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Oct 30, 2012, 3:55 pm
Entertainment that educates: Decorah prepares for Oneota Film Festival
By Debi Neville

"Where the Yellowstone Goes" is one of the films that will be shown at the 2013 Oneota Film Festival. (Submitted image)

Mention a film festival and what comes to mind? Sundance, Cannes, Oneota — what? Oneota?

Yes, the Oneota Film Festival in Decorah, Iowa. Taking its name from the Upper Iowa River’s original Native American name, the festival on the Luther College campus will be in its fourth year when it’s held January 18-20, 2013.

The Oneota Film Festival, or OFF, is the brainchild of a small, dedicated group of film enthusiasts representing Luther College and the Decorah Public Library.

“We are pleased with the continuing growth of the festival,” says Kate Scott, OFF director. “We anticipate a full slate of films for the upcoming showings.”

The festival includes films on sustainable living, ecotourism, local economies, adventure or extreme sports, social justice, short films and some locally produced films.

Organizers are planning over 21 sets of films, with each set including numerous films, over three days at three venues.

The event includes panel discussions with filmmakers, and other specialists and experts. The goal of the festival is to generate discussion, local activity and initiatives related to sustainability issues. Whew! What a full three days.

Admission to films, panels and seminars is free. The festival is supported financially through sponsorships and individual memberships.

“Where the Yellowstone Goes,” a film by Hunter Weeks, was shown in October as a pre-festival kick-off event.

“This was a highly anticipated, fun event,” says Scott. “This is a captivating adventure film exploring life along one of America’s great scenic waterways.”

The story follows a 30-day boat journey down the longest, undammed river in the contiguous United States. Publicity surrounding the film, which will also be a part of the January festival, says: “Intimate portraits of locals in both booming cities and dusty, dwindling towns along the Yellowstone River illustrate the history and controversies surrounding this enigmatic watershed leading to questions about its future.” 

Another film by Weeks, “Ride the Divide,” was shown at last year’s festival to an enthusiastic audience.

What else is on the 2013 agenda? The list of showings was not available as of Nov. 1.

“In November, we are still reviewing submissions to the festival. We want to show the freshest and newest films available,” says OFF board president Kyrl Henderson.

Filmmakers from across the United States and foreign countries submit their work. Some are shorts — about 15 minutes in length. Some are as long as 90 minutes. Some are from novice filmmakers and some come from those with more experience. That’s the great mix of offerings that OFF provides. The accepted subjects are presented with varied styles: journalistic, artistic, abstract, first person and historic.

The OFF also seeks submissions from local filmmakers, especially students, including those from Minnesota.

“We are working with Decorah middle school and high school students on film projects. While they have an exceptionally good opportunity to make a film through the educational program, we encourage other students to submit as well,” says Scott.

The students’ films are eligible to be honored as a top film.

“Selected film submissions are sent to a panel of judges and we select a Best of Festival, a People’s Choice Award, and Best Student Film,” Scott says.

The deadline for all film submissions is Dec. 12. The cost is $25 for general submissions and $10 for student submissions. Films of any length are considered. 

Prizes for the next festival have not been finalized, but last year they included $500 and $100 rewards.

Check the website,, for film submission guidelines. Check the site in the coming weeks for this year’s film lineup.



An example of last year’s films — abUSed: The Postville Raid
This film weaves together the personal stories of those directly affected by the largest, most expensive and most brutal immigration raid in the history of the United States. It presents the human face of immigration, the socioeconomic forces which fuel it and serves as a cautionary tale against government abuses.


Debi Neville is a freelance writer from Rochester, Minn.

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