The Frozen River Film Festival is a year-round program in Winona that showcases the art of documentary film, which happens every February of the year. The festival’s mission is to engage, educate, and activate the community to become involved in the world. Some films may not be available through other media, making them special for providing a unique perspective on environmental issues, sustainable communities, sports, adventure travel, and diverse cultures.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the FRFF happened face-to-face with workshops and forums. This year it was all virtual via on-demand streaming. The FRFF group believes their filmmaking workshops and forums inspire local filmmakers to improve their craft. These types of events often feature world-class filmmakers who share skills and inspiration to the public, providing a learning opportunity from each other.
The documentary films feature exciting stories, interviews, and various perspectives on current affairs. The films encourage the public to learn more about an issue, volunteer with an organization, and help financially support a cause they believe.
Eileen Moeller, managing director of the FRFF, explained the festival was created by members of Theatre du Mississippi as an annual event where volunteers brought sets from Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride to Winona.
“There was an interest in documentary films and by collaborating with an existing film festival, volunteers were able to bring exceptional documentary film programming to Winona,” said Moeller.
The event was popular and eventually took on a life of its own and was able to become a separate entity from Theatre du Mississippi.
This was the Festival’s 16th year. Over recent years, the organization has worked to expand beyond the usual one-week festival and offer more throughout the year.
Moeller said the virtual festival was a success and a great way to reach people in a way that felt comfortable, safe and accessible. For her, the big difference this year, besides being online, was that people were able to see far more films than they typically would on a weekend, as there was more time to watch them.
The FRFF partners with Winona State University and its students. “We had great engagement from students this year, but we always hope for more, especially since this event happens on the WSU campus and students can get in for free” said Moeller
According to Moeller, the process for the 2022 festival has already begun. The film submissions opened on Feb. 15. Already, seven films have been submitted. Those will be reviewed and as more films get submitted, they will continue to review them and start to brainstorm.
J Paul Johnson, a film studies professor at Winona State University, attended the FRFF regularly since its beginning and partnered with the festival for years. Besides introducing films and supervising internships, Johnson served as a jury member both this year and others.
Johnson said he thinks the Frozen River Film Festival is a boon to the artistic, creative and social community of Southeast Minnesota and Winona State students. According to him, WSU film studies majors and minors volunteer at and intern with the festival, and this year, seven students had their work featured in the festival.
Johnson’s advice to students is to take a chance and enjoy the films.
“Let the films show you what they do,” said Johnson. “Every one of them will have its own charm and purpose, whether short or feature-length, local or global, small-scale or epic. You won’t be disappointed!”
The FRFF group misses gathering together with the public, but as Moeller says, the “warmth of Winona” is not always about being in the same space together.
By shattering conventions left and right while sticking to what made the first film so breathtaking, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is a stream-of-consciousness arthouse action film where the story, visuals and character blend together in visceral ambience.
It’s not often a film comes around that feels unique to the core, especially when looking at action flicks. After years of bland matinee-tier films like “Taken” and “A Good Day to Die Hard,” American action films have become somewhat of an anomaly in the cinematic world.
Thankfully, there’s John Wick. With style to spare, a minimalistic plot, and some of the most beautifully directed fight scenes ever put to celluloid, “John Wick: Chapter 2” proves without a doubt that arthouse action is still alive and well.
“John Wick” was one of 2014’s most surprising releases, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Starring Keanu Reeves during a relative career slump, with first-time directors and a February release date, expectations were low.
When it was finally released, the film caught many a critic off guard. Instead of a campy and low quality cash grab, audiences were given an ultra-modern, neon-drenched and fluid action masterpiece.
For the sequel, Reeves reteamed with director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad to double down on the first film’s successes and blow the world of John Wick wide open.
The first film established John Wick (Keanu Reeves) as an emotional and relatable character, but it did so through his backstory and psyche. Typically, the best action heroes are the ones that audiences can project themselves onto. John McClane in the original “Die Hard” is a perfect example; a charismatic hero who acts based on understandable reasoning and who is shown to be both physically and emotionally vulnerable.
Wick, on the other hand, is a brooding hurricane of an action hero, tearing through endless waves of enemies like an untouchable force of nature.
Unlike many action stars, Reeves’ acting style is simplistic, understated and borderline emotionless. While this would normally be a death sentence in the genre, “John Wick” thrives on it. Wick’s deadpan stares and subtle humor mesh well with how the series is developing, more reminiscent of characters like Ryan Gosling’s refined roles in “Drive” and “Only God Forgives” than the boisterous and grizzled protagonists of modern blockbusters. Like much of the rest of the film, Reeves performance is minimalistic yet thoroughly impactful. As Reeves’ former stunt double, Stahelski knows how to push him to his limits, and by focusing on the unconventional, Reeves is given a chance to shine once again.
