Frozen River by the frozen river

Sundance Film Festival, watch out.

Winona, it seems, doesn’t do anything small these days, and I have a feeling the Frozen River Film Festival is going to be no different. I mean heck, look at the last few years if you’re not sure:

Want to see some Shakespearean theater? How about four weeks with some of the best Shakespearean actors in the country?

Like classical music? Will Yo-Yo Ma do?

You want to see some art? Will Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh be good enough?

Seriously, Winona’s arts offerings have surpassed everyone’s imaginations, and “good” is just not good enough for the people intent on turning this town into an arts mecca. So when some folks said they were going to start the Frozen River Film Festival, I think we all gave an expectant nod that it was destined to be nothing short of great.

Sponsored by Theatre du Mississippi with the help of Winona State University, the Minnesota State Arts Board and a cache of local supporters, the Frozen River Film Festival has not disappointed. These past couple of years it built a reputation for bringing thoughtful, engaging, timely and unique films to Winona each January, with each year building on the last for broader programming and farther reaching events.

Guess what folks… that’s exactly how the Sundance Film Festival started, and the Cannes Film Festival for that matter. Of course, Sundance has a 30-year head start on Frozen River, and its first chairperson was Robert Redford, but in the beginning it was a small festival trying to recognize the good work and poignant issues of low-budget independent film makers. Now it is an extravagant gala that draws everybody who’s anybody from Hollywood and beyond, and some of the films are much bigger productions, but at their core Sundance and Frozen River are very much the same. Except for that Robert Redford part.

I like the diversity of the films being brought in for Frozen River, from animated short films for children to powerful documentaries about different cultures or contentious social issues. And I like how the festival has started to grow, spawning things like Fringe Fridays and exploring topics deeper by reshowing films and sponsoring speakers with varying perspectives on topics.

Frozen River might never get to the size of Sundance – we might never have Chris Rock and Cher partying in a penthouse downtown or give awards to people like Jimmy Stewart, but the population of Park City, Utah, is 7,371 and the nearest metropolitan area is Salt Lake City, and Winona is four times that size and situated perfectly between the Twin Cities and Chicago. Just sayin’.

With the care and thoughtfulness its organizers are bringing to the event, I think the Frozen River Film Festival has got a good pair of legs under it and is destined to become the darling of Midwest film lovers. If you haven’t sampled Frozen River yet, come the last week in January you’ll get the chance to see for yourself. Better yet, if you’re a student you can see it all for free. But even if you’re not, a pass to the whole shebang is $50, with individual event tickets available as well. That, folks, is chicken scratch for three days of films, maybe even one by someone who could be the next Quentin Terantino, who got his first big break at Sundance years ago, by the way.

For more information about the festival, visit:  http://frff.org/site/index.php

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