Frozen River Film Festival returns for 14th year

Annual festival screens 28 documentaries at six local venues


Natalie Tyler

A still from a compilation video shown at a viewing for the Frozen River Film Festival at Island City Brewery on Friday, Feb. 8.

Ren Gennerman, Features Reporter

From Wednesday, Feb. 6 to Sunday, Feb. 10, the city of Winona hosted the Frozen River Film Festival.

This festival, which has occurred in Winona for 14 years, offers five days of viewing documentary films around the city, Q&A opportunities to talk to films directors, guest speakers, workshops and panel discussions.

Though the main part of the festival spans five days, there are also screenings and events leading up to it.

Films are shown in six different venues: Winona State University, Winona 7 Theatre, Winona Middle School, Saint Mary’s University, Minnesota Marine Art Museum and the Winona County Historical Center.

Many of the venues hosted particular film sets, in which specific types of films are shown together.

Ed’s (No Name) Bar hosted the “Get Animated” series, which showed short animated films on Tuesday, Feb. 5. On Thursday, the Winona Middle School hosted the “No Ordinary Adventure” set. On Friday, local all-ages brewery Island City Brewing Company hosted the “Indomitable Spirit” set. On Saturday and Sunday, the Science Laboratory Center hosted the “Resilience” set and the Harriet Johnson Auditorium hosted the “Local” set.

Sara Enzenauer, the festival director, has been working with this year’s events and says the film festival in Winona is unique.

“One thing that’s really cool about our festival is that we are the only documentary-only film festival in Minnesota,” Enzenauer said. “There are many festivals around the cities, but ours is the only one that is centered around documentaries. The range of topics and time lengths really attracts a variety of people.”

Enzenauer also pointed out just how arts-based the festival is. On top of offering workshops, guest speakers and film screenings, the team hires musicians to play in the atriums of screening venues and ask for local artists to design their logo.

“We really want to pull in the community,” Enzenauer said. “All local students from kindergarten to college have free access, and we really work to bring people into the community, whether it be to stop at Acoustic Café for lunch and coffee, or to the Historical Center to learn more about us. We know wintertime here is cold, but it’s important to get people out.”

Daryl Lanz, the submissions director the festival, works closely with Enzenauer to select films every year. Ten years ago, Lanz was asked to work on Fringe Friday (now known as Frozen Friday), and has been working for the festival ever since. He explained the process of selecting films for the festival.

“Submitted films are watched and reviewed by a minimum of 3 members of the screening committee,” Lanz said. “Each reviewer gives the film a 1-, 2-, or 3-star rating and writes a short review explaining their rating. At the end of the submissions period, the festival director [Enzenauer] and I look over the reviews and decide what works for the festival, looking for a variety of films, topics, interests and putting together a schedule.”

Lanz explained how many other factors go into selecting films, such as the narrative and how well it is told, issues that the film hits, technical quality and how well it fits into their four categories: Human Interest, Global Culture, Environment and Adventure.

“There are always other aspects to be considered; maybe a film doesn’t necessarily meet our guidelines, but is a really remarkable film, so we try to find a place for it,” Lanz said. “Not everything we like will always fit into the schedule, unfortunately. This year we received 125 submissions from which we selected 28 films to be included in the festival.”

This year, the committee received many animated films that didn’t fit into the submission guidelines, therefore they decided to add an animated set that was shown the night before the opening of the festival in order to accommodate those filmmakers. Most films are submitted through the committee’s channels, but some come through the festival’s partnership with Mountainfilm, a festival in Telluride, Colorado, as well as films people have heard about or seek out.

J. Paul Johnson, a writing, film and literature professor at Winona State, is thrilled to have the film festival in Winona and took the time to see many of the films being shown.

“The Frozen River Film Festival is a real boon to the local community and WSU campus, and I’m thankful to have such an amazing event here on campus, free to our students, and especially our Film Studies majors and minors, many of whom volunteer, intern, and/or attend,” Johnson said. “Even some of the very short features—like The Coffin Club or Imagination: Tom Wallisch—present humorous and clever takes on a variety of different topics.”

Though Johnson saw many of the films, he did have his favorites.

“‘The Human Element’ examines the significant impact of human activity on the environment in ways that are visually amazing and intellectually engaging,” Johnson said. “‘Minding the Gap’ is a thought-provoking, heart-rending examination of masculinity and violence among three young men growing up in Rockford, Illinois, full deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.”

Of course, even the committee members have their favorite events they looked forward to.

Lanz himself was intrigued by the “Filmmaking with your Smartphone” workshop by Nick Clausen, whose film “The Wolf House” was also shown this year, as well as the workshop on “Finding a Short-Form Documentary Subject”.

Though the festival is an annual one, there are important changes made every year to make the experience better for those attending. This year, a $30 Sunday pass was added to ticketing options, as well as adding more partnerships with local businesses than ever before.

Because the festival’s coordinators aim to engage, educate and activate the Winona community, the festival not only offers films suitable for older audiences, but also ones for children. On Saturday in the Winona 7 Theatre, thirteen films were shown, ranging from animation to visual poems to humorous documentary shorts. All Winona area students were admitted for free.

Lanz also wants more people to be involved for next year’s festival.

“We’re always looking for a few new people every year to join our screening committee,” Lanz said. “We screen films April through October, and we’d like to get some younger folks and college students involved.”

To optimize attendee’s time at the festival, Lanz and other FRFF volunteers urged people to look at the schedule and make a plan, as many events happen at the same time.

The 2020 submissions for the Frozen River Film Festival opened on Feb. 11, and submission information can be found on the website.

Natalie Tyler
Sharon Mansur, the director of the short film “…In the Space Between” answers questions after the viewing in Harriet Johnson Auditorium on Sunday, Feb. 10. The film featured Winona State theatre and dance professor Gretchen Cohenhour.


Natalie Tyler
“The Students of Shakespeare for Young Filmmakers” presents their short film “Cassandra” to the audience at the Frozen River Film Festival on Sunday, Feb. 10 in Somsen’s Harriet Johnson Auditorium.
Natalie Tyler
Winona State Sophomore Kelly Hagberg (right) attends the Frozen River Film Festival viewing at Island City Brewery in downtown Winona with her friend Ross on Friday, Feb. 8.