Flyway Film Festival Announces Feature Film Lineup!

August 17, 2018— The Flyway Film Festival is pleased to announce its feature film selections for the eleventh edition of the festival, which will take place October 19-21, 2018.

The eclectic array of independent films will screen at three locations along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin: Big River Theatre in Alma, WideSpot Performing Arts Center in Stockholm, and The Minema in Pepin.

“Our programming team scoured the current festival circuit for the most intriguing films, the smartest up-and-coming directors, and a mix of topics that will resonate with our audiences,” said Flyway interim executive director Lu Lippold. “We're really excited to premiere these top-notch films in Wisconsin."

Full festival passes for unlimited screenings and parties are available now for $120 here. Six-ticket “binge passes” are $65. Tickets for individual films ($12, or $8 with a student discount) will be available soon, as well as tickets for the opening night party.

The Flyway’s annual celebration of cinema draws film enthusiasts and filmmakers to the Western Wisconsin region along the scenic shores of Lake Pepin, an area of the Mississippi River that widens into a lake. In its eleven years, the festival has attracted national attention from industry professionals and has been named one of MovieMaker Magazine’s “Twenty-five Coolest Film Festivals in the World.”

All the feature films will be Wisconsin festival premieres. The national/international selections are:

Amateurs (Dir. Gabriela Pichler): In this Swedish comedy/drama, a city council initiative to create a promotional video for their small industrial town prompts two teenage schoolgirls to create their own rival project. But while the council’s puff piece tries to airbrush out any hint of poverty and remove any non-white people from the frame, the phone footage opus created by the teenagers captures the true spirit of the community, for better and for worse. ScreenDaily calls it “a feisty delight, combining fizzing energy with finely-crafted characters and a light-footed approach.”

A Fine Line (Dir. Joanna James): Well-known women chefs and restaurateurs describe the challenges they faced on their way to celebrated careers in an industry where fewer than 7% of restaurants are helmed by female chefs or owners. The film focuses on the story of Valerie James – the director’s mother – who’s a small-town restaurateur and single mom on a mission to do what she loves, while raising two kids with the odds stacked against her.

Home + Away (Dir. Matthew Ogens): Part coming-of-age story and part sports documentary, this stunning, beautifully shot film follows the lives of three students -- Erik, a soccer player, Shyanne, one of the school’s best wrestlers, and Francisco, a hard-throwing pitcher and third baseman -- who cross the border every day from their homes in Juarez, Mexico to attend high school in El Paso, Texas, where they look to sports as a path toward success. 

Life in the Doghouse (Dir. Ron Davis): Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw, both in their 60s, live on a horse farm in North Carolina, where they train show horses. They also operate Danny & Ron’s Rescue, which has saved more than 10,000 abandoned dogs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Now their home is occupied by the menagerie of dogs that they have rescued, mainly from animal shelters who would have had to exterminate them otherwise. Their story is “one of those documentaries that will touch the heart of the coldest of souls” (We the People).

Little Woods (Dir. Nia DaCosta): In a North Dakota fracking town, Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is nearing the end of her probation after being caught running prescription pills over the Canadian border. She’s ready to start anew when, after her mother dies, she learns that her estranged sister Deb (Lily James), is pregnant and about to be homeless. Writer-director DaCosta’s debut is “an emotionally-charged small-town thriller that weaves themes of economic downturn and the opioid crisis into its intimate story of two sisters just trying to get by” (Cara Cusamano, Tribeca).

People’s Republic of Desire (Dir. Hao Wu): In China, live streaming has become the most popular online entertainment. This “provocative and unsettling” (Variety) documentary takes us into a bizarre digital universe, where marginally-talented young performers earn as much as $150,000 a month by live-streaming to millions of viewers who seek the comfort of virtual relationships, and where China's super-rich lavish virtual gifts on their favorite performers every night. The film won the documentary competition at this year’s SXSW Film Festival.

Thrasher Road (Dir. Samantha Davidson Green): When an accident strands pregnant Chloe and her geriatric dog, Thrasher, on the highway home from broken dreams in L.A., unwelcome rescue comes from her estranged dad, Mac, who takes them on a disastrous detour toward a second chance. This gentle comedy/drama was shot on Super16 film on location in 20 states across the country. It recently won the "Spirit of Independent Filmmaking Award" at the Stony Brook Film Festival in New York.

