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