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Scenes from the Big Water Film Festival

The Big Water Film Festival in Washburn, Wis., is a small, but growing event that just finished its fourth annual run last weekend. I had two short documentary films entered, so I spent a beautiful November weekend near the south shore of Lake Superior.

Twin Cities filmmaker Melody Gilbert sang the praises of the BWFF last year and encouraged me and other members of IFP Minnesota's monthly Docuclub to enter some of our work.

BWFF committee member Jeremy Oswald is interviewed by a local TV station.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
BWFF committee member Jeremy Oswald is interviewed by a local TV station.

Bayfield, Wis., a few miles up the shore from Washburn, has long been a tourist destination, as well as a place to start a boat trip to Madeleine Island the other Apostle Islands.

Bayfield, Wis.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
Bayfield, Wis.

Washburn is trying to build on that for itself, and the Stage North Theater is the cornerstone of its development as both a tourist town and a healthy, thriving community for the locals.

The Big Water Film Festival is part of that effort. Local businesses proudly sponsor the event, and committee members are all area residents who are passionate about developing the arts as a part of a strong and well-rounded community.

Noreen Ovadia Wills, owner of Coco Cafe and Bakery, one of the film festival sponsors.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
Noreen Ovadia Wills, owner of Coco Cafe and Bakery, one of the film festival sponsors.

The natural beauty of Lake Superior and the surrounding north woods provide a gorgeous backdrop for attracting visitors to this kind of event.

Lake Superior visible in the distance from a high ridge near Washburn.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
Lake Superior visible in the distance from a high ridge near Washburn.
Visitors take a walk near the shore of Lake Superior in Washburn.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
Visitors take a walk near the shore of Lake Superior in Washburn.

I recently visited the Commonweal Theater in Lanesboro, Minn., and the effect the Stage North Theater is having on Washburn reminds me of that phenomenon. Washburn is holding on to its small town values and lifestyle. But residents realize that welcoming and fostering things often thought of as only found in bigger cities, such as high-quality theater, good restaurants, and events like the film festival, breathe life and money into the local economy and help make their town a better place to live.

Director Joe Dressel and Chris Cummings, writer and lead actor of "Rough Tender," winner of Best Feature film.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
Director Joe Dressel and Chris Cummings, writer and lead actor of "Rough Tender," winner of Best Feature film.
Filmmaker J.J. Kelley, winner of 2010 Best Documentary at BWFF for Paddle to Seattle.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
Filmmaker J.J. Kelley, winner of 2010 Best Documentary at BWFF for Paddle to Seattle.

The Big Water festival is not only a great opportunity to see a lot of good, independent films, but to meet and chat with many of the filmmakers in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. The Stage North's bar and lobby is a small, comfortable area where everyone gathers — established and novice filmmakers mingle freely with the audience and everyone seems to be instant friends.

Lobby of Stage North Theater
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
Lobby of Stage North Theater
Doug White produced "Girl of My Dreams," winner of Best Short-Short Film.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
Doug White produced "Girl of My Dreams," winner of Best Short-Short Film.

But what I'll remember most is the warmth and gratitude extended by the festival committee members to the filmmakers who attended. Their hospitality, generosity and personal connection throughout the weekend made me feel welcome in a way I hadn't expected.

BWFF committee members Claire Duquette, David Siegler and Kristen Sandstrom.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date
BWFF committee members Claire Duquette, David Siegler and Kristen Sandstrom.

Member of the festival committee are encouraged by the way the event has grown each year and are already talking about next year's event. The festival is a good thing for the town and good for the Upper Midwest's independent film community. I'll be submitting another video or two in 2012. I'd love to spend another November weekend in Washburn, Wis.

Lake Superior
MinnPost photo by Steve Date

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Comments (1)

The only thing missing from this fine story is a link to the prize-winning video the author made that was in the fest.

http://youtu.be/nquLRdTy2h4