15th Anniversary Lookback

With the 15th anniversary Festival fast approaching, intern Sion Williams looks back on the festival with some of the people that have helped to get us to this moment. Check in every Tuesday leading up to the festival to read more about an important figure in our history.

Sara Enzenauer

February 4, 2020

Executive Director, Sara Enzenauer, has made changes to help facilitate audience discussions happening at the festival. In addition to the Q&A’s after some of the films, there will now be space reserved in the atrium of the Science Lab Center for “Conversation Corners” which will provide a space that will not only encourage people to continue talking about the films they are watching but will hopefully help connect people with one another. Often times people are moved by films and they are looking for inspiration and connections to figure out what they can do with their new found energy.

Sara talked about festival organizers looking for ways to bring in underserved communities to the discussion. One of the ways that came to fruition was by offering free child care during the Saturday of the festival through the WSU Children’s Center. The child care (‘free’ thanks to a generous donation from WNB Financial) is a way to help to relieve parents of some of the financial burden of attending so they can come to the festival and participate. 

In an effort to contribute to tourism in the winter months, the Festival has increased advertising in areas like Minneapolis and St. Paul. “Once people visit here and see all the different things Winona has to offer throughout the year,” says Sara, “they are very likely to come back for some of the other events and opportunities going on year round.” 

The festival has recently been approved for a grant through SEMAC (South Eastern Minnesota Arts Council) that will allow the festival to do more off season events. Festival fans can be looking for a couple of films that will be shown in Rochester, as well as a possible screening of one of the festival’s past films in the Twin Cities. The idea behind these on-location events is to get the festival’s name out in front of more people and hopefully get them interested in what the festival has to offer so that they come to the full festival.  Once here, they can see all of the other wonderful opportunities Winona has and start a cycle of coming to Winona not only during the winter but year round.   

Looking to the future Sara hopes that the festival can focus more on having discussions be a larger focus of the festival. Sara believes that adding Conversations Corners is a start in better executing Frozen River Film Festival’s mission to engage, educate, and activate the community. She sees the festival as a “way to make us all better” and understands that facilitating conversation among the filmgoers is essential to the idea of community.

Crystal Hegge

January 28th, 2020

Crystal Hegge is one of the founding “mothers” of the Frozen River Film Festival. She has been a part of the festival since the idea was established. Reminiscing about how the festival began, Crystal mentions how the idea for this festival started after Walter Ordway  attended the documentary film festival, Mountainfilm, in Telluride, CO. He realized that the documentary form and format was very pertinent to the perspective and understanding of the various issues and cultures in the world. When he came back to Winona he gathered a core group of people to start a festival. 

The idea behind the first year was to become a Mountainfilm on Tour stop in order to gauge the interest in the community for a film festival. On the opening night of the first event, Crystal and her fellow founders were expecting a turnout of around 500 people, but were overjoyed when over 1,100 people attended. It was after the event’s amazing turnout that the founders realized that there was a true desire for the film festival in the community. 

Crystal’s role with the Frozen River Film Festival started off focusing on finding a way to develop and bring traffic to the festival through using highly captivating events and film selection. Crystal’s background in the production of film, infomercials, and television aided her immensely in the early stages of Frozen River Film Festival’s development. Her past experience allowed her to have general knowledge as to what made a good film, from the technical skills to the story development. This caused her role as a founder to eventually evolve to executive director as the film festival progressed during the following years. 

One of the most captivating aspects about the festival aside from the many amazing featured films and family friendly activities would be the many unique exhibitions. As the festival expanded Crystal and the board members decided to incorporate different sorts of programming into the festival. One year the festival had a gallery where the work was does by photographers that were blind or visually impaired. The modes in which these talented individuals created photos was remarkable and the exhibit was phenomenal. The photography exhibition brought something univocal to Winona, allowing members of its community to experience a compelling one of a kind exhibition. 

Crystal’s role in the Frozen River Film Festival lies at the foundation of the festival’s success today. Her work helped develop the festival so that it could grow into something much more than what it started as. As well as having been apart of a wonderful event that allows for filmmakers all over the world to tell their stories right here in the Winona community.

Daryl Lanz

January 21st, 2020

Over the last ten years Daryl Lanz has been involved with Frozen River Film Festival’s screening committee. The screening committee is a group of 12-15 community members who watch, review, and rate all of the films that have been submitted to the festival through emails or the popular submission site FilmFreeway.com. This allows for filmmakers from all over the world to learn about and submit to the festival.

As the committee members are watching each film, they assess the story, structure, and technical aspects as well as the impact the films will have on the community. At the end of the process, each film will have at least three written reviews and a star rating. The written reviews inform Daryl and Executive Director Sara Enzenauer about why each film would or would not be a good addition to the festival. 

The highly selective process of film screening usually happens during the summer and fall months prior to the upcoming festival. Daryl was a part of the committee for a number of years before he stepped into the role as Screening Committee Coordinator. 

