The 2013 Big Water Film Festival features 37 films coming to Washburn from all corners of the world – a remote Guatemalan village, the crowded streets of India, the snow-filled woods of Maine. And some were made right here on the pristine shores of Chequamegon Bay. There are powerful documentaries, laugh-out-loud comedies and lyrical short films.
The three-day festival kicks off with a sneak peek 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Northland College Alvord theater and begins in earnest 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, wrapping up with a 3:30 p.m. awards ceremony Sunday, Nov. 10. Special features include the gala opening reception 7 p.m. Friday and the 10 a.m. “Cinema and Cinnamon Rolls” filmmaker dialogue at the Washburn Public Library.
“We had more film submissions this year than ever before,” said BWFF committee member Molly Randa, “and the overall quality of the submissions is getting better and better.”
A special aspect of the festival is that many of the filmmakers attend. This year, over 25 hope to be in at the festival. All filmmakers have a chance to talk about their films with the audience after their films are screened, as well as mingle with audience members and network during breaks.
“I'm very excited about the number of filmmakers coming this year,” said committee member Tish Stewart. “We have a lot of past award-winners returning.”
BWFF organizers said it is difficult to pick a “favorite” film, but committee member Carol Shaddy said she is excited about the documentary “Gold Fever.”
“It really is a cautionary tale about what can happen when indigenous people try to challenge a transnational mining company,” she said, noting that one of Gold Fever's directors, J.T. Haines, will be at the festival Friday to discuss the movie, which was filmed in Guatemala.
Shaddy is also delighted that the festival is showing the Indian film “Aayna Ka Bayna” a feature film about a crew of delinquent boys who enter a dance contest in hopes of a better life.
“It's one of the most fun films in the festival,” she said. “It's the first film we've had from India.”
If technology and time zone differences allow, “Aayna Ka Bayna” director Samit Kakkad will be talking with the audience via Skype from India following the showing of his film Friday.
Other films have more local roots – one of the films in the 11:30 a.m. Sunday block is “Protect Our Future,” a documentary by Bad River band members Jordan Principato, Shania Jackson and Ahpahnae Thomas, who directed, edited and even composed music for this film, which has already been accepted into three film festivals.
The teen-agers created the documentary, which examines the potential impacts of a proposed iron ore mine on the Bad River area, with the aid of UW-Madison professor Patty Loew.
"I'm so proud of these three teens,” Lowe wrote in an email interview. “They worked incredibly hard and had so many creative ideas, including framing their story around the 'seventh generation theme' – the notion that decision-makers today should consider how their decisions will affect seven generations into the future.
“These teens are the seventh generation from their ancestors who signed the 1854 Treaty. Those treaty signers were thinking hundreds of years into the future when they insisted that the Ojibwe be allowed to retain hunting, fishing, and gathering rights in the lands they were forced to give up. Jordan, Shania, and Ahpahnae were thinking about the seventh generation when they made this documentary. They hope it will educate people and help protect Bad River's wild rice and cultural traditions for future generations. For me, that's really powerful."
Local filmmakers Don Albrecht of Bayfield (“Three Rituals of Spring”), Trent Hanson of Bayfield (“New Dawn Fades”), Washburn native Kjell Kvanbeck (“Golden”) and Dave Doering (“New Dawn Fades” and “One Man, One Canoe, Two Countries”) are all screening works.
Doering, an innovative technology education teacher at Bayfield High School, has had a passion for photography and filmmaking since childhood. He has included filmmaking in his teaching curriculum since the early 90s, and as technology has made film editing more accessible, he started making his own movies – and in 2012 created his own company, Sunridge Moving Pictures.
“One Man, One Canoe, Two Countries,” showing in the 11 a.m. Sunday block, is a film Doering says “combines all my passions” including his adeptness at building things (in this case, a canoe) love of the outdoors, his fascination with storytelling and his filmmaking artistry.
The film follows Doering as he travels on a physical journey in his canoe – and a spiritual journey as well.
“It ended up being a film about how the wilderness spoke to me, and how the natural world should be our guide,” he said. “There are spirits in the wilderness and we should listen to them.”
Doering, whose films have appeared in past festivals, said the BWFF has helped him grow as a filmmaker.
“Every year I get inspired by seeing films that I would never have had a chance to see otherwise,” he said. “And I get to interact with the other filmmakers. It's been a huge growing experience for me.”
For Ashland native Don Scribner, who stars in “The Guide,” showing in the 4 p.m. Saturday block, the BWFF is a chance to come home as well as an opportunity to discuss the craft and business of acting. He is a featured guest in the 10 a.m. Saturday “Cinema and Cinnamon Rolls” event.
Scribner left a successful career as a high school teacher and principal in the Superior School District in 1984, heading to California to pursue his acting dream.
He jokes he went from “security to obscurity” in the move, but has no regrets and says he has “never looked back.”
“A lot of time we define success by money,” he said. “But for me, success is achieving a goal.”
In “The Guide,” shot in Rangely, Maine, Scribner plays a hunting guide who suffers a mental breakdown as he tries desperately to salvage his relationship with a troubled daughter. Scribner said his background hunting in northern Wisconsin helped him land the role.
Scribner, who has landed roles in six different films this year, said working on “The Guide” was a grueling experience from the beginning – he even had to pass a fitness test to get the role.
This will be the last time “The Guide” will have a festival showing, as it has been picked up for distribution by Monarch Home Entertainment.
Minnesota native J.J. Kelley is returning to the BWFF this year after Hurricane Sandy kept him away in 2012. The director of the popular “Paddle to Seattle” and “Go Ganges!” films is bringing his National Geographic documentary “Battle for the Elephants,” in which Kelley went undercover in Africa to explore the illegal ivory trade.
Kelley will be talking about his film after it shows in the 7 p.m. Friday block and will be part of “Cinema and Cinnamon Rolls.”
In a phone interview from his Manhattan studio, Kelley said he felt this was a important story to tell and has taken the world traveller into new territory.
“It wasn't the plan at first for me to be filming undercover,” he said. “But the hidden cameras were kind of technical, so I ended up doing that part myself.”
He had Tanzanian translators posing as ivory buyers, and found himself feeling nervous about his own safety several times during filming.
The response to the film has been “tremendous,” Kelley said, with several foundations looking at taking on illegal ivory as a cause and a new push by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to destroy the U.S. stockpile of illegal ivory.
Even a seasoned professional like Kelley says the opportunity to see how a live audience reacts to his work is valuable.
“Seeing how people connect to the film really teaches me how to make the next one better,” he said. “I can see what resonates and what doesn't.”
Kelley encourages audience members to come offer up questions, ideas and even criticisms.
“I can't pass up a chance to come to the Big Water Film Festival,” he said. “It feels like coming home.”