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The Oneota Film Festival celebrates its third year

Julia Curtis, Staff Writer

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Films of various genres produced in many different countries attracted viewers to the third annual Oneota Film Festival (OFF) March 9-12. The annual free event showed over 30 films including the Academy Award nominated film “Life, Animated,” as well as films about the Driftless region, the environment, and social issues across the globe.

The movies were shown at various locations on Luther’s campus, including  Valders and Olin. Luther Volunteer Chair Kristen Carlson (‘18) found film selection to be relevant to the Luther and Decorah communities.

“The Oneota Film Festival does a really good job of selecting films based off the Decorah community and what they think would be interesting for the Driftless area,” Carlson said. “It’s fun to see the films year by year and a lot of the films will focus on conservation or environmentalism. They might focus on things that are interesting to people such as cuisine, gardening, or music. They also try to highlight advocacy and being able to give a voice to stories you wouldn’t often hear.”

“Life, Animated”, one of the films selected, tells the story of a young autistic man, Owen Suskind, who regained his communication abilities by watching animated Disney films. The documentary, directed by Roger Ross Williams, follows Owen’s life from the time he loses his ability to speak, through his school years, into adulthood, and when he moves out of his family’s home.

During these times of growth and development, Owen gives himself an alter-ego called “The Protector of Sidekicks,” which the film includes as short animations. Towards the end of the film, a French consulate invites Owen to speak about his experiences and how he and other people with autism communicate through their passions. Williams based the documentary by the book of the same name, written by Owen’s father, Ron Suskind.

Attendee Alyssa Wildenauer (‘17) was impressed by the wide selection of films.

“I looked through [the program] and thought, ‘Wow, this has stuff for everyone and has information that could apply to anyone’s interests because there are so many options,’” Wildenauer said.

Another film, “Mysteries of the Driftless,” won an Emmy for its perspective on the Driftless region. The film focuses on protecting three attributes of the area covering Southeast Minnesota, Southwest Wisconsin, Northwest Illinois, and Northeast Iowa: topography, biodiversity, and anthropology.

Julia Curtis (‘17) | Chips
Oneota Film Festival Board President Nancy Sojka and Board Secretary and Public Relations Secretary Sara Friedl-Putnam discuss the films with a community member.

At the end of the showing, the filmmaker Tim Jacobson held a question-and-answer session about the region. Jacobson described the film as a pilot film that encourages people to explore and learn more about the area where they live.

Other films included “The Music of Strangers,” which highlighted a travelling group of musicians created by Yo Yo Ma; “Food Waste,” which studied how people use and discard food; and “Connected,” a film about how technology has changed the way people relate to each other.

Attendee Tiphanie Keefe (‘93) said that at last year’s festival she saw a film about Waldorf schooling in Norway, which made her want to move to Norway.

“I think there are a lot of interesting films,” Keefe said. “You learn a lot of new information and see things that you wouldn’t typically see.”

President of the Oneota Film Festival Board Nancy Sojka said that the film-selection process begins with receiving film recommendations from board members and other Decorah community members, as well as submissions from students and independent filmmakers. The board searches for films that premiered within the last two years. From October to January the board views the films and votes on which films to include.

“[The goal of the film festival] is to engage the community in discussions about the stories and issues of our times by showing documentaries about issues people are already talking about,” Sojka said. “[I] always look forward to the people who come and hearing them talk about issues that the films bring up; that’s my favorite part.”

OFF also has various films available to view on their website at www.oneotafilmfestival.org.

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