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.

Women directors rock the Flyway Film Festival


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.


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