The Flyway Film Fest Phenomenon

There have been a lot of conversations and debates about the value of film festivals for filmmakers, especially in this current era of instability and change in the entertainment industry. Flyway has been bringing it from the heart for filmmakers since 2008.

For filmmakers whose primary interest is finding a buyer for their film, there are only the very few high profile (and hard to get into) festivals like Sundance and Cannes that attract such buyers. But what good film festivals like Flyway can offer filmmakers goes well beyond simply “making the deal”.

In October of 2011, I was fortunate enough to have been able to attend the 2011 Flyway Film Festival. Rick and Di Vaicius founded, and have been running the Flyway Film Festival in the neighboring towns of Pepin and Stockholm, Wisconsin since 2008.

While located reasonably close to Minneapolis St. Paul, Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, the festival has begun to garner a reputation as a very positive experience for filmmakers from all over the country. Indeed many have chosen to return year after year, with or without an entry in the festival. This small and humble, yet well-organized festival has even begun to attract International visitors. Even more amazing is the fact that they have managed to build this momentum over the course of some of the most challenging economic times in recent history.

Rick Vaicius and Jon Reiss – Think Outside the Box Office Workshop – Photo: Jeremy Wilker

I interviewed Rick Vaicius briefly just before New Years to get his thoughts on the future of the Flyway Film Festival:

    What are some of the key things that running the Flyway Film Festival have taught you about the independent film business/community?

RV – That filmmakers are some of the most broke but dedicated artists on the planet. I am constantly amazed by the passion for story telling be it in narrative form or documentary. It is a great pleasure to call many of the filmmakers that have come to Flyway over the years as friends now. Many of whom are willing to give of their time, energy and resources to help make Flyway better and grow.  

•    How did the economic and industry shifts over the last couple years affect your process/approach to achieving your goals with the Festival?

RV – Given that we started from nothing, it didn’t really matter that our inaugural festival took place on the heels of the economic meltdown in 2008. That year’s festival was run on a budget of less than $5,000.00. Teaching us that much can be accomplished with little resources. Ultimately what it left us with was the plan for slow steady growth over a long period of time as opposed to making a gigantic splash and becoming another flash in the pan film festival. I want us to be in existence 20 years from now as a well-respected festival for both filmmakers and film lovers. We are learning from our mistakes and successes and taking all those things to heart and hoping those things help us grow in a positive way.

•    How do you feel about the progress Flyway Film Festival has made during the last 4 years and what do you have on the agenda for improvements for 2012?

RV – There are tons of things on our de-brief list from this past October. I hope we’ll be able to cross most of them off for 2012. A few are- Website improvements, making it easier for those that aren’t necessarily familiar with film festivals in general to navigate our program, schedule and purchase tickets. We will provide a completely comprehensive listing of overnight accommodations within a 30 minute drive to the festival venues. Offer Day Passes for those attendees that want to come for just a day. For filmmakers our entry form will be an online form submitted electronically (we were completely swamped this past year by paper entry forms) though dvd screeners will still need to be mailed directly to us. We hope to continue to offer free educational opportunities for attending filmmakers that have work in the festival, and low cost for anyone else.
We hope to be able to include cash prizes along with our awards this coming year. I’d love to know what the filmmaking community thinks about the possibility of
crowdfunded prize money for their peers. (Such a campaign would see every penny go to the awards and not fund anything else) Another contemplated addition is a film competition that would be around a filmmakers journey to the 2012 Flyway Film Festival, sort of a Flyway related 48 hour film project. The
best entries would be screened in a special block during the festival and voted on by the audience to determine the winner. Otherwise we really want to continue to improve on and tighten up the overall festival operation, without losing the festival’s charm and uniquely intimate personality.

•    What was the highlight of the 2011 Flyway Film Festival for you?

RV – Once again it was the great group of filmmakers that we were able to bring together and watching them interact with each other and our community.

•    And for the filmmakers out there interested, where and when will you be accepting submissions for the 2012 Flyway Film Festival?

RV –  We anticipate our Call for Entries being up on our website early in 2012


I certainly felt the magic of the 2011 Flyway Film Festival. For those who haven’t been to this festival yet, this should serve as a great introduction to the Flyway Filmfest phenomenon. For those that have attended before, may this be a fond reminiscence of a truly filmmaker friendly film festival.

The people of Stockholm and Pepin, Wisconsin were kind and accommodating. The towns are both quaint and beautiful, and there seems to be a lot of support for the arts in the area. Locals came out to see the films and filmmakers, many of whom had only previously known each other via Facebook and Twitter, got an opportunity to meet face to face. There were way more films than any one person could possibly attend in one weekend and a little bit of something for everyone: from serious documentaries to drama, to sci fi, to comedy and inventive foreign films. The hors d’oeuvres and signature Flyway cocktails made for an exquisite opening night gala.

