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In past 15 years, Free Range Film Festival has developed its quirky aesthetic

The 15-year-old Free Range Film Festival is set in a more-than-100-year-old barn in Wrenshall. 2016 file / News Tribune

"Gods of Perdition," a new horror film by Brooklyn-based Alazmat Films, is the story of a young girl who fears being alienated from her father after her parents' divorce. It's a justifiable fear: A demonic clawed and amply-toothed creature has come to fill the void.

The movie, directed by Alberto Martinez, will not be playing at this year's Free Range Film Festival.

"I've been rejected by the Free Range Film Festival, and that's heartbreaking," the lifelong filmmaker says in a good-humored video posted earlier this month on YouTube. (The confessional opens with a screen grab of the rejection and his hand-scrawled "Loser.") "Because, number one, I got the bad news on my birthday. So, when I turned 40, that's when they decided I'm not worthy of the festival over in Minnesota. That means they also don't think I'm worthy of trying their farm-fresh produce.

Alberto Martinez"That really hurts me."

Free Range Film Festival, in its 15th year, is a two day, three-session event that will include more than 20 movies ranging from animated shorts to cat-themed music vids to documentaries and underwater experimental picks. The festival is Friday and Saturday at a more-than-100-year-old barn near Wrenshall. Hay-bale seating is optional. The organic popcorn should be required.

One of the festival's directors, Anne Dugan, stumbled on Martinez' rejection response while searching for a different video.

"I thought it was hysterical," she said. "I forwarded it to a friend and said, 'We have finally made it.'"

Free Range Film Festival gets about 200 submissions a year, Dugan said. She and her co-organizers, husband Janaki Fisher-Merritt, Mike Scholtz and Val Coit, begin sifting through the films in January up until the April deadline.

After more than a decade, the process has gotten more difficult.

The festival has a certain aesthetic — films with a quirky voice, she said. More and more, filmmakers who match that mold have gravitated toward the festival. They also get submissions from friends of friends, and sometimes the crew solicits filmmakers who've shown Free Range Film Festival-style work at places like SXSW or at True/False Film Festival.

"We try and be broad, but our tastes are our tastes," Dugan said. Dugan shifts toward arty and Scholtz toward documentaries — which he also makes. Coit and Fisher-Merritt keep them real, Dugan said.

On screen

This year's festival includes a few from local filmmakers like Matt Dressel, an award-winning screenwriter whose "Just Coffee" stars a cafe regular taking advantage of the bottomless cup of java. In Emily McNeill's "Take the Dog for a Walk," a young woman finds a portal to a spirit world and cuts loose.

Scholtz, too, has a piece in the program. His "Kinderchomper" is a mini-doc about a local eye doctor who doubles as a professional wrestler. He's all the rage in Japan, where his character is known for eating babies.

(Speaking of quirky, this film has a multimedia presence. The festival also has an old-skool 8-bit video game in which the character eats different kind of babies available to be played on an Atari 2600. For the ambitious: The high score is still sub-1,000.)

There are also festival favorites, like Joshua Carlon, whose "Saul's 108th Story" is one man's story of a high-flying summer job, told in animation.

John Akre's "The Last Window Show" is about local illustrator Chris Monroe's art at Treehouse Records.

Friday's feature-length film is "Rodents of Unusual Size," directed by Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer and Quinn Costello. It's about the quick-breeding, 20-pound swamp rats in Louisiana wetlands that are threatening a town.

Saturday's family-friendly day session ends with "North Pole, NY," a documentary by Ali Cotterill about Santa's Workshop, a threatened Christmas-themed park. Saturday gets two feature-length films, "Silicone Soul," about an alternative to human relationships and "306 Hollywood," about something akin to an archaeological dig through a late-grandmother's home.

Not on screen

Alberto Martinez is going to be OK, even without a screening at Free Range Film Festival. And, truthfully, the fest doesn't send farm-fresh food to its filmmakers — it just has at its core the farmers behind Food Farm.