This destruction of stereotypical tropes and techniques plays into the style of the film as well. For one, “John Wick: Chapter 2” borrows a great deal from the recent neon noir film movement, with a visual style similar to films like the aforementioned “Drive,” “Only God Forgives,” “The Guest” and even a bit of “Blade Runner. Eminently modern, the film plays with stark contrasts between its grimy underworld and the crisp refined lighting of New York City, a dichotomy illuminated through visuals.
There are some homages to other flicks as well, particularly Japanese New Wave pieces like “Tokyo Drifter.” There are connections to its predecessor, of course, but Stahelski seems to have found his groove for where this franchise is heading, both in storytelling and visual flair. The clearly established stylization gives the film its own unique identity, which is always welcome.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is a master class in cinematic composition. The combat is manic and rapid, but it has a smooth sense of style. There’s no uncomfortable Bourne-esque shaky cam or Matrix-style slow motion to be found here. Instead, the film is shot in a fluid, borderline ethereal manner. Every punch and broken bone is visceral and impactful, with each motion fusing together like a kinetic symphony. One sequence, filmed in a gallery of mirrors ala “Enter the Dragon,” smashes all normal action cinematic conventions, abusing the perspective of both the audience and Wick himself.
For all the neck snapping and pencil stabbing the film delivers, there are a few small quirks. Some of the fistfights play very similar to one another, with one in particular dragging on far too long, and Wick’s seemingly super-powered fighting style could be played down a bit to give some real tension and worry for viewers. That said, Wick feels markedly more at risk this time around, and the vast majority of the fights are filled with visual splendor.
In storytelling, this film gets a bit tricky. Shying away from the more personal and emotionally driven story of the first film, “John Wick: Chapter 2” feels like a postmodern version of an action film, with the story taking a back seat to the technical and choreographed marvels of the film’s exquisite action sequences. There is a plot, with John Wick on another quest for vengeance after he is forced back into the world that he strives to leave, but it’s barebones at best.
Screenwriter Derek Kolstad instead uses small clues in the environment and additions to the lore to expand the world of the film tenfold. The first film laid the groundwork for John Wick’s world, introducing a secret society of assassins governed by a “code,” but not much was explained. Here, that statement still rings true, with a caveat.
Instead of going out of his way to explain everything about the inner working of the shadow government, Kolstad gives audiences more questions to ponder. For instance, who is the high council? What is the marker and why are they used? Who really runs the show? One moment, Wick is fighting in a crowded train as passengers look on in uncanny relaxation, as if this is just par for the course. The next, he’s running through an empty New York City street. Everything feels slightly off and unbelievable, but there’s a definite sense something bigger is going on that still has to be revealed.
This approach to storytelling and world building is unique, but it may be lost on some viewers. Plot holes abound, but it feels as though the points are absent to make audiences think and try to piece together what’s really going on. It is narrative postmodernism, abandoning all notions of concrete storytelling to instead create an ambient world of mystery and questions. While some may find it jarring and underdeveloped, I argue “John Wick: Chapter 2”’s stylistic identity owes everything to its minimalism; a stream-of-consciousness film where the story, visuals and character blend together in visceral ambience.
This leads to another important point. While the first film was a self-contained piece, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is an exercise in expansion. Midway through the film, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) puts out a massive contract on Wick and sets the stage for an assassin Battle Royale. However, this plot point is only acted on once, and then pushed to the wayside for the climactic showdown between Wick and D’Antonio. The gravity of the contract lingers, and you’re left wondering when all these assassins will take their shots.
Luckily, the final scene shows Winston (Ian McShane), the owner of the New York City Continental Hotel, demonstrating his influence over the assassins as they turn silently, in full knowledge of what is to come. It sets the stage for the final chapter, which may be the biggest one yet.
That comes at a cost to the film at hand. Franchise films are known to have one foot in the future and one in the present, constantly clashing between future set-ups and the current narrative. “John Wick: Chapter 2” suffers from this flaw, with the main narrative acting more as a means to an end than a self-contained plot.
That’s also what makes the film unique. The story falls into the background to let audiences feel the world this time around, as the veil slowly lifts on the world’s mysteries.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is the kind of unexpected masterpiece that helps the film industry grow. By shattering conventions left and right, and instead focusing on both narrative and minimalism, Stahelski and company have proved their mastery for modern art-house action.
A vast circulatory mélange of movement and sound composed with deft hands, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is a postmodern masterpiece of action filmmaking.
A gorgeous love letter to Hollywood and the dreams that keep the industry alive, “La La Land” is escapism at its finest.
If there is one thing that defined the early years of Hollywood, it would be the movie musical. After the advent of sound technology, film studios embraced the new development to produce some of history’s most acclaimed musicals, including “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “An American in Paris” and “42nd Street.”