Wild Nights with Emily (Dir. Madeleine Olnek): Olnek’s dramatization of the little-known side of writer Emily Dickinson's life, in particular her relationship with another woman, has been heralded as “entertaining and thought-provoking” (IndieWire) and “warmly funny” (Hollywood Reporter). It stars Molly Shannon as Dickinson and Minneapolis native Susan Ziegler as her beloved sister-in-law. Ziegler will attend the screening for a Q+A, along with other special guests.

In addition to the national and international films, the Flyway is extremely proud to showcase Minnesota and Wisconsin filmmakers in their Wisconsin premieres:

Don’t Get Trouble in Your Mind: The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Story (Dir. John Whitehead): Ranging from the historical to the deeply personal, this documentary tells the story of three African-American musicians from the hip-hop generation who embraced a traditional 19th-century folk genre and took it to Grammy-winning heights. Minnesota director (and Wisconsin native) Whitehead followed the band from their meteoric rise through their breakup, making for an emotionally satisfying journey as well as a spectacular musical one.

Farmer of the Year (Dir. Kathy Swanson and Vince O’Connell): After selling the Minnesota family farm, 82-year-old Hap Anderson (Barry Corbin) feels old and in the way. He tries to recapture his youth by setting out to attend his 65th WWII reunion in California, road-tripping with his unemployed granddaughter (Mackinlee Waddell) in a dilapidated Winnebago while desperately trying to find a date to impress his old army buddies. Co-writer/director Swanson is from Tyler, Minnesota, where the film was shot.

Risking Light (Dir. Dawn Mikkelson): This deeply moving film explores the process of forgiveness through individuals who overcome tragedy by channeling their anger and grief into endeavors that make the world a better place. Wisconsin director Mikkelson followed the stories of Mary Johnson, a Minneapolis woman whose son was murdered; Debra Hocking, a victim of government-sanctioned genocide in Tasmania; and Kilong Ung, who survived the terror of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, to create a film that “provides the solace and hope we need” (Bay Area Mercury News).

Science Fair (Dir. Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster): In this uproarious documentary by Wisconsin native Cristina Costantini, nine high school students from disparate corners of the globe navigate rivalries, setbacks, and hormones on their quest to win the prestigious International Science and Engineering Fair, or the "Olympics of science fairs," as one student puts it. USA Today says, “‘Science Fair’ is so funny and so moving, it almost seems too good to be true.”

Time for Ilhan (Dir. Norah Shapiro): This lively, inspiring film follows the 2016 Minnesota House of Representatives campaign of Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant who attempts to unseat a 43-year incumbent and other challengers. Minnesota director Shapiro tells an often-surprising story about “immigrants who embrace American ideals, and who are sometimes disappointed by them” in this “exciting and entertaining documentary” (Film Journal International). Omar's dramatic political story continues, following her win in the Democratic primary in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District last Tuesday.

TransMilitary (Dir. Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson): Around 15,500 transgender people serve in the U.S. military (notably the largest transgender employer in the U.S.), where they must conceal their gender identity because military policies ban their service. This personal, emotionally compelling documentary, which received the 2018 SXSW Audience Award, chronicles the lives of four individuals defending their country's freedom while fighting for their own. Minnesota native Jamie Coughlin produced the film.

The closing night film will be a reprise of Alex Karpovsky’s 2008 mockumentary “Woodpecker,” which screened during the inaugural Flyway Film Festival eleven years ago. In this tragicomic blend of fact and fiction, fanatical birdwatchers have descended upon a small town in the Arkansas bayou in hopes of finding the extinct Ivory Billed Woodpecker, resulting in a film that “will have you simultaneously laughing and performing mental gymnastics to unravel its many layers"(Austin Chronicle).

In addition to the feature films, the Flyway will offer four programs of short films, which will be announced in early September, as well as a children’s program. 

The festival venues are approximately a 60-minute drive from Rochester, Minnesota or Eau Claire, Wisconsin and 85 minutes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport along the Great River Road, considered “the prettiest drive in America” (Huffington Post). 

See you at the Flyway!!!

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Keep your eye on that little blue heron -- she's headed for the Flyway!