"I did feel genuine disappointment and decided to make the disappointment into a video," he said. He's made other rejection videos. "I'm going to turn these into videos to encourage other filmmakers — don't take it as though you're not good enough.

"If I'm going to be rejected, let me laugh with you."

Martinez, who works as a nurses aid by day, has had other more positive responses to his work: "Gods of Perdition" got into Straight Jacket Film Festival, it has received reviews from YouTubers, and there are bootlegged versions floating around the internet — which he considers a compliment, he said.

He also is working on a web series and is in talks with a rapper for a music video. The filmmaker who started out as a kid with a heavy VHS camera said he isn't going to stop making films anytime soon.

"No matter how much I try to get away from it, it's in my heart," he said.

Meanwhile, just because "Gods of Perdition" didn't make the cut doesn't mean he won't be represented at the fest.

Dugan said they will be screening his rejection video.

Go see it

What: Free Range Film Festival

When: 7-11 p.m. June 29, 2-5:30 p.m. and 7-11 p.m. June 30

Where: Free Range Film Festival Barn, 909 County Rd. 4, Wrenshall

Online: For a full schedule, go to

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A Monroe moment

Musician Mark Olson had a few requests for his window display — the last one to go up at Minneapolis’ storied shop Treehouse Records: Tapes, boomboxes, Buddy Holly, the sun.

John Akre’s 4-ish minute documentary “The Last Window Show” chronicles the placement of the window display by local artist Chris Monroe, a longtime friend of Olson’s. (They used to hang across the street at the CC Club, she says in the film.)

The shop’s retiring owner calls it the best window display ever and, spoiler alert: Monroe’s dog has a moment on the carpet.

Always wear sunscreen

Ben Mitchell’s “Suncapades” is the story of triplets — well, Billy is actually the ghost of the triplet that the other two absorbed in the womb — have big plans for the beach. But their dad, a “big stupid misery grump,” is a total downer. Plus, he needs them to lather him up with sunscreen. Dum, dum, duhm.

Mitchell, a U.K.-based animator, has claimed Chuck Palahniuk as an influence, which might explain the seagull versus intestines moment.

Feline politics

Pres. Trump’s America gets feline treatment in the music video “Territory!” by Kittytron Churro and Zoltron Monsieur, the wife-husband duo behind the eccentric, cat-eared, tiger-striped band Lion Cut — which told San Diego’s City Beat magazine in 2010 that its influences range from the MGM Lion to T.S. Elliott’s Rum Tum Tugger to Joey Ramone.

French aesthetic

Any film festival worth its salt needs a black and white French film. This one is about a lovelorn pickpocket and the young girl who finagles his friendship. “Paulette in Paris,” by Isabelle Sophie Aroue, won a merit award at Indiefest Film Awards. “All women are liars!” young Paulette declares from a park bench, all wild-haired and baggy jeaned.

Other fine moments
  • In Rachel Yurkovich’s “Egg Eating Chicken,” viewers get a ground-level view of a chicken pecking at and successfully breaking the egg shell, then eating the gooey innards.
  • Kara Mulrooney’s short film “It’s Gotta Be in Ya” is a sweetly-told story of how the Wisconsin Concrete Park was saved — which also serves as a reminder that maybe it’s time to get to the Wisconsin Concrete Park.
  • Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson, an award-winning film professor from Minnesota State University-Moorhead, has two short-shorts in the festival: “In Our World,” is a pre-K’s stream-of-consciousness that covers topics ranging from volcanos to iceman, backed with video from Iceland.
  • “Ghosteses are evil,” the child says, before giving a lesson in Icelandic.
  • “House” is an experimental film featuring exterior shots of, well, houses. Shacks, ramblers, brick. Houses built into the landscape and in urban areas. Houses with American flags and ill-planned doorways. Then, houses removed from context, flashing to an industrial-music beat.