The Julien Dubuque International Film Festival started four years ago and has grown into an internationally known event.
Recently, the Dubuque Area Convention and Visitors Bureau put together a packet detailing the festival’s impact, statistics compiled by festival organizers and the results of a Loras College survey.
While the overall economic impact was estimated to be $260,930, what that number doesn’t take into a account is the impact that visitors and filmmakers can have on the culture of the a host city.
The number of local film festivals across the United States is difficult to quantify.
Produce Iowa’s website lists 15 festivals in Iowa, the Illinois Film Office lists 11 and, while Film Wisconsin doesn’t list film festivals, a Google search returned more than 20 results in the state.
And, those numbers don’t take into account the numerous smaller festivals unaffiliated with larger organizations.
One of those smaller festivals, Driftless Film Festival, takes place in November each year in Mineral Point, Wis. Last year marked its sixth.
Eve Studnicka, who was in her first year as festival director in 2015 but has been involved as a coordinator, volunteer and director of operations in years past, sees local film festivals as a cultural exchange. The locals get just as much out of the experience as the out-of-towners.
“Mineral Point is a small, rural town in the Driftless Area,” she said. “Through Driftless (Film) Festival, we’ve been able to bring in filmmakers from all over the country. People use the word magical when describing the experience here, and I think it has a lot to do with escapism. You’re not part of the grind for a few days. And, being in a really scenic, beautiful place with eccentric, creative people who are all trying to take part in the craft that they love, it’s a great place for people to learn from one another and experience a sense of community they might not get elsewhere.”
And, it’s not just culture that filmmakers can take away from the experience.
Marcy Cravat is the director and writer of “Angel Azul,” which won in the best documentary category as well as the Grand Jury Prize for $23,500 at last year’s Julien Dubuque International Film Festival.
The entirety of those winnings went toward her next documentary, “Dirt Rich,” a documentary about a Dutchman who cares for orangutans, sustainable livelihoods, regrowing the forest and geotherapy. Much like “Angel Azul,” it’s an environmentally conscious film, and part of it was made possible by Cravat’s experience in Dubuque.
“That’s why I’d really like to thank the people who invest in the film festival,” Cravat said. “As a filmmaker, it’s so hard to come up with funds to make a film. When you’re passionate about something you don’t want to stop doing it.”
The experience of winning the awards, she said, was an intensely memorable time for her.
“I have to say, I’m wearing the necklace (given as part of the prize) right now, and I think about it a lot,” Cravat said. “It was such a validating moment. I think the first award, I knew I was up for that one, and I knew I stood a good chance, but I had no idea about the second award. I was just completely taken by surprise, and I couldn’t really process it until I got back home.
“When I realized that a documentary had won, I felt so uplifted. I felt like the festival embraced the idea that people are hungry for documentaries and documentaries can be just as good as narrative film. I was so validated by that.”
The film festival experience, for both the craftspeople and the attendees, is unique and often feels like a rarefied atmosphere, Executive Director Susan Gorrell said. It’s a chance to make connections and invite ideas from outside the tri-state community, and it’s made possible through the effort of locals.
“I think with everything you need your local support,” said Tyler Daugherty, sports and events manager for the Dubuque Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And, we’re getting quality films, we’re getting world premieres. That’s fantastic stuff. How we can target the youth and get them involved, is important. We’re excited about the national attention and I think the future of this event is bright.”
Studnicka also sees the Driftless Festival as a way to build the community in which it takes place.
“It’s kind of an inspiring and exciting experience to see people’s work and then be able to discuss it with them,” she said. “To be able to see the validation of the filmmakers experiencing their work on the screen and see the experience of having their eyes opened to different stories and elements of life they might not have been able to intake otherwise. It’s an exciting opportunity.”