are only coming to the Flyway because of peer pressure, better go with individual tickets and then sneak out for a beer at Lena’s Lucky Star Café. Click here to buy passes.

Q: What’s the transportation situation in the area? Can I get, like, a cab or Uber between venues?
A: GAAAAHHHH NOOOOO we are sorry but that is just not a thing in these small towns. People tend to be very generous with giving rides, though, so just ask anyone if they happen to be driving to Alma or wherever for the next film. We call it the “sharing economy of desperation.”

Q: Do I have to dress all fancy to go to the Kickoff Gala?
A: Attire at previous Galas has ranged from sparkly gowns to “I didn’t have time to change after plowing the fields.” So: no.

Q: Last time I was at the Flyway, I got amazing coffee in Stockholm at the Pie Company, but I could not find a latte in Pepin to save my life. What is up with that?
A: That was before Sam and Alex opened The 404 Coffee Shop, a truly fabulous new coffee emporium on First Street across from the Pepin marina! All your caffeine needs shall be fulfilled.

Q: I’m hungry.
A: Eat here.

Q: Are there any panels or workshops this year?
A: Yes and no. There are no formal workshops. However, there will be coffee hours and happy hours on Thursday and Friday, featuring the amazing superstar Jen West (winner of the 2015 Seed&Spark short film award), who will offer a free crowdfunding session and a free pitching session during happy hours at the Filmmaker Lounge. In addition, there’s a gang of film school filmmakers who will lead a discussion about film school on Friday morning at The 404. Click here for details. Everyone is welcome!

Q: In general, which is cooler, Flyway or SXSW?
A: Tough call. Luckily, Flyway programmer Jim Brunzell lives in Austin, Texas and keeps his finger on the pulse of the films in that dusty town. Several of the films you’ll see at the Flyway are straight outa Austin.

Q: Is there really a scary monster in Lake Pepin, like in the 2016 Flyway Logo?
A: Don’t go swimming.


(Lake Monsters of America map is from Atlas Obscura)


MN/WI Showcase highlights an abundance of regional filmmaking talent

may-day-paradeThe ninth annual Flyway Film Festival, which kicks off this Wednesday and runs through Sunday, is proud to present films by filmmakers who hail from all over the world. But the greatest pride comes from highlighting filmmakers who live nearby in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The subject matter of this year’s crop of regional films ranges from the hyper-local to the supernatural. Most of the films were shot in the Midwest, although several are by Midwesterners who have moved on to sunnier climes.

Some highlights of the program:

  • The Tell: 2 Chefs, by Melissa Butts (8 minutes; screens with Documentary Shorts Program, Friday 10/21 at the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, 7PM / Sunday 10/23, Noon, at the WideSpot in Stockholm)\

The two chefs in this beautifully shot short documentary are Twin Cities food truck mavens Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson, who opened a restaurant in the small Wisconsin river town of Bay City several years ago. Award-winning director/producer Melissa Butts’ short film is a meditative tale of food, love, and acceptance.

  • The Legend of Swee’ Pea, by Benjamin May (80 minutes; screens 10/22, 3:30PM, at the WideSpot in Stockholm)

That Lloyd “Swee’ Pea” Daniels became an NBA player was no surprise — at age 16 he was named ‘the next Magic Johnson” and possibly the best player that had ever lived. That his NBA debut happened at age 25, with bullets still lodged in his chest and a body ravaged by years of crack-cocaine addiction, was a miracle. The Legend of Swee’ Pea tells the story of a dramatic basketball odyssey in which the hero must ultimately confront a life imperfectly lived.

Director Benjamin May is a St. Paul diagnostic radiologist. “Swee’ Pea” is his first film. Currently in its festival run, it has received audience and jury awards across the country.

  • White Doe, by Louie Fisher (11 minutes; screens with Student Shorts, 10/22 at the Sheldon in Red Wing, 4:30PM / 10/23 at the Big River Theatre in Alma, 3:00PM)

A family’s dark past is drawn to light when a man’s obsession gets him arrested, and his estranged daughter must bail him out of jail. The film was shot near Cadott, Wisconsin.

Louie Fisher grew up in Pepin and attended the film program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, from which he recently graduated. In addition to presenting his film during the Student Shorts program, Fisher will address the crowd at the Flyway Kickoff Gala on Wednesday, October 19 at the Villa Bellezza Winery.

  • Minnesota 13: From Grain to Glass, co-directed by Norah Shapiro and Kelly Nathe (75 minutes; screens Friday 10/21 at the Big River Theatre in Alma, 8PM / Saturday 10/22, 1:30PM, at the WideSpot in Stockholm)

The story of an elite moonshine produced in the heart of Minnesota by Catholic farmers during Prohibition, and the modern-day attempts of a micro-distillery to resuscitate the brand as a premium whiskey. Norah Shapiro’s award-winning documentary “Miss Tibet: Beauty in Exile” screened at Flyway 2015. She is based, along with her Flying Pieces Productions, in Minneapolis; Kelly Nathe recently returned to Minneapolis after living in Los Angeles. It was Nathe’s Minnesota ties, specifically ties to Stearns County, that helped birth the idea for “Minnesota 13: From Grain to Glass.”

