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.

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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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through grants from the
Minnesota State Arts Board thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.