Oneota Film Festival features

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Oneota Film Festival features

Oneota Film Festival attendees browse the event program and talk to others between films.

Oneota Film Festival attendees browse the event program and talk to others between films.

Ursula Damtse (‘22) | Chips

Oneota Film Festival attendees browse the event program and talk to others between films.

Ursula Damtse (‘22) | Chips

Ursula Damtse (‘22) | Chips

Oneota Film Festival attendees browse the event program and talk to others between films.

Ursula Damtse, Staff Writer

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Independent filmmakers and film lovers gathered for the 10th annual Oneota Film Festival on March 6-9, hosted by Luther College. The event centered around the theme “Stories in Community” by featuring over 60 films that focus on issues surrounding home, family identity, and struggles within school communities, among others.

A screening of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” by filmmaker Morgan Neville followed by a Fred Roger look-alike contest kicked off the three-day event at Elks Lodge. The festival ended on Saturday, March 9 with the screening of “Mountain” by filmmaker Jennifer Peedom and a reception at T-Bock’s. The other films featured in the festival were screened on Luther’s campus in Valders, Olin, and Jenson-Noble.

“America First: The legacy of an immigration raid,” directed by Almudena Toral and Andrea Patino Contreras, attracted a large crowd because it centers around one of Decorah’s neighboring communities. This 40-minute film tells the story of the 2008 Postville, Iowa immigration raid through the eyes of a young couple, one of whose parents and family members were sent back to Mexico and now lives without citizenship documents. 

Ursula Damtse (‘22) | Chips
The 10th annual Oneota Film Festival featured over 60 independent films.

As the film progresses, the opinions of the main subject’s family and other Postville residents towards immigration laws are revealed. Some believe that undocumented immigrants’ children should be sent back and others believe that they should be given the documents that allow them to reside in the United States.

Associate Professor of English Andy Hageman feels that independent films and film festivals provide filmmakers the liberty to tell the stories they want without the restrictions that come along with production under movie companies.

“Directors are liberated to tell the story that they uncover instead of a story that’s shaped by what a company thinks will sell and make the money back,” Hageman said. “I think a big part of it really is the director’s freedom to make decisions as they’re exploring a story and putting the film together to tell the story, particularly for independent documentaries.”

Luther alum and Decorah native Dave Ellingson (‘98) created a film titled “Coming Home: Kayaking the Fjords of Norway.” Through this 25-minute documentary, Ellingson chronicles his month-long journey kayaking on the Søgne and Hardanger Fjords to explore the question of why his great-grandparents left their community in Norway to come to the United States. 

Independent films and film festivals across the nation — including the Oneota Film Festival — have evolved over time, according to Adjunct Faculty in Paideia and Director of the Oneota Film Festival Christy Vrtis.

“The kinds of films we’re getting [and] the topics and themes we’re dealing with are so much broader and so much more diverse, which is very exciting for us and film festivals everywhere,” Vrtis said. “It gives us way more to choose from, which is a good problem.”

Ursula Damtse (‘22) | Chips
Adjunct Faculty in Paideia and Director of the Oneota Film Festival Christy Vrtis speaks with an attendee about this year’s films.

The festival’s film choices all circled back to the idea of community. Whether the topics centered around bullying, immigration laws, disabilities, or migration routes, there was some type of community highlighted that attendees could relate to.

Yordanos Kiros’s (‘22) favorite movie was “Bully,” directed by Aaron Alon, although she enjoyed many aspects of the festival.

“[My favorite part was] meeting all of these amazing people,” Kiros said. “The festival helped me to see what I like more clearly. I like writing, and a movie is another way to show writing through application.”

Hageman also noted how independent filmmaking can be beneficial to college students due to the applicable skills it employs.

“A lot of students that I know who graduated from Luther [recently], if they have filmmaking skills, they’re using those even though they’re not filmmakers as a job,” Hageman said.

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