Annual Frozen River Film Festival occurs virtually for the first time

Gabriel Hathaway, features reporter

The Frozen River Film Festival returned to Winona for its 16th year this past Valentine’s Day weekend, from February 11-14. This year, the festival was entirely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendance remained free for Winona State University students.

Frozen River Film Festival Managing Director Eileen Moeller said since the festival shifted online, other events like the workshops and even the social aspects had to change.

“All of the films have been added to a streaming service called Eventive,” Moeller said in response to concerns about the festival being completely online.

For festival goers, the changes made to move entirely virtual meant they could not grab a bite to eat from food trucks, no in-person viewings, social events or workshops.

Moeller predicts a world in the near future where in-person events are allowed but with face masks and limited participants, along with continued online options.

“Based on what we are seeing, I think that it will be a few years before events, where you have large groups of people gathering together, go back to “normal,”” Moeller said.

This year, the Frozen River Film Festival boasted more than 50 documentary films on many different topics.

One film featured was “2020, One Week on Campus”, directed by Shelbie Carson and Hailey Torborg who are both fourth-year film studies students at Winona State.

“2020, One Week on Campus” was filmed over the course of one week in October 2020, and according to Torborg, the film aims to explore and document what campus life was like considering the pandemic, protests and current political climate.

To read a review about this film and others from the Frozen River Film Festival, you can check out this article from Noah Mruz in this week’s Winonan edition.

Torborg pointed out one good thing that comes from the Frozen River Film Festival moving completely online.

“You are never going to miss out on anything this year because you get the whole week to watch it,” Torborg said.

In a typical year for the festival, films are only shown once and may overlap, making it impossible to see them all. This year, all the films are online and viewable up to a week after they are released, giving viewers plenty of time to watch them all.

Carson commented on the downside of everything going online for the festival because of COVID.

“The only thing that’s going to be missed is the networking that can happen at these events,” Carson said. “There’s so much community and so many people come from all around, so it’s just that person-to-person interaction that’s going to be missed.”

Carson also commented on why the Frozen River Film Festival is an important festival to have, emphasizing the documentary aspect of it.

“Documentary films, for me, show me that I can make any film like that,” Carson said. “You can make a film like that. If you have anything interesting, anything you want to share, any sort of topic, you can make any film out of it.”
           Moeller also recognized the importance of the festival.

“Winona has a really wonderful history of being a pretty active and happening arts town for its size,” Moeller said. “One of the reasons Frozen River Film Festival started was because there were not a lot of arts and culture events happening in the winter. It has grown to be something that is really special to Winona, it’s one of the important festivals the city has.”

Submissions for next year’s Frozen River Film Festival opened on their website, frff.org, the day after this year’s festival ended, Monday, Feb. 15.