Winona, MN may be a small Midwestern town but it has a reputation as something of a cultural center. The reputation is, in part, thanks to the Frozen River Film Festival held annually at the end of January. People come from all over to see critically acclaimed documentaries and attendance has tripled since the festival began in 2006 according to an article in the Winona Daily News.
My mother and her friend Judy were two of those people traveling toward Winona on Jan. 26 and we spent the weekend moving in and out of darkened auditoriums with flickering screens. As a WSU student, I was able to see all the films for free; I went to the documentaries Shakespeare High, Numb, and I AM.
Shakespeare High was an inspiring film about a theater festival held every year in southern California where high school students perform scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and compete for trophies, titles, and glory—not unlike going to State for athletics or Solo/Ensemble. It was amazing to the talent the students possess and the ways in which theater and an arts education changed their lives, including providing an escape from gang violence and empowerment to go on to college.
Numb was a much darker picture about a man who decided (under the guidance of his physician) to stop taking his anti-anxiety medication. It was shocking to see his decline within a mere six months and raised serious questions about mental health care, pharmaceuticals, and depression.
Though it too raised some difficult questions and delicate topics, my favorite film of the weekend was I AM. It was fascinating to follow director Tom Shadyac on his journey to discover what is wrong with the world and what we can do about it. The film walks a tightrope between the cutting edge of science and spiritual, semi-mystical philosophy but when those two seemingly fundamentally opposite systems intersect and meld into one another is where it get really interesting.
I can’t say this enough– the Frozen River Film Festival is a really fantastic event.
I’ve had so much fun both years I’ve gone and I’ve been introduced to documentaries that I probably wouldn’t have discovered on my own. These films provide new ways to look at the world around me and make me think critically about the issues in our American culture.
You may think that this sounds boring but really, is there a better way to spend a snowy Saturday than staying indoors and watching movies?
And with FRFF you an even learn something in the process, because who says education must occur only in the classroom?
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