Flyway offers a provocative look at the latest in independent film

bear-with-usThe Flyway Film Festival has announced the official program selections for the October 19-23 festival, showcasing top-notch emerging filmmakers from across the globe.

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.

The festival kicks off with a party and awards ceremony at the Villa Bellezza at 6:00 on October 19th. The films begin at 7:30 PM on October 20th with Girl Asleep, a dark comedy by Australian filmmaker Rosemary Myers, and close at 5:00 PM on Sunday, October 23rd with the fairy-tale thriller American Fable, by Anne Hamilton.

According to Flyway programmer Jim Brunzell III, the 2016 films are unusually well-crafted and provocative.

“It’s been a crazy year in independent film,” says Brunzell. “Filmmakers are pushing the boundaries of the form, incorporating animation, new editing techniques, telling stories in new and exciting ways.”

There are fictional and non-fictional explorations of mass murder (Dark NightTower); insightful portraits of characters on the periphery of the political scene (LavoygerPolitical Animals); rueful comedies and dramas about relationships (Donald CriedJune Falling DownBear with Us); and an assortment of short films ranging from musical comedy to LGBTQ issues to classic horror.

“We’re very pleased to have acquired this wide array of subject matter and filmmaking styles for the Flyway this year,” adds Brunzell.

Many of the films’ directors will attend the festival to mingle with the audience and discuss their work.

Between films, visitors to the Flyway Film Festival can meander up and down the river to the film venues, shops, and saloons along the Great River Road. A year-round tourist destination, the area is particularly scenic during the festival, when the fall colors peak and the Mississippi River ‘flyway’ — a route taken by migrating birds — attracts birdwatchers from around the world.

Listed below are highlights from the film lineup. The full festival schedule is on the website at

  • Dark Night, directed by Tim Sutton (narrative feature)

Dark Night enigmatically unfolds over the course of a lazy summer day, as it traces the events leading up to a mass shooting in a suburban multiplex. Abandoning the narrative confines of the true crime genre, the story is told through fragmented moments from the lives of several characters, whose fates are tragically intertwined. As the sky grows darker, the placid surface of daily life becomes disturbed by a lurking and inevitable horror.

  • Refugios, directed by Alejandro Cortés Calahorra (narrative feature)

The puzzle of a toxic relationship, of dependence and exile between a brother and a sister, Pablo and Julieta, and their lifelong friend, Alberto. They seek refuge, internal and external, in old family and new, fleeing to city and country, on the cusp of the implosion of their everyday lives.

Fixated on the possibility of conquering time, two men find inspiration by bringing facets of H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine to life.

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.

Wisconsin and Minnesota have been struggling with the issue of frac sand mining for years. Opponents of the destructive mining practices have felt confident in their victories – but the sand mines are now coming back with a vengeance. Red Wing filmmaker Jim Tittle presents scenes from a work-in-progress update to The Price of Sand, his 2013 documentary about the frac sand boom.

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.

  • Americana, by Zachary Shedd (narrative feature)

Using the style of the paranoid nail-biters of the 1970s to tell a personal story of addiction and its consequences, this modern-day San Francisco noir shadows an alcoholic film editor as he struggles to uncover the truth about his sister’s murder.

Dwelling on his past glory as a prize-winning author, Ryota wastes the money he makes as a private detective on gambling and can barely pay child support. After the death of his father, his aging mother and ex-wife seem to be moving on with their lives. Renewing contact with his initially distrusting family, Ryota struggles to take back control of his existence and to find a lasting place in the life of his young son – until a stormy summer night offers them a chance to truly bond again.

  • Lavoyger, by Rachel Bardin (documentary short)

El Tule Ranch is a private playground for Texas oil barons and powerful politicians, like the Bush family. But the ranch manager, Lavoyger Durham, has discovered over 20 bodies of people avoiding a nearby border patrol checkpoint. A portrait of a man taking a peculiar approach to the Mexican-American border, the film reveals complexities that are usually omitted from political discourse.

For the full festival schedule, click here:

Photo: Director William Stribling’s comedy “Bear With Us” will screen at the 2016 Flyway Film Festival on Saturday, October 22 and Sunday, October 23. Stribling will be at the Flyway to greet audiences and answer questions about his film.

