This year will be the 17th Frozen River Film Festival…we are expanding to a full week of programming and will be offering our first hybrid festival.

Eileen Moeller

Managing Director, Frozen River Film Festival

Today, we talked with Eileen Moeller of the Frozen River Film Festival. We hear about the origin of the Festival, adapting to Covid, choosing the films, what’s next for the film festival and what can people expect while attending.

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Eileen Moeller 01:12
My name is Eileen Moeller. I was born in Elgin, Illinois in the Chicago suburbs. And I became involved with Frozen River Film Festival a few years ago, first as a volunteer. And then about a year ago, they were looking for a new managing director and I was hired in that position. So I started during the pandemic. And now I’m moving to hopefully post pandemic.

Brent Hanifl 01:44
Nice. Speaking about the Frozen River Film Festival, I actually participated and I volunteered when I was doing my undergrad about 15 years ago, I believe. You know, I just remember it being a fun event. Can you refresh people on what the origin story of the film festival is, you know, kind of how it got started? And what is the reason?

Eileen Moeller 02:02
Yeah, so the frozen river Film Festival has a really cool origin story. There’s a group in town called Theater Do Mississippi. And they have typically done sort of plays and things like that. And there was one of the founders of Theater Do Mississippi, Maggie Jackmein, she really was interested in a film festival and her husband, Will Kitchen, had been approached by someone who wanted to start a film festival in Winona. And Will and Maggie sort of helped to get some interest in the area as well as other members of Theater Do Mississippi. And so the first one was put on by Theater Do Mississippi, and they brought in Mountain Film on Tour, which is a program we still do. We have a really great relationship with Mountain Film, which is a film festival in Telluride, Colorado. Then after many years of doing this, the festival grew and eventually became its own nonprofit entity. So this year, we’ll be, I believe, the 17th Frozen River Film Festival. And we are now expanding to a full week of programming. And we will be offering our first hybrid festival. So last year we went virtual, and this year, we are using some of what we learned during the virtual times and keeping some of that, but very excited to go back in person.

Brent Hanifl 03:32
So just kind of speaking to COVID, you know, you talked about kind of transitioning the film festival over last year. How did it affect the event? Was there any positive components of it moving forward?

Eileen Moeller 03:43
Yeah I think COVID has been devastating. The pandemic has been really difficult. But I do think that we’ve learned a lot, especially those of us in the arts, especially when arts that involve having people interact in person. You know, at the start of the pandemic, I was working with the Great River Shakespeare Festival. Live theatre was affected drastically and is still trying to recover. Film was a little bit easier to convert to an online platform. And so we’re very fortunate for that. So we were able to put the films online for streaming. And then folks were able to access them in that way. And that actually showed us how much accessibility is available with online programming. So we’re really happy to be able to continue offering online programming because there may be folks who don’t yet feel comfortable coming out in a crowd. There may be folks who just can’t get out of the house. And we’re also able to reach a wider audience. So folks who wouldn’t normally be able to travel to Winona in the middle of winter can enjoy the festival from home. And one of the added benefits of the hybrid format is folks who do choose to attend in person, their pass will allow them to view films after the in person festival has ended. So if they miss a film, they can catch up on it the week after.

Brent Hanifl 05:11
Wow, that’s great. Yeah, it seems like that’s a way to go to offer, I guess, multi venues for different people in person, online. So speaking of films directly, so what is your process for choosing the films?

Eileen Moeller 05:24
We have a process that’s similar to a lot of film festivals. So we use an online platform called Filmfreeway, and a lot of independent films utilize that platform. So anyone who wants to submit a film to our festival, we’ll submit it through Filmfreeway. Some submissions are paid, there’s early bird discounts, all that kind of thing. We do offer submission waivers for folks who need it. For example, we have a lot of filmmakers who submit from Iran. And in Iran there are limitations on what they can pay for online. So we’ll give those filmmakers waivers. Once they are submitted, our screening committee which is a volunteer group of about 20 to 25 community members from Winona and the surrounding region, they review the films at home, you know when they have time, and then the submission deadline finishes, we tabulate all the ratings. And we sort of make a list of what are the top rated films that we must include, everyone loves them. Then we get sort of like a B list. And then we start seeing what we have room for in the schedule. So we had this year, a record number of submissions, it was very exciting. We had over 200 films submitted. And that’s the most we’ve ever had. And we will be able to include I believe about 70 of them in the festival this year. We do give our screening committee members, we started this year giving them the opportunity to have sort of a reverse veto power. So if a film they really liked didn’t make a schedule, they had the opportunity to say no, I want that one in. So we’ve got some great choices from our screening committee members. And then we also do rent some films. So there are some documentaries that are really well known. They might not have submitted to us. And so we’ll go to those companies and say, hey, we think this is going to be great for our program. We’ll rent those films.

Brent Hanifl 07:27
Just speaking about the changes, how you get to different films, you know, I’m sure there has been a shake up with COVID. What’s something that you’re excited for that’s coming up thats kind of new to the festival?

Eileen Moeller 07:41
Something that we have coming up that is very new, is we are going to do a red carpet kickoff event the Saturday before the festival starts. So this will be a fundraising event. Everyone’s invited. We haven’t set the price yet, but there will be some higher end heavy hors d’oeuvres, they’ll be every ticket will include a couple of drinks. And then the folks who attend that fundraiser will get to view a couple of our shorts early before the festival starts. And then we’re hoping to have a visiting filmmaker or director present at that event. So we’re really looking forward to that. Frozen River hasn’t really had a specific fundraising event in the past and we’re really excited to do something that feels very cinematic, very film industry as our kickoff event. So that should be a lot of fun.

Brent Hanifl 08:34
So for people who haven’t, you know, attended the festival before, what can people expect? Is there outdoor films this year?

Eileen Moeller 08:40
Currently, we do not have outdoor film scheduled. We are discussing with the Recreation Alliance of Winona doing a Luminary Snowshoe event, it’s their event, but we pulled it into our schedule. So that that can be part of the events that people can participate in through the festival week. But typically what happens is, you know, they get their pass, folks get their pass, or they buy a ticket to a set. The majority of the films on the Saturday, Sunday of the festival weekend take place on the Winona State University campus. So there’s very much a community feel there’s gathering, you know, there’s food, warm drinks, it’s very cozy, very social. And we will be following the health and safety rules of whatever venue we’re in. So for venues that require masking, we’ll ask folks to wear masks, etc, etc. So it’ll just be nice. It’s nice to sit in the theater with other people and experience something that sort of open your eyes to the world and then have a discussion about it afterwards.

Brent Hanifl 09:48
Cool. So it looks like it runs from February 5th to February 13th this year. If people want to find out more, what’s the best avenue for them to go to or pick up tickets?

Eileen Moeller 09:58
The best way to learn more is through our brand new website. It is very exciting. It is So And there’s information about how to get passes. Right now we have an early bird discount running through the end of the calendar year. So through the end of this month, you can get a discount on the all access which is in person and online or an online only pass. And we also have a new membership program. So for individuals for just $10 a month, you can become a Frozen River member and then you get 20% off any past anytime. And so I would encourage folks to consider signing up as a Frozen River Film Festival member because there will be more discounts down the road. But visit our website, it looks so lovely.

Amy Gabay 10:54
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