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  Friday January 30th, 2015    

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The Great River Guys (01/29/2014)
Lee: Hello from the Great River Guys. This week I am flying a bit solo because Doug, our Artistic Director, is in Portland, Oregon, directing Lucia di Lammermoor for the Portland Opera Company, and they open this Friday! Congratulations and best wishes on your opening, Doug, “toi toi toi,” I believe they say, which is basically spitting three times to ward off bad luck. Don’t ask me; it’s an opera thing....

I, on the other hand, spent the week experiencing my first Frozen River Film Festival, and being new to Winona, may I say, “wow, wow, wow!”

Let’s start with the crowds of people attending from all over the region in the middle of frigid temperatures and a Sunday blizzard. I talked to folks from St. Cloud, Monticello, Decorah, Rochester, the Cities, La Crosse and as far away as Boston — even one of the filmmakers from South America. Now I am pretty sure they would not have thought of coming to Winona in the middle of the winter without this important film gathering. I thought of all the dollars in hotels and restaurants and gas stations that these attendees were generating. I thought of all the goodwill being spread about our city and how many of these visitors might return, hopefully for a little Shakespeare or Beethoven, or water skiing in the summer. I loved that there was an exciting event that brought our own community out of our houses and into a public arena, and gave us all much to talk about and share with our friends and families. In short, it cannot be disputed that the Frozen River Film Festival enriches our community beyond measure.

I loved the spirited discussions about Shakespeare, including the high school student who spoke up after The Muse of Fire screening that GRSF sponsored. And the wonderful question about historic costumes and are they necessary, and “what were audiences like back in Shakespeare’s time?” After God Loves Uganda, you could not hear anyone speak for a moment as we took in what we had just seen and heard. It was as if you had been punched in the gut and were fighting for air. I think everyone who watched the slate of films was eager to point others to their own favorites. We gathered in the lobbies and traded stories like children trading coveted baseball cards. The puppet show for children was delightful and informative, the performance art piece unique and technically ground-breaking, and everyone was savoring the tacos from the Boathouse and the cinnamon buns from Blooming Grounds. It was a joyous event and a once-a-year chance to see what wonderful filmmakers all over the world have to say about our lives. And so much of it was not issue driven. The Adrenalin Series and the amazing story of the 14-year-old girl who sailed around the world alone, the history of ice dancing, each of these reminded us that the power of storytelling is not just to confront issues, but also to have us dig deep within ourselves to understand what we personally are made of. It was enough to send me out for a brownie and ponder my own frail limits of ability.

I understand the Frozen River Festival organizers had a rough few weeks leading up to the festival, but I was proud of what they shared with our city, and I, for one, will be there next year, rooting the filmmakers on in February, as it moves to its new month. Bravo Crystal, Kathy, Bernadette, your board, and your most courageous funders, sponsors, and volunteers. It was a thrilling week of events. Doug, all the way from Oregon sends his congratulations and big fat “toi, toi, toi!”



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