What is a film festival, anyway? 

stout-students-summer-intensiveThe Flyway Film Festival invites the public to find out during four movie-filled days, October 20-23
Most people have never been to a “film festival.” Most people aren’t even sure what a film festival is. But most people do like going to the movies.

“A film festival is a week, or a weekend, when a lot of different movies are shown one after another in neighboring theaters,” said Mary Anne Collins-Svoboda, chair of the popular Flyway Film Festival based in Pepin, Wisconsin. “You can go from one theater to another, and watch movies from 11 o’clock in the morning till 11 o’clock at night.”

Unlike ordinary movie theaters, however, film festivals offer something more: a chance to meet and discuss movies with the people who actually make them.

The Flyway Film Festival, now in its ninth year of showing films along the Mississippi River in the Wisconsin villages of Pepin, Stockholm, and Alma and the Minnesota city of Red Wing, brings in filmmakers from around the world to attend the festival. It’s a treat for audiences in the area, and it’s a treat for filmmakers who may have heard of, but never seen, the mighty Mississippi.

A party on Wednesday, October 19th at Pepin’s Villa Bellezza Winery kicks off the festival. For $40, attendees can enjoy wine, food made by local chefs, an awards ceremony, and live music. The first movie is on Thursday, October 20th, at 7:30 PM.

Films are shown at the Villa Bellezza, the WideSpot Performing Arts Center in Stockholm, the Big River Theatre in Alma, and the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing. The last film of the weekend shows at 5:00 PM on Sunday, October 23rd at the WideSpot.

The film festival is an education for film students at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, who volunteer to help out during the festival, garnering credits for their “experiential learning” requirement.

“It’s a perfect fit for our students,” said UW-Stout professor Kevin Pontuti. “They get to network with filmmakers and learn from them, and the filmmakers often become mentors for our students long after the festival is over.”

Filmmakers, volunteers, and movie-goers can chat, eat, and drink before and after the films at the festival “lounge” and at local bars and restaurants. Many screenings offer a question and answer session with the filmmaker following the movie, where questions can range from, “How did you create that amazing special effect?” to “Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?”

“Before the Flyway started showing movies around here, I had never been to a film festival,” said Collins-Svoboda. “But it’s been fun and I’ve learned a lot. Now I look forward to setting aside a few days each year to get immersed in movies at the Flyway.”

The film selections range from serious documentaries to quirky comedies, sci-fi, and drama. Visitors who buy a “Festival Pass” or a “Screening Pass” can go to as many films as they choose without additional cost. Tickets for single films are available as well.

Both Collins-Svoboda and Pontuti encourage the public to broaden their movie-going horizons by coming to the Flyway.

“The Flyway typically attracts filmmakers and audiences who are generous with their time, interested in all aspects of film, and like to party,” said Pontuti, whose short experimental film, “Onere,” will be shown at the festival. “And if you’ve never been to a film festival before, our student volunteers can steer you in the right direction.”

A listing of all films, along with links to buy tickets, is on the Flyway Film Festival website, Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

Photo: Students at the University of Wisconsin-Stout learn the art of filmmaking at a summer intensive program.

Flyway 2016: It’s a lean, mean festival machine

A film festival is a strange beast. It can be a community event showing local films, like a farmers’ market for movies. It can be a for-profit corporation, selling mainstream films to big audiences for big bucks.

Or it can be the Flyway.

This is the ninth year that the scrappy, ambitious film festival has brought an eclectic assortment of movies to the Mississippi River towns of Pepin, Stockholm, Alma, and Red Wing. The festival, which runs from October 19-23, has attracted national attention for its creative spirit and its willingness to invite emerging filmmakers to share their work.

But like any volunteer-run nonprofit organization, the Flyway has had its challenges. Life happens: people move away, jobs change, partnerships end. Schedules get postponed. Some feared that the Flyway would live no more.

And then – like the mythical Lake Pepin monster depicted in the 2016 Flyway logo – the festival reared its head and roared back to life.

“We took stock of what the Flyway really means to the community, and we realized that it was incredibly important,” said Mary Anne Collins-Svoboda, the new Flyway board chair. “It’s been very gratifying to talk to community members about strengthening the organization and hearing how much support we have.”

