February in this region means frozen rivers.

And in Winona, MN a short drive from La Crosse, WI, it is also synonymous with an annual film festival that is thought-provoking by design.

The 2017 Frozen River Film Festival will be held Feb. 15-19, and will feature films that get you thinking – both about deeper world issues and about having fun. There are additional films being shown nearby in other communities earlier in the week, too. Why not schedule a mini vacay? Fit in some film, some outdoors and some fun.


If you have been responsible with your credit this holiday season (or maybe even if you haven’t – you be the judge), here are five reasons to consider a weekend away:


1. Expand your mind.

Explore diverse perspectives and then discuss your beliefs with others who are also exploring these same diverse perspectives along with you. The annual event started in 2006 and was designed to provoke in-depth discussions of subjects of local, regional and global importance. This festival is meant to expose us to people, places, ideas and concepts we wouldn’t otherwise experience through the captivating movies being shown – no matter if the topic is extreme sports or new cultures or complex issues.

2. The stories in the films.

Compelling seems hardly word enough to describe the movies that get shown during this festival. How do you pick one to write about when all the topics all speak to you? “Massacre River” is a documentary that takes place in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, two ethnically and culturally distinct countries that have been forced to share the same island since colonial times. The film follows Pikilina, a Dominican-born woman of Haitian descent, and her family. Racial and political violence erupt when the country of her birth reverses its birthright citizenship law, and she is left stateless, along with 250,000 others. Pikilina faces the choice of fighting for her rightful citizenship and exposing herself to danger, or fleeing with her family across the island to Haiti, a country she barely knows. Both choice appears riddled with challenges, and such is the point of this festival. What would you do? Would you make the same choice as her or a different one?

3. Extreme Niagara Falls. 

Maybe it’s because my family just visited Niagara Falls last summer, but what isn’t exciting about a movie titled, “Chasing Niagara?” Pro kayaker Rafa Ortiz decides to try to paddle over Niagara Falls, and he sets in motion a series of events that takes a life of its own. To prepare, Rafa enlists the help of a world-renowned paddler, and this group of friends go on a three-year journey from the rainforests and rivers of Mexico to the towering waterfalls of the U.S. This film is being shown earlier in the week, so be sure to check out the Web site for details if extreme waterfalls are your thing.

4. Wings of flight and fight. 

Two other films I will mention: “Flight of the Butterflies in 3D” is a scientific adventure story about the Monarch butterfly migration and the determined scientist who spent 40 years trying to discover where they go when they fly south for winter; and “Free CeCe,” is the story of CeCe McDonald, who survived a brutal attack, only to be incarcerated for defending her life. After an international movement to free her, McDonald emerged as a leader to interrogate the prison industrial complex and inspire women to fight back.

5. Road Trip! Play in Winona, stay in La Crosse County. 

Winona puts on a great film festival, but why not make it a full weekend away (Short distance from La Crosse) ? Hole up at one of the newest hotels in downtown La Crosse, like the Fairfield Inn & Suites, which is just off the Cass Street Bridge. This will allow you to walk around downtown for some stellar food and bevy pairings at places like Diggers Sting or Hackberry’s Bistro. Then, enjoy the beauty of our area by renting some snowshoes or cross country skis at Island Outdoors on nearby French Island before you head home the next day. Tire yourself out physically and mentally for the weekend.

To learn more about the Frozen River Film Festival or see where other movies are showing earlier in the week, head to the Web site at www.frff.org.