Free Range Film Festival returns to Wrenshall

Local and international filmmakers will be showcased Friday and Saturday.

A man dressed in black carries a painting outside.
Joe Klander poses in the parking lot of the Damiano Center dressed as a ninja for a staged recreation of the theft of Joe Geshick’s painting “The Old People" during production of Mike Scholtz's film, which is set to show at the Free Range Film Festival.
Contributed / Mike Scholtz
We are part of The Trust Project.

WRENSHALL — After scaling back due to the pandemic, the Free Range Film Festival is back in full force Friday and Saturday. The festival, which screens several short and long-form films inside the Free Range Film Barn, 909 County Road 4, starts at 7 p.m.

Festival organizer, Annie Dugan, described the lineup as an eclectic mix of animation, documentary, narrative fiction and experimental eye candy.

“I didn’t realize it when I was putting together the festival this year, but now, looking over the schedule, I’m realizing that we have kind of a world tour in our program," she said. "We’ve got a documentary from England that follows the slightly mad home videos of an eccentric cattle farmer; a really beautiful narrative piece about having a beat-up car in the Minneapolis; a moody meditation on human nature from Iceland; a quirky music video from Italy; and a look at telenovelas from Mexico City."

The annual Free Range Film Festival features dozens of films screened in a 100-plus year-old barn in Wrenshall. 2016 file/News Tribune
The annual Free Range Film Festival features dozens of films screened in a 100-plus year-old barn in Wrenshall.
2016 file / Duluth News Tribune

Filmmaker and co-festival programmer Mike Scholtz said approximately a quarter of this year's films are from local filmmakers. Scholtz said they always like to have some local talent represented.

"We don't have a mandate of how much we want to be local, I think we just end up programming stuff that we think is interesting and stuff we think our audience will find interesting," Scholtz said. "But we also have films from around the world this year which I think our audiences will really love."


Scholtz and Dugan have been finding interesting films to show at the festival for almost 20 years.

"Originally, we just kind of thought it would be fun to have a venue for some of our friends' weird films," Scholtz said. "And we thought, well, we have this barn. Let's do a film festival in it. And we've just sort of grown over the years."

Scholtz is somewhat reluctantly showing a rough edit of one of his films this year. He said he was hesitant to include his work in the festival because he serves as one of the programmers, but Dugan talked him into it. Plus, he had a deadline to show the film before the end of June due to the conditions of a grant he was awarded to make it.

"Annie said it could be kind of fun educational experience for our audience to see and talk more about the filmmaking process. They could see the rough edit of this short film, probably eight to nine minutes long, and we could have a discussion," Scholtz said. "So I agreed, I'd show one more film in the festival."

Scholtz's film "The Old People Affair" is scheduled to be shown Saturday evening. It tells the story of a painting donated by a Ojibwe artist to the Damiano Center years ago. The painting has been stolen from the center twice and the kitchen manager managed to track it down both times.

"It's kind of like a light heist film, but local," Scholtz said. "I've tried to approach it like the Duluth version of 'Ocean's 11.'"

Other local filmmakers featured in the festival include a five-minute short by Kathy McTavish, "Film Factory: #1648823612092." She described her film as "kind of like a research phase of an experiment series of films" that she created using generative code-based production methods. This is the second time McTavish will show a film short at the festival, but she's also attended several times in the past and had a couple immersive multimedia art showings as well at the barn.

"It's a really friendly environment," she said. "I'm excited for the conversation to be had there. I think it's going to be fun and surprising."


A still of an animated film featuring a loon in the middle.
A still from Moira Villiard's film, "Madweyaashkaa: The Waves Can be Heard," set to be shown at the Free Range Film Festival on Friday and Saturday.
Contributed / Moira Villiard

It's Moira Villiard's first time showing a film at the festival. Her 12-minute film, "Madweyaashkaa: The Waves Can Be Heard," started as a installation project in the Twin Cities in 2021. The piece explores the topic of Indigenous women's resilience. Villiard worked with Millie Richard, a Dakota Ojibwe elder from Manitoba.

"I gave her the theme of Indigenous women's resilience and asked her what she would say to people. The film was created in the middle of the pandemic, so I asked what she would say to people feeling disconnected from culture," Villiard said. "She actually gave me like 40 minutes of recording filled with great messages and I ended it down to 12."

Villiard then worked with Lyz Jaakola, a musician from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, who created a song for the piece. Villiard created the animations to accompany the words and music and combined all of them to create her film. The film was projected on the St. Anthony Falls lock wall as well as the Washington Center in Duluth in 2021.

"It's been really cool to dive into this new medium and have this community encouragement," Villiard said. "I'm working on some other animations for the future, so it'll be cool to see the response at the festival."

For a full lineup of films, visit .

Like many holiday films, the feature was shot in the summertime. Yes, that meant making fake snow — in Duluth.

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
What to read next
The animatronic attraction's crew had less than two days to turn the DECC's Pioneer Hall into a prehistoric playground.
Beer drinking and ax throwing don't sound like two things that should be done simultaneously, but the Duluth brewery has scored a direct hit with taproom visitors.
With July 4 falling on a Monday this year and live entertainment back to pre-pandemic scale, it's shaping up to be one of the most epic long weekends in years.
Entertaining musical opened Friday night and runs through July 17 at the NorShor.