In addition to Collins-Svoboda, the new board consists of Jane Whiteside, vice chair; Anne Anderson, treasurer; and Lu Lippold, secretary. The advisory committee includes Judy Krohn, Susan Eldredge, David Potter, Jody Wurl, Kristin Debner, John Anderes, Dorothy Thompson, Irene Wolf, Allison Lisk, Bruce Johnson, and Linda Herman. Jim Brunzell, who has been a major force behind Flyway programming for several years, is again lending his expertise to the Flyway.

So what will be different this year?

“More happy hours, no formal workshops, more films, a new venue at the Villa Bellezza Winery, and screenings at the historic Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing,” said festival founder Rick Vaicius. “We’re streamlining some things, adding others. And our film lineup this year is pretty amazing.”

The film lineup, along with ticket and pass availability will be announced next week. The selections include stunningly beautiful narratives, disturbing documentaries, hilarious and moving short films, and, in a nod to the upcoming election, some untold political stories.

“There’s a special emphasis on lore and legend, including films about Minnesota and Wisconsin,” added Vaicius. “We’re featuring some our best regional filmmakers as well.”

See below for visual clues about a few of the films you’ll see at the Flyway. And stay tuned for the big reveal when the Flyway announces its lineup!

2016 Flyway logo by Jon Hunt

Swee Pea Girl Asleep American Fable

Pepie the Lake Monster Rears its Head in New Flyway Logo

Pepie Flyway Logo Banner
For centuries, travelers on Lake Pepin have caught glimpses of a frightening sea serpent roiling the waters. Now, at long last, the creature has been captured: as a graphic design by Twin Cities artist Jon Hunt. The eye-catching image is the new logo for the ninth annual Flyway Film Festival on the shores of Lake Pepin, which will take place from October 19 – 23, 2016.

Hunt first learned about the legend of “Pepie,” the Lake Pepin monster, from Flyway Film Festival Operations Director Diana Vaicius, with whom he shares a fondness for creepy, unexplained phenomena.

“I’m totally fascinated with cryptozoology,” says Hunt, referring to the study of mysterious creatures such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and Pepie. “There are only a couple of ‘confirmed’ lake monsters in America, and Pepie is one of them.”

When Hunt shared a first draft of his logo design with Diana Vaicius, she suggested that he take it up a notch.

“It’s a monster, after all,” says Vaicius. “The first image looked a bit too friendly.” Hunt agreed, and the final image resembles a moderately scary monster from 1950’s-era horror films.

Early sightings of a Lake Pepin sea creature date back to the late 1600s, when Father Louis Hennepin was exploring the Mississippi River. Indians were said to use only strong wooden boats on Lake Pepin because the creature could pierce through birchbark canoes. Local newspapers have published fairly regular accounts of “a lake monster seen swimming in Lake Pepin” since the 1860s.

The Flyway Film Festival has featured a new graphic design each year since its inception in 2008. Hunt was delighted that he could combine his interest in Lake Pepin lore with the promotion of the Flyway.

“I’m a huge fan of the film festival and of what it’s brought to the Lake Pepin area,” says Hunt. “Now if we can get some proof that Pepie really exists, I’ll be a happy man.”

Flyway 2015 is over. The Flyway Ax Awards live on, literally forever.

Flyway 2015 is over. The Flyway Ax Awards live on, literally forever.

The 8th annual Flyway Film Festival was a blast. It was epic. It was everything a film festival should be. We saw films that blew our minds. We ate. We drank. We learned vital info from top-of-the-line industry pros. We drank some more. We exchanged brilliant insights. We danced in the streets. There was pie.

Al Milgrom was extremely pleased with his Flyway Ax.

These are the awards that Rick handed out on the night of the gala, which was before the film screenings even started, because that’s how we roll. The awards are granite sculptures shaped like ax heads, made by a famous sculptor who lives nearby. Yes, there’s a story there.

