The Julien Dubuque International Film Festival boasts a four-day event featuring a wide variety of films. Photo submitted by the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival.

Words by Ruth Ronnau

Film festivals are basically the movie version of the local arts fair: They’re a reason to get out of bed on a Saturday morning rather than cuddle under the covers and sleep the day away. But instead of walking around an arts fair, seduced into buying another ocean landscape photo for the bathroom, film fests ensure a place to sit down for a few hours and relax. While Sundance and Cannes are the front-runners in the film world, other festivals happen all over the Midwest.

Film festivals show some flicks that might not end up on the nearest big screen; they’ll have independent or international motion pictures, documentaries, kid movies, short movies and full feature-length films.

So stop watching Netflix; buy some festival tickets and go.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival

April 7-23

The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival recently announced the lineup for its 35th year. With entries from all over the world, the festival will be showing more than 250 films under a range of topics from Minnesota Made to Cine Latino to Childish Films. No one could possibly be bored.

Think of it as the Epcot of film festivals. Interested in an Asian film? Or curious about Hispanic cultures other than just the fare at the Mexican restaurant down the street? Want to see more variety in the film industry? The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival has a lot to offer.

Tickets are available online or at the door.

Wisconsin Film Festival

April 14-21
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The Wisconsin Film Festival has over 150 films playing over eight days and draws between 20,000 and 30,000 people each year. Ben Reiser, festival coordinator, says this festival provides a way for people to watch lesser-known movies in a theater. “It’s a unique opportunity to get to see really great filmmaking from around the world and from our state, seeing them in a setting that they were meant to be seen in,” Reiser says. “I still think that most filmmakers hope and dream of their films showing in movie theaters and not just on Netflix.”

The Wisconsin Film Festival, which is in its 18th year, also has a category for homegrown films and filmmakers called Wisconsin’s Own. Reiser is particularly excited for this category as he had a hand in picking those flicks. One of the documentaries, The Smart Studio Story, focuses on a recording studio in Madison, Wisconsin, that recorded albums for bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins in the ’80s and ’90s. “It’s getting its Wisconsin premiere here at the festival,” Reiser says. “I get calls every day from people who heard that it’s going to be at the festival.”

Tickets can be bought at the festival website.

Julien Dubuque International Film Festival

April 21-24

In its fifth year, the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival is ready for action, with a schedule jam-packed with films and panels. “Our tagline is ‘It’s not just an event; it’s an adventure,’” says Susan Gorrell, executive director of the festival. “It’s four days that you come down and just enjoy. It’s all downtown. You can bring your kids; you can walk around and run into people. You can go to all kinds of different films.”

Tickets are available at the website or at the door on the day of the festival.


April 24-28
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Cinema St. Louis hosts six festivals a year. One of the most interesting, QFest, showcases films whose characters are members of the LGBT community. Now in its ninth year, the festival will show 27 films from both St. Louis and international filmmakers over four days.

Chris Clark, artistic director at Cinema St. Louis, says QFest is meant to represent both the national LGBT community and St. Louis’ local LGBT community. “We don’t want 12 films about good-looking, buff, bare-chested gay men romping around Hollywood and dancing on tables and bars. Those are boring. That’s part of the community, but it’s not everybody,” Clark says. “We want all shapes and sizes and colors and hairiness and height and everything. We want as much as possible to be included. And this year I think we’ve actually done that.”

Tickets are available for purchase through the website or at the theater.

Wild Rose Independent Film Festival

May 12-19

In Des Moines, the Wild Rose Independent Film Festival provides an educational element for both festival-goers and the filmmakers who enter the festival. “One of the hallmarks of our festival is that we provide these educational opportunities that a lot of these other festivals don’t really focus on,” says Kim Busbee, director and co-founder of the festival.

For those looking to break into the film industry, Wild Rose not only has panels and Q&As with the filmmakers, but also provides workshops for actors and filmmakers to get their feet in the door. And, Busbee says, the filmmakers or actors often hang out in the lobby as if they’re regular people, excited to talk about their flicks or the movie they’ve just seen. “We don’t screen multiple films at once in different theaters spaces. It’s just right now, the Wild Rose is just at the Fleur [Cinema], and your film will be screening and there will be no competition simultaneously through the festival with another movie,” Busbee says.

The festival will take place at the Fleur Cinema and Café in Des Moines. Tickets can be bought through Wild Rose’s website or at the theater.

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