The lineup for the 2014 Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF) spans the globe and pairs heart-rending character studies with gritty political works, internationally acclaimed documentaries and the works of local fourth-graders. No matter your age or your position on frac sand, the ninth season of FRFF offers something to coax you out of your home in the depths of winter. The film series kicks off with showings on Saturday, January 18, and builds up to its main attractions on the weekend of January 25 and 26.
Fourth-graders Isabella Xiong and Brayden Coudron show off a tiny monarch caterpillar, the subject of their short film, which will be shown alongside award-winning documentaries at this year's Frozen River Film Festival.
Stop motion animation films made by Jefferson Elementary School fourth-grade students will debut along with a "kids set," a back-to-back lineup of family-friendly short films. The films focus on various aspects of Monarch butterfly biology, including their journey from egg to butterfly and their cross-continental, multi-generational migrations, explained Principal Arthur Williams. The students made the films frame by frame, using classroom materials, special cameras, and the school's laptops. Fourth-grade teacher Eric Paulsen said that his class put a great deal of effort and time into its films. Students in the science- and technology-focused school spent weeks raising monarch caterpillars, generating hypotheses, conducting experiments, recording results, and analyzing data, Paulsen explained. "Big projects such as this help fourth-graders learn [to take] pride in hard work. They love to figure out problems and think creatively using technology," he said.
The Jefferson Elementary stop motion animation shorts and the kids' set will be shown on Saturday, January 25, at 10:30 a.m. in Somsen Hall at Winona State University (WSU).
Chat with filmmakers
One of the most unique aspects of watching films at FRFF, as opposed to in a theater or living room, is the talkbacks with filmmakers, question and answer sessions with stars, plus community discussions afterward. "That makes a big difference when people can get into dialogue," said FRFF Assistant Director Kathy Florin. "It makes it more intimate or personal and different than watching it on Netflix."
National Geographic filmmaker Dan Bowermaster is perhaps the festival's headliner, Florin said of this year's talkbacks. Bowermaster has two award-winning films showing in this year's festival, and will field audience questions after both the anti-fracking activist flick "Dear Governor Cuomo" and "SoLa," a film on water pollution and the oil industry in the bayou. Those films will be aired on Thursday, January 23, at 6:30 p.m. in the WSU Somsen Auditorium, and on Wednesday, January 22, at 5:30 p.m. in Southeast Technical College auditorium 205, respectively.
Minnesota filmmakers will talk with audiences about their award-winning documentary "The Fabulous Ice Age," which uncovers the bizarre and glamorous history of how theatrical ice skating extravaganzas like Disney on Ice and "ice carnivals" rose to popularity, starting with early 20th century "ice theater" in New York. That film may be seen on Saturday, January 25, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in WSU Performing Arts Center room 159.
Other notable films with talkbacks include: "The List," a documentary about Iraqis kidnapped and killed for helping Americans during the Iraq War and the U.S. citizen who attempted to help them; "Gold Fever," the story of village matriarchs and gold mining in Guatemala; and a number of regional films.
Many of the films at this year's festival were made in the Upper Midwest, some of them right in Winona's backyard.
"Twilight of the Mississippi" chronicles the adventures of a troupe of actors, known as The Unseen Ghost Brigade, that travelled the Mississippi by raft, giving street performances in cities along the way. The self-styled vagabonds came through Winona a few years ago.
"Mysteries of the Driftless" celebrates the unique beauty, geology, and biology of Southeast Minnesota, Northeast Iowa, and Southwest Wisconsin. The half-hour documentary will be shown with two other films, including one of Florin's favorites, "Keeper of the Mountains," on Saturday January 25, at 3:30 p.m. in the WSU Somsen Auditorium. A question and answer session with the director and executive producer of "Mysteries of the Driftless" will follow the film.
Duluth musician and local legend Charlie Parr will perform at Dibs Cafe in downtown Winona following a documentary profiling the folk musician and bluesman. The film starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, January 24, also at Dibs Cafe. Parr's performance will go late into evening.
"American Heart" documents the struggles of immigrants seeking medical care in Minnesota and plays on Saturday, January 25, at 10 a.m. in WSU Performing Arts Center room 159.
"Fifty Lakes One Island" features the remote island wilderness of Isle Royale off the North Shore of Lake Superior and will be shown on Saturday, January 18, at 6:30 p.m. in St. Mane Theatre in Lanesboro.
Two views on fracking
"Fractivists" and industrial sand proponents may have their pick of documentaries focused on hydraulic fracturing at this year's festival. As "the sand issue" came to a head for the city of Winona last year, the documentary "The Price of Sand" stirred local debate. This year "Gasland II," the sequel to the anti-fracking film that caught national attention by highlighting flammable tap water, will be paired with "Fracknation," a documentary on environmentalists' misrepresentations of the industry, followed by a panel-led discussion.
"We definitely had a lot of discussions about it with our board, with some people in our community wanting to see 'Fracknation,' other people wanting to see 'Gasland Part II,'" Florin explained saying she hoped the films would encourage people to consider different views on the issue. "I think there's more to that than two different sides," she added.
"Fracknation" will be shown from 10 a.m. to noon in Somsen Hall on Sunday, January 24, followed by a screening of "Gasland Part II" at 1 p.m.
Festival passes are $60. Individual tickets are $8. "Five-packs" are $35. More information, including the full film schedule, volunteer opportunities, and ticketing, is available at www.frff.org.