Flyway Opening Night Gala Spread – Photo : Jeremy Wilker

Each morning started with breakfast at the “Third Street Deli and Juice Bar”.

Third Street Deli and Juice Bar

The owners were kind enough to stay open the extra week to accommodate this strange group (independent filmmakers) who would gather as a loose knit collective and wander from table to table sharing in different conversations and eventually drifting off to catch the first of the day’s films.

Breakfast At Flyway 2011
Breakfast at Flyway 2011 – Photo: Jeremy Wilker

In the evenings filmmakers and festival goers wound down at some of the local pubs

Gary and Susie King, Julie Keck,  & Christopher Grimes kick back after the days screenings.
T. Reed, Pericles Lewnes & Lucas McNelly – Flyway 2011 – Photo: Jeremy Wilker

The entire event was like a refuge for filmmakers, free from the pressures of “making the sale” and attended primarily by true film lovers and filmmakers who came to share their work, their knowledge and their appreciation for the art.

As I mentioned in my previous Film Courage article: “State of Independents: 2011 The Year in Review for Filmmakers”, the Flyway Film Festival made its way onto the 2011 highlight reel, including the appearances and discussions held by Ted Hope (Hope for Film) and Jon Reiss (Think Outside The Box Office).

And of course another Flyway highlight was the Wisconsin premier of the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Radio Free Albemuth”

Radio Free Albemuth
was produced by John Alan Simon and Elizabeth Karr who both attended the festival and spoke at an impromptu round table Q&A at the local Stockholm pub and eatery (Gelly’s) after the screening.

Post “Radio Free Albemuth” Screening at the Widespot Performing Arts Center

New York filmmaker (and previous winner of the Spirit of Flyway Award, the coveted Flyway “Axe”Gary King returned to the festival, this time without a film, but as presenter to this year’s proud Axe winner Chicago filmmakers Julie Keck and Jessica King of King is a Fink Productions.

Julie accepts the Flyway Spirit Award for King is a Fink team. Photo: Jeremy Wilker

Also from Chicago, Christopher Grimes (5414 Productions) came along bringing the film “A Second Knock at the Door: A Documentary on Friendly Fire” a feature documentary that was created in partnership between King is a Fink Productions and 5414.

On the heels of finishing co-producing  Dana Farley’s “Beyond the Noise: My Transcendental Meditation Journey” (featuring interview with David Lynch)Alexis Anastasio brought another doc she produced: “Adventure’s in Plymptoons

Of course there were many more films and filmmakers than I can’t possibly mention in the scope of this article who were all an important part of what makes this festival special! Several filmmakers with projects in various phases of development brought their trailers to workshop their ideas at the “Think Outside the Box Office” Workshop presented by Jon Reiss.

Jon Reiss & Julie Keck at  Think Outside the Box Office Workshop – Photo: Jeremy Wilker

Lucas McNelly brought his “A Year Without Rent” campaign to Flyway to help assist with and document the festival. He also drove the Flyway Van transporting festival goers from venue to venue between Pepin to Stockholm.

Hey Lucas…Look Busy!

You would frequently see Rick and Diane running around, popping in and out, and working diligently to accommodate the attendees and keep everything running smoothly.

Rick is like a blur moving from event to event (and/or my camera work is poor;)

Sadly, I had to leave Sunday morning so I could get to work on some film music and sound myself, so I couldn’t hang around to see the many fine films that played that day,  including the John T. Trigonis short film “Cerise”,

Dominika Waclawiak’s short film “Gosia’s Witch”,

And “The Winter Frog” Directed by Slony Sow starring Gerard Depardieu and the beautiful Eriko Takeda (who came all the way from Paris to attend). These, and many other fine independent films, made the festival a great success!

Flyway 2011 was an absolute joy to attend. I hope this little virtual tour gives you a sense of this charming and increasingly popular film festival. I want to thank Jeremy Wilker  for the additional photos to breath life into this festival review. I also have to thank Rick and Di and all the Flyway volunteers who have come together to make this festival so special. I wish them the best of luck in the future!

And to everyone, hope to see you at Flyway Film Festival 2012!
A local resident and artist was kind enough to invite me aboard thier boat. Flyway 2011

T. Reed – Composer @TAOXproductions

Here’s a short (incomplete) list of just a few of the fine establishments directly in and around the festival that helped to accomodate festival goers.

Pepin – Eats


Stockholm – Eats