As Screening Committee Coordinator, Daryl also manages the films before they make it to the screening committee, making sure they fit the festival guidelines. Then he oversees that all films are watched by enough committee members for a decision to be made. 

The judgment of the films, as provided by the screening committee, directly affects the feel of the festival. The screening committee members have to keep an open mind about a wide variety of subjects, and be willing to accept quality films even if they disagree with a subject or theme themselves. The important part is that the film promotes discussion in the community. 

During his time with the Frozen River Film Festival, Daryl has seen the festival blossom. As he worked to procure submissions from filmmakers around the world, he noticed that he had to introduce the festival to prospective filmmakers less and less because it was gaining more status in the world of film festivals. With the festival’s rising social popularity the quality of the films also began to improve. Films that had immaculate screen and sound quality, longer running times and even a few that were affiliated with famous individuals began to appear in the submission pool more frequently. This has presented a great opportunity for the festival to reach outside Winona and bring more people into the community.

If you are interested in learning more about the screening committee, contact Daryl at: daryl@frff.org.

Lyle Blanchard

January 14th, 2020

Lyle Blanchard has been a friend to the Frozen River Film Festival since it started 15 years ago. In 2006 during the festival’s opening debut, Lyle was compelled to attend the festival and see what it had to offer. He recalls the first few films he saw at the festival, one starring a woman who kayaked all over the world and the other The Last River Rat, a film about a local legend Kenny Salwey who lived in the Mississippi River backwaters. Lyle was in awe at the quality of the films, from their beautiful cinematography to their thoughtful topics. In addition to the phenomenal films, he was amazed by the festival’s ability to create a great environment. The combination of cozy venues, films, and activities produced a wonderful shared experience that people loved to be part of, despite the fact that the festival is during the middle of winter.

After the establishment of his love for the festival, Lyle became a member of the Frozen River Film Festival board, where he served for 5 years before becoming Board Chair in 2018. As a board member, he contributed amazing innovations to the festival that helped further its reach on the Winona community. 

One aspect of the festival Lyle helped evolve, was the quality of the festival programs. Looking back, the programs used to be very utilitarian but with the help of a marketing background and his passion for Winona, he pushed forward fundraising  to help upgrade the festival guides. He and a graphic design intern changed the festival’s programs into something that not only highlights the festival in a memorable manner, but the businesses that live and thrive Winona. Lyle thought that the program needed full color, full image and better organization, so that those visiting the festival would save the programs, look at them later and want to come back and experience not only the festival again, but all that Winona has to offer. 

Now a former member of the Frozen River Film Festival Board of Directors, he likes to consider himself a Film Festival cheerleader, eager to help the festival in any way he can. Whether it’s help develop new programs for the festival or simply sharing his experiences and encouraging others to come and see what Frozen River Film Festival has to offer. Lyle’s love for Winona draws him to only involve himself in something that truly results in the betterment of his community. He believes that the festival betters the community by bringing the world to the front door of Winona, and giving people the opportunity to be apart of the world we live in.

Erin Mae Clark

January 7th, 2020

After being on the Frozen River Film Festival Board of Directors for four years, Dr. Erin Mae Clark has taken charge as the board chair for the 2020 festival. As board chair, Erin Mae is responsible for leading the board of directors to set short and long term goals for the festival as well as direct the type of engagement the festival will have within the community. Erin Mae attended the festival to support her friend, and was quickly engaged by the films she saw.

Aside from her work at the festival Erin Mae is an English and World Languages Professor at Saint Mary’s University. Her research involves looking to real life examples of social injustices. Given her interest in advocacy for social injustice and the festival, Erin Mae is very proud that the festival screens a lot of films that shows how social injustice manifests across cultures as well as other humanitarian films about climate change and its effects on the poor in Bangladesh to films about those in the United States protesting police brutality. 

Erin Mae’s favorite part about the festival is the “unexpected impact” that comes from watching the films together as a community. She describes this experience as “sharing a space with someone and essentially having the opportunity to learn about something new or affirming something you both already knew together. That experience encourages the discovery of something new that can be done as a community.” 

Erin Mae recalls a time when a film about plastic bags was shown at the festival. The impact the film had on the community was remarkable. Various people in the community began buying more reusable bags as a result of viewing the film and seeing the harm done by plastic bags. 

That feeling of togetherness and seeing how the films shown at the festival moves the community and makes Winona better, strengthens her bond with the community. Erin Mae feels Frozen River Film Festival offers a platform for dialogue, saying that instead of “staying home and watching a wonderful documentary on Netflix, I can go out and watch it and have this amazing community experience that kind of transforms what could’ve been a very private moment” into an opportunity for individual growth through discussion. 

Erin Mae’s position as board chair combined with her love for human interest and social justice allows her to bring new experiences to the festival creating a space for conversations to be held within the community. Her motivation and input on what to bring to the festival betters the Winona community by acting as a bridge between our community and the rest of the world making the festival not only fun and interesting, but educational and impactful. 


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Minnesota State Arts Board thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.