  • Promise in the Sand (work in progress), by Jim Tittle (20 minutes plus discussion; Saturday 10/22 at the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, 1:00PM)

“Promise in the Sand” is a work-in-progress update to Red Wing filmmaker Jim Tittle’s 2013 documentary “The Price of Sand.” The 2013 film exposed the dangers of frac sand mining through stories of rural Midwesterners whose lives and properties were disastrously affected. Now, three years later, Tittle and producer Wendy Johnson are visiting familiar places to compare predictions with reality. Jim and Wendy will present a rough cut of scenes from the new film, and a discussion will follow.

  • Elf Help, by Megan Brooks (15 minutes; screens with Friday Night Shorts, 10/21 at the Villa Bellezza in Pepin, 9:30PM)

Editor/writer/director Megan Brooks has lived in the Twin Cities and in Buffalo City, Wisconsin, and she now works as a film editor in Berkeley California. Her quirky short film tells the story of a struggling couple who see an eccentric relationship counselor to help them break up.

  • How to Make a Mask, by Mike Rivard (30 minutes; screens with Documentary Shorts Program, Friday 10/21 at the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, 7PM / Sunday 10/23, Noon, at the WideSpot in Stockholm)

Minneapolis director Mike Rivard has been filming the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater’s annual May Day Parade for almost all of its 40-year history. This short documentary looks at issues that have been raised by the iconic South Minneapolis parade from 2006 to the present.

  • Great White Storm, by Jon Maichel Thomas (13 minutes; screens with Friday Night Shorts, 10/21 at the Villa Bellezza in Pepin, 9:30PM)

A man and his young son cross a dangerous white wasteland to obtain fire, a once plentiful resource. When the father succumbs to the elements, his son must collect the fire and work feverishly to breathe the fire and their world back to life.

Jon Maichel Thomas is a Minneapolis artist. When not making movies, he is the CEO of the technology company Dark Matter and runs the digital agency Studio Collective.

  • Church of Felons, by Jordan Mederich (87 minutes; screens 10/22, 1:00PM, at the Villa Bellezza in Pepin)

Osceola, Wisconsin native Jordan Mederich tells a true story of four multi-offense felons looking for a second chance after a life of addiction, loss, and redemption in Polk County, Wisconsin. This film questions our perception of addiction, crime and a furious, fed-up, unforgiving judicial system, with a church in the middle of a cornfield at the center of it all.

Films begin on Thursday, October 20th and run through the 23rd, with an opening night party on the 19th. 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: Mike Rivard’s ‘How to Make a Mask” tells the story of the iconic annual May Day Parade in South Minneapolis.


The Flyway invites filmmakers and film fans to connect at happy hours, coffee chats

sazeracWhen filmmakers come to town for the Flyway Film Festival each year, they come with a mission: to see films, meet other filmmakers, connect with audiences, and have a ridiculous amount of fun.

This year, filmmakers and film fans are invited to connect at free coffee hour and happy hour sessions on Thursday, October 20 and Friday, October 21. The schedule of events is as follows:

  • 10:30am, Thursday: General filmmaker coffee meetup at The 404 Coffee Shop, Pepin’s new coffee shop at 404 First Street. 

    Everyone who needs some restorative coffee and conversation is welcome, especially those recovering from too much fun at the Wednesday night Flyway Kickoff Gala (tickets available here).

  • 5:00pm, Thursday: “Crowdfunding Pep Talk Happy Hour” at the Filmmaker Lounge (408 Second Street). 

    Is your crowdfunding campaign driving you to drink? Jen West, a talented emerging filmmaker who won the Seed&Spark short film award at Flyway 2015, has offered do a FREE Seed&Spark crowdfunding presentation for anyone interested in the topic. That and free beer should cheer you right up. Everyone welcome (with valid ID for drinks, obviously).

  • 10:30am, Friday: “Film School Coffee Time” at The 404 Coffee Shop. 

    Dreaming wistfully of film school? Paying off film school? Bitterly resenting film school? A group of film MFA students from the University of Texas-Austin (Mira Lippold-Johnson, Huay Bing-Law, Rachel Bardin, Lizette Barrera), along with recent UW-Milwaukee film school graduate and Pepin native Louie Fisher, will lead a discussion about the pros and cons of film school vs. just plain going out and making films.

  • 5:00pm, Friday: “Drinkin’ ‘n’ Pitchin’ Happy Hour” at the Filmmaker Lounge.

    Why is pitching your film idea so hard? Jen West will lead you through the scary process of convincing others that your film will be The Next Big Thing. Whether you’re working on an actual pitch or just curious about filmmaking, please stop by. Did we mention free drinks? Should we stop mentioning that?

The Flyway is happy to showcase our beverage sponsors, Joia All Natural Soda & Cocktails and Prairie Organic Spirits. We invite you to drink RESPONSIBLY.

And while we’re on the subject of coffee and booze, here’s more good news: 

  • The Homemade Cafe (809 Third Street/Hwy 35, Pepin), which has been closed for the season during previous Flyways, will be open for breakfast and lunch. And by “breakfast,” we mean BIG FREAKING BREAKFAST.
  • Lena’s Lucky Star Cafe (formerly Gelly’s), across from the WideSpot screening venue, will have Flyway happy hour specials on food and drink.

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. Festival passes for unlimited screenings are available on the Flyway website through the ticketing vendor Elevent.

Photo: From James Martin’s The New Orleans Sazerac, screening with Norah Shapiro and Kelly Nathe’s Minnesota 13: From Grain to Glass on Friday and Saturday. Tickets here.

See you at the Flyway!