FRFF’s prosperous 18th year


Carolyn Hauschild

Every February, the citizens of Winona get together to enjoy a plethora of documentary films put together by the Frozen River Film Festival. Over 200 of these films are submitted by directors from all over the world and are sifted through by a group of 20 volunteers. The organization has a deep-rooted relationship with Winona State University to where several films are hosted on campus for all students to view free of charge.

Reanne Weil, News Editor

After a year’s work of programming, selecting, preparing and planning, the 2023 Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF) kicked off the second week in February in Winona.

With films shown each night and outdoor events during the day, citizens of Winona enjoyed a week full of fun for the 18th year in a row.

FRFF launched in January 2006 as a collaboration between Theatre du Mississippi (TDM), Winona State University (WSU), Winona Convention & Visitors Bureau and MountainFilm (a Colorado documentary festival). Eileen Moeller, the Managing Director, spoke about the goals of the festival.

“Our mission statement is to educate, engage and activate people to become involved in the world through the art of documentary films,” Moeller said. “We always hope that people see something that inspires them to take action or get involved.”

FRFF uses a website called FilmFreeway where directors can submit their documentaries. Daryl Lanz, the submissions director for the festival, along with 20 volunteers, viewed about 200 entries over the course of a few months and carefully selected the finalists for this year’s event.

“Every film gets about five reviews from different people,” Lanz said. “They have a template they look at, including technical things, the theme of the film and how well it’s made. Everyone gives it a rating, and then we just look at the films that had the highest ratings and we go from there.”

Of those films, “Wild Beauty”, created by filmmaker Ashley Avis, involved a multi-year expedition to uncovering the truth about wild horses in the Western United States. Lanz expressed his love for the film and its impact on the audience.

“It presents a real issue, she [Avis] definitely has an agenda with what she’s putting across,” Lanz said. “She presented what was going on with the horses, but it also gives you a call to action. There’s something we can do about it. That’s a powerful aspect of it.”

In terms of personal goals, Moeller wanted audience members to gain a memorable experience from attending one of the days.

“I hope people get two things from the festival: I hope they see something that affirms them or makes them feel seen, and I hope they see something that challenges them,” Moeller said.

The films were presented at multiple spots, some of which included the Winona Arts Center, No Name Bar and the Winona State University campus.

“We have a really great relationship with Winona State,” Moeller said. “Every year, the main festival weekend is on the campus of Winona State. We show the majority of our films in the science building, Somsen Auditorium, and this year in the Blackbox of the Performing Arts Center.”

Because of this, both Lanz and Moeller expressed the want for Winona State students to be in attendance.

“We really want to encourage Winona State students to come out,” Moeller said. “We have a lot of great films this year. I hope we see a lot of students this year.”

With the conclusion of the festival, Moeller, Lanz and the team will take about a month’s rest before beginning the hunt for new and engaging films.

“Submissions open Monday, February 13,” Lanz said. “I’ll probably take a month before we start really diving into films. By the middle of March, we will be into it and watching stuff again. I can’t wait.”