The Frozen River Film Festival in Winona is past the toddler phase.
“When I first started this, I knew I wanted this to be something could stand on its own,” said Crystal Hegge, director of the Winona-based festival, which runs Feb. 24-28. Ten years later, Hegge’s vision has come true, and the Frozen River Film Festival is on the map for makers of documentaries, shorts and adventure films.
And the festival has joined Winona’s other successful cultural events, including the Midwest Music Fest, the Great River Shakespeare Festival and the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, as major destinations for travelers from outside the immediate area.
“Winona has its own little energy pocket here for cultural events,” Hegge said. She credited the Shakespeare festival with proving that Winona could host and support a major festival. “They made the community believe that this is possible,” she said. “People then believed other things could happen. We’re a small town that supports its arts and artists as much as its industry.”
Hegge was taking continuing education classes at Winona State University when she launched the film festival in 2006. “I had worked at the Phoenix International Film Festival, so I knew how inspiring and great going to a film festival could be,” she said. “I thought this would be a cool, fun thing to do. Now, it has taken over these 10 years of my life.”
The festival continues to grow and change, with new venues added, and speakers, workshops and directors all part of the happenings.
Coming to little ol’ Winona in the middle of winter can be daunting for film directors from supposedly more sophisticated locales. “One time, we had a filmmaker from L.A. ask if we have the Internet here,” Hegge said.
On the other hand, she said, “There’s a lot of charm here for our guests. For people coming to this community from California, their eyes are really opened by how our community works together for this.”
The nearly 50 films to be shown at this year’s festival range in length from four minutes to full feature length. Venues include halls at Winona State University and Saint Mary’s University, as well as the Winona 7 cinema and Ed’s No Name Bar. A festival preview will be presented Saturday in Lanesboro.