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, http://flywayfilmfestival.org/2016/film-schedule/.

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!

WI Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett to keynote Flyway Kickoff Gala

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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.”

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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, www.flywayfilmfestival.org.

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 flywayfilmfestival.org.

  • 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: http://flywayfilmfestival.org/2016/film-schedule/

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, flywayfilmfestival.org. 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.

Women directors rock the Flyway Film Festival

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Opening and closing night films helmed by up-and-coming female filmmakers; tickets and passes on sale here

The opening and closing night films for the October 19-23 Flyway Film Festival are directed by emerging filmmakers of the female persuasion.

Girl Asleep, Australian Rosemary Myers’ “weird and wonderful” directorial debut, will open the Flyway at the Villa Bellezza Winery in Pepin, Wisconsin on Thursday, October 20th, at 7:30 PM.

The closing film will be American Fable, a haunting Midwestern tale “gorgeously shot and helmed with a sense of daring and verve” (Variety) by Anne Hamilton, who shot the film in Wisconsin and Illinois. It will screen at the WideSpot Performing Arts Center in Stockholm, WI at 5:00 PM on October 23.

“We’ve seen an amazing crop of independent American and foreign films directed by women in the past year,” noted Flyway programmer Jim Brunzell III. “The Oscars may have snubbed female directors, but women are rocking the indie film world.”

Brunzell selects films for several festivals in addition to the Flyway, including Sound Unseen and the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival. He attends festivals all over the country, serving on juries and evaluating films.

“I’m looking forward to this year’s Flyway films unspooling,” said Brunzell, “and it’s especially exciting to be highlighting women filmmakers.” Brunzell, who lives in Austin, Texas, has seen numerous woman-directed short films coming out of Austin this year, several of which will be included in the Flyway’s short film programs.

Other films by women in the lineup include:

  • June Falling Down, by Rebecca Weaver: A woman returns to her hometown in Door County for the wedding of her best friend, which finally forces her to come to terms with her losses and move forward with her life.
  • Memories of a Penitent Heart, by Cecilia Aldarondo: Twenty-five years after Miguel died of AIDS, his niece tracks down his gay lover and cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama.
  • Minnesota 13: From Grain to Glass, by Kelly Nathe and Norah Shapiro: 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.
  • The Nine, by Katy Grannan: An intimate and unflinching portrait of a ravaged community living on Modesto’s South Ninth Street—“The Nine”—a barren street in California’s Great Central Valley, the setting for The Grapes of Wrath and Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.”
  • Political Animals, by Tracy Wares and Jonah Markowitz: The story of the gay rights movement through the eyes of four groundbreaking lesbian politicians who took the fight for the causes most personal to them into the halls of government.

Photo: From the set of director Anne Hamilton’s fairytale thriller “American Fable,” filmed in Wisconsin and Illinois. American Fable will be the closing night film at the 2016 Flyway Film Festival, which runs from October 19 – 23 in Pepin, Stockholm, and Alma Wisconsin and Red Wing, Minnesota.