Best Narrative Feature
Remittance, by Patrick Daly and Joel Fendelman

Best Documentary Feature
In Transit, by Albert Maysles, Lynn True, Nelson Walker III, David Usui, and Benjamin Wu

WI/MN Showcase
Lost Conquest, by Mike Scholtz

Seed&Spark Short Film Awards

James Martin, Ax sculptor David Culver, Jen West, and Seed&Spark's Erica Anderson

James Martin, Ax sculptor David Culver, Jen West, and Seed&Spark’s Erica Anderson

Little Cabbage, by Jen West
11 Life Lessons from an Awesome Old Dyke, by Allison Khoury

Founder’s Short Film Award
Hunter’s Fall, by Peter McCarthy

David & Linda Brassfield “Flyway Spirit” Award
Al Milgrom

Trailblazer Award
Kristjan Knigge

Sculptor’s Choice Awards

Kristjan Knigge and Peter McCarthy

Kristjan Knigge and Peter McCarthy

The Driftless Area, by Zachary Sluser
Bounce: How the Ball Taught the World to Play, by Jerome Thelia

Congratulations to the award winners, and to all the wonderful filmmakers who screened their work at the Flyway!


Thanks to photographer Bruce Christianson for donating his time and talent to document the Flyway.

Films, workshops, music, parties: The 8th Annual Flyway Film Festival is next week!

From "It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong" (Friday 10/23 @7pm). Director Emily Ting will be partying at the Flyway this year

From “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” (Friday 10/23 @7pm). Director Emily Ting will be partying at the Flyway this year

October 14, 2015– The Flyway Film Festival is only a week away, and the villages along the Mississippi River are abuzz with preparation. Pepin’s lovely Villa Bellezza Winery, site of the Kickoff Gala on Wednesday night, will magically transform into two screening rooms in time for the opening night film on Thursday. The cozy Maiden Rock Inn will metamorphose into the site of cutting-edge panels and mentor sessions on Thursday and Friday. The smell of triple-berry pie is already wafting over the WideSpotscreening room in Stockholm. And the films…the films…all 53 of them…are ready to blow your mind.

Here are some highlights of the Flyway this year: 

– The Kickoff Gala (Wednesday, October 21, 6pm) will feature a fabulous array of food, an insightful keynote talk by Full Frame Documentary Festival’s Deirdre Haj, the annual film awards ceremony, and music by the sweet Twin Cities band Fort Wilson Riot.

– New this year: Music will continue throughout the festival, with the amazing violinist LOTT and songster JE Sunde performing before select films. And check out the DJ action at the Festival Lounge (406 1st Street) during the afterparties!

– Did you know that the Flyway region of Western Wisconsin is called the “driftless area,” where the river bluffs were left untouched by glaciers? When festival director Rick Vaicius saw The Driftless Area at Tribeca Film Festival this year, he said, “That’s kind of perfect.” John Hawkes and Zooey Deschanel star in this neo-noir romance, which is the opening night film on Thursday (7pm).

– Series television is all the rage, as you well know, and many filmmakers are re-thinking their work as series material. If you’re one of them, you’ll want to attend the panel called “Make a Series, Damn It!” Julie Keck and Jessica King, of Chicago’s King is a Fink Productions, have had great success in making series and will share their advice on Thursday at 1:30.

– Finding the right location is key to any film project, small or large – and it’s not easy. One of the Twin Cities’ top location managers, Charlotte Ariss, will tell her secrets Friday morning on a special panel called “Location. Location? Location!”, along with filmmakers and scouts who have been around the world a few times, shooting their films from Darjeeling to Pepin.

Flyway is excited to host Stephen Hill, star of Kiara Jones' "Christmas Wedding Baby"!

Flyway is excited to host Stephen Hill, star of Kiara Jones’ “Christmas Wedding Baby” (Saturday 10/24, noon)

– When you hear about a new film opening at your local theater, it’s exciting to be able to say, “Oh, I saw that when it premiered at the Flyway.” World premieres at this year’s Flyway are Pictures of Lily, by British director Mark Banks; Remittance, by Patrick Daly and Joel Fendelman, and Second Honeymoonby Dutch filmmaker Kristjan Knigge.

– As always, you can look forward to meeting the movers and shakers in the world of independent film as you hang around the festival: Erica Anderson of Seed&Spark, Ted and Vanessa Hope, Brian Newman of Sub-Genre, and up-and-coming filmmakers from near and far.

So many films, events, parties, pies, and conversations await you next week! Come for a day, a night, or for the entire five-day run.

Here’s the link for the film schedule. BUY FILM TICKETS

Here’s the link for the workshops and mentor sessions. BUY WORKSHOP TICKETS (MENTOR SESSIONS ARE FREE!)

And if you haven’t got your tickets for the Kickoff Gala, which includes the keynote speech and awards ceremony: BUY GALA TICKETS

See you at the Flyway!