July 20, 2018-- The 2018 poster design for the Flyway Film Festival features an illustration of one of the many birds that commute along the Mississippi River “flyway” – the migratory path that gave the festival its name.

The film festival, now in its eleventh year, will take place along the shores of Lake Pepin from October 19-21, in the towns of Stockholm, Pepin, and Alma, Wisconsin.

Illustrator Carey DeRam, who hails from Bayfield, Wisconsin, created her illustration of the Little Blue Heron to acknowledge the 100-year anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), signed in July 1918 -- one of the oldest wildlife protection laws on the books. The National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have declared 2018 to be “The Year of the Bird.”

“We decided to highlight the actual ‘flyway’ this year, to emphasize the importance of the MBTA in saving millions of bird lives over the past 100 years,” said DeRam.

Every spring and fall, migratory birds make their way along the Mississippi River, over the towns along the Great River Road where the Flyway Film Festival takes place. Visitors who come for the films are treated to the sight of eagles, herons, pelicans, and the flocks of songbirds passing through on their way south.

DeRam, a self-proclaimed “bird nerd,” researched the Mississippi River flyway before alighting on the Little Blue Heron for her illustration.

“It's a very interesting bird that starts out all white, like an egret, so that it can sneakily feed with other egrets while it's young,” she explained. “It changes colors, first with some dark grey feathers and then to all slate blue. When it's ready to mate, it gets purple plumage on its head and neck.”

Among those who don’t live near the Mississippi River flyway, the film festival’s name has occasionally caused confusion.

“People sometimes misunderstand the name as the ‘fly away’ film festival, or jump to the conclusion that it’s ‘flyover’,” said festival executive director Lu Lippold, referring to the film industry’s condescending habit of calling everything between New York and Los Angeles “flyover country.”

“With our new illustration, we’re hoping to educate people about the actual migratory flyway, as well as to draw attention to the Flyway Film Festival on the wings of this beautiful bird,” she said.

The Flyway Film Festival will begin announcing the films for its October lineup the week of July 23rd.

Flyway Film Festival regroups with new leadership in eleventh year

April 4, 2018-- The Flyway Film Festival has announced that the festival organization will restructure during 2018, with plans to host a two day event on October 19th- 21st 2018 in Stockholm, Pepin and Alma, Wisconsin.

When the Flyway’s founder and executive director, Rick Vaicius, made the decision to move to the Twin Cities last year, a group of Lake Pepin area volunteers took the reins of the popular annual event. According to incoming Flyway board member Mary Anne Collins-Svoboda, the group is in the process of forming a new nonprofit organization.

“We’re looking forward to putting on a smaller scale event this year,” said Collins-Svoboda. “It’s been a challenge to regroup, and we’ve got a lot of planning and fundraising ahead of us. But we’re well on the way to making the eleventh annual Flyway a fantastic event.”

Lu Lippold, a longtime Flyway volunteer, will serve as interim executive director. She has an extensive background in independent film and film festivals, having worked as a documentary filmmaker, festival event producer, writer, grant administrator and film professor. 

The Flyway Film Festival began in 2007 as an expansion of the successful film series initiated by Rick Vaicius and Diana Masters. By 2014, the Flyway had achieved the status of being on MovieMaker Magazine's prestigious "25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World" list. The festival has attracted such independent film trailblazers as Ted Hope, Emily Best, Xan Aranda, Brian Newman, Jon Reiss and many more.

Despite its shoestring budget, the Flyway grew to encompass a well-attended community gala, an education program, and a four-day festival in the Lake Pepin area towns of Alma, Pepin, Stockholm and Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, and Red Wing, Minnesota. A group of around fifty local volunteers was instrumental in putting the festival together and making it an integral part of the community.

The new organization has incorporated under the name Flyway Film Society. The founding board members are Mary Anne Collins-Svoboda, Scott Wolf, Trevor Porath, Tracy Tabery-Weller, Allison House, Diana Masters, and Irene Wolf. 

Collins-Svoboda is pleased that this group of community members is banding together to continue the Flyway tradition.

"The Flyway Film Festival is extremely important to the Lake Pepin area," said Collins-Svoboda. "We’re proud to continue bringing the best in independent film to this part of the world.”