Some Like it Frozen

Sundance Film Festival, we’re giving you a run for your money.

Winona, it seems, doesn’t do anything small these days, and the Frozen River Film Festival is no different. I mean look at all we’ve got going on if you’re not sure:

Want to see some Shakespearean theater? How about five 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?

Music festivals? Ever heard of Lizzo?

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. Here we are fifteen years later, and there’s no doubt about it, the FRFF has become part of legendary landscape of Winona’s festival scene.

Frozen River Film Festival Documentaries Winona Minnesota Southeastern MN

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. It has built a reputation for bringing thoughtful, engaging, timely and unique films to Winona each February, 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-plus 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- including a variety of venues all across Winona (films at our downtown brewery anyone???), inviting the amazing Mountainfilm on Tour to take part, 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 the Coen Brothers, 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 have brought to the event, the Frozen River Film Festival has become a darling of Midwest film lovers. If you haven’t sampled Frozen River yet, come February 5-9, 2020 you’ll get the chance to see for yourself. A Big Muddy pass, which grants access to all the events is only $70, and there are daily passes available as well. Heck, if you’re a local student you can even get free passes (non-local university students get half-price). That, folks, is chicken scratch for five 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: 

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