If not for their own FAQs, the keepers of the Free Range Film Festival might have been able to massage their way past a major milestone. But there it is in print: The answer to the first question on their website (“You run movies in a barn? Seriously?”): “The films we select for our festival are projected on a 24-foot wide screen inside the hayloft of a barn built in 1916.”

The barn near Wrenshall, which has hosted festival goers since in 2004, is 100 years old this year.

There are at least a couple of ways to cheat away the anniversary: change the date in the FAQ to 1917. Who would know? People read the FAQs, film festival organizer Mike Scholtz argued. Anne Dugan wondered if they could just celebrate the stately, three-story, red barn’s 100th year next summer, rather than its birthday this summer.

“No, we can’t” Scholtz said.

The Free Range Film Festival runs July 29-30 in the big red barn at 909 Cty Rd. 4 near Wrenshall. About 40 films will play - animation, documentary, short-shorts and feature-length pieces - during the two-day event. As for the birthday: festival organizers are planning a display that shows the barn’s history, including pieces of original siding and the old windmill that was recently unearthed. They will host a bigger celebration for the barn in September, Dugan said.

A theater is born

Dugan and her husband Janaki Fisher-Merritt bought their house from its second owner, Kenny Holmes, in 2002. While the land around it had been sold already, a handful of outbuildings were part of the package - including the stately old barn.

According to the lore, it was built by a man who wanted to tame his son. He built the space and filled it with horses, intent on keeping him on the farm.

It didn’t work.

“The son sold all of the horses and moved to Kentucky,” Dugan said.

In the 1950s, it was used as a dairy barn, but it had not been operational for about 16 years when the couple moved in.

“We cleaned it out knowing it was a freaking awesome structure,” Dugan said. “It was just a neat building. You don’t see barns so big and beautiful and so well-intact. We cleaned it out and we were like ‘We have to do something in here.’”

They filled the troughs with concrete to create a level floor, and ideas began to emerge.

“We thought this space could either be a basketball court, a racquetball court, a badminton court or a movie theater,” said Scholtz. “And those first three things just seemed like a lot of work.”

In the summer of 2003, Dugan, Scholtz and their film-friendly crew took the barn-as-theater plan for a test run. They hung a Tyvek projector screen and opened the space for a public viewing of “Ghostbusters.”

“Someone from down the road came with their llama,” Dugan said.

Making a space

Making the space festival-ready has been an ongoing process. Windows were reglazed and the siding was vacuumed. They’ve painted and added a fire escape.

During the festival, films are simulcast on three screens. The flagship, a full-sized movie screen, was a castoff from the now-shuttered Cinema 8, a Hermantown theater that closed in 2005. This is also where festival organizers found speakers.

The traditional theater seating, which lines the main room, is from the NorShor Theatre.

At ground level, there are two smaller screens: One in the main room, which offers hay bale seating near an organic popcorn stand; another is an adjacent garage-like space which opens up to allow for overflow seating on the grass.

There is a horror story about a daunting task involving wooden air shafts and a pulley system anchored by human weight.

“We could have all died that day,” Scholtz said.

There is a basement - the origin of the air that cools the structure - and a hayloft with a back room where Dugan’s father Sandy Dugan has created a camera obscura that projects a landscape and passing cars on a wall.

The end result has been an arts space that has, in the past, hosted an interactive art installation, a Daytrotter music festival and local poets, who read on a night that was so cold, their breath was visible.

Most often, though, it’s just Dugan and friends watching movies in the barn. This summer the theme is period pieces.

One of Dugan’s favorite things, she said, is to lean back and look up at the barns curved ceiling.

“It feels like being in the body of a whale,” she said.

In 2008, Scholtz and his partner Valerie Coit moved from Duluth to Wrenshall. They were spending so much time in the barn, it just made sense, Scholtz said.

“This barn is this beacon,” Dugan said. “It made me feel like I could make a life for myself in a rural environment. There’s an odd power in the architectural space. It’s a connector.”

Dugan and Fisher-Merritt no longer live on the property. They bought Food Farm a few years ago, and moved down the road. But they sold the house - and the barn - to Dugan’s parents, who were retired and living in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“They still let me play art in the barn,” said Dugan.

Free Range Film Festival

This year’s festival will include a screening of “Nuts,” directed by Penny Lane. It’s the story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, who worked with goat testicles as a cure for impotence and also built a million watt radio station.

“Bacon & God’s Wrath” is a short documentary by Sol Friedman about a 90-year-old Jewish woman’s first experience with bacon.

There is a documentary by local filmmaker Brian Barber about Robb Berry, a Duluthian who has been collecting cereal boxes since the 1970s.

Portrait of a Drowned Man will create an improvisational score for one of Mike Scholtz’s latest film projects, Slow TV. (One of the band’s choices for a muse: In the 26-minute film “Moving Chickens at the Food Farm,” Scholtz chronicled Chicken Hugging Day, the semi-annual transfer of chickens from a winter residence to a summer residence.)

Free Range Film Festival organizers received about 200 submissions - and have selected about 40 - for this year’s two-day event.

“We’ve gotten into a cycle where we know what we need to do,” Dugan said. “It feels like it’s running itself.”

“It’s easy to do,” added Scholtz, “which feels wrong.”