Now, in the 21st century, director Damien Chazelle has crafted a new film that can be added to the list. “La La Land” is more than just another musical. Chazelle’s film modernizes the genre while, with its sweeping musical numbers and breathtaking final sequence, keeps in line with its roots. It is a gorgeous love letter to Hollywood, Los Angeles and the dreams that keep the industry alive. Effervescent and engrossing, “La La Land” is escapism at its finest.
The film begins on a vast highway of deadlocked traffic, as a young woman in a bright yellow dress breaks out into song. The camera swings through the organized chaos of the dance number as drivers and passengers jubilate and twirl across the screen. Colors shine amid the frenzy, with stark reds, blues and yellows weaving a bright tapestry of visual splendor.
As the cast sings “Another Day of Sun,” the first of many fantastic musical pieces in the film, “La La Land” telegraphs what is to come. It draws viewers into this escapist world of song and light while showing the dichotomy of the city itself. Even these drivers, amidst crammed unmoving cars, see the potential for beauty and success in the City of Stars. In essence, that’s what the film is about.
This is only Chazelle’s second feature, and it showcases his personal style and ideals. His first film, 2014’s “Whiplash,” became a quick critical darling and, in this reviewer’s opinion, was the best film that year. An intimate flick involving a young drummer and the constant struggle to better oneself, “Whiplash” cemented Chazelle as a lover of jazz, the lives of artists and the language of cinema.
“La La Land” doubles down on those concepts, beginning with the existential conflict of the artist’s dilemma. At its core, the film is both a tale of love between two struggling artists and how dreams are meant to be chased, even amid constant setbacks.
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) are the living embodiment of the Hollywood dream, but not entirely in the sense one would expect. Unlike the quick success expected among the Los Angeles crowd, the two keep failing in their own right. To put it simply, they’re relatably human.
Sebastian is a self-taught jazz pianist who is stuck playing simple songs as a restaurant musician, and Mia is just another ambitious actress amidst a sea of seemingly identical actresses. Both have dreams they strive to realize, with Sebastian hoping to open his own jazz cafe and bring jazz back into the forefront, while Mia wishes to act on the big screen. Yet, dreams are often easier said than done, even for people with incredible talent.
Their struggles and eventual romance are enchanting and relatable, acting as a surprisingly unglamorous backbone to a story many would associate with fame and celebrity. They fail like us, try like us and change like us. “La La Land” tells a story of real people and how their lives can come together and just as easily fall apart.
Shedding the clichés of films like “The Notebook,” Gosling has come into his own lately with stellar roles in “Drive,” “Blue Valentine” and “Place Beyond the Pines.” Here, however, he falls back to his romance roots while proving his development over the years. Perhaps his acting is a little predictable at times, but he displays great aptitude for grounding what could have been a cheesy and insufferable role.
Emma Stone, on the other hand, turns in one of her finest performances to date, which has been recognized by everything from the Golden Globes to the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Stone is constantly evocative and dynamic, yet she channels a sort of blissful simplicity that feels both fresh and wholly nostalgic.
The only problem with “La La Land” involves its supporting cast. Keith (John Legend) is the only side character who is even close to developed, with everyone else serving as either one-off plot devices or extra flair in the background.
That said, “La La Land” doesn’t try to tell us the story of a community, but of two people, and that is more than enough.
“La La Land” is proving itself with a record 14 Oscar nominations – a feat accomplished only by “Titanic” and “All About Eve” – but not just for acting and plot. This production was made for people who love films. From visuals down to music, the film oozes style.
Cinematographer Linus Sandgren delivers the best work of his career in “La La Land.” The color work is astounding, with splashes of light and hues bouncing off one another in every way imaginable. Several sequences take on a more stage-musical style, as Sebastian and Mia dance and sing in front of vast painted backdrops and emotive dance ensembles. Every shot pops off of the screen.
Of course, visuals aren’t enough for this kind of film. Musicals live and die by their music, and composer Justin Hurwitz delivers. Hurwitz previously partnered with Chazelle on “Whiplash,” bringing classic jazz back into the forefront of cinema. Here, that style is expanded and improved, blending the trademarks of musicals and even a bit of pop sentimentality. Trumpets blare, drums crack and the audience is sent through a renaissance of improvisational jazz compositions.
The most important distinction “La La Land” deserves comes from Chazelle’s flawless balancing act between realism and escapism. While breaking out into song and dancing through clouds is rarely associated with realism, the film feels like it exists in our world. The set pieces and extensive montages give a luminous and fantasy-laden look into the minds of Mia and Sebastian. It’s a modern musical through and through, set in an era of smartphones and electric cars, which it handles by being both grounded and eclectic.
Chazelle’s film is more than just one of the best movies of the year; it’s the beginning of something fresh. “La La Land” is not just a modernization of the movie musical, but a modernization of the love story itself. It’s a fantastic and relatable tale of the volatility of human life and love, and the ability for one’s passions and ambitions to shape them. With its masterful approach to music and visual language, “La La Land” is a film for the ages.