Last week, my partner Keith and I attended the opening of the 3rd annual Driftless Film Festival. We saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The movie centered on a single father and his young daughter and the trials of raising her amidst the uncontrollable turmoil that surrounded them. It was so good that after it was over I just wanted to go home, drink some hot cocoa, and cry some more. I did.
About twelve years ago, Nicholas Langhoff (one of the founders of the DFF) came to the town of Mineral Point. Let me first explain that Mineral Point is no ordinary town. Most of the people I’ve met who have moved here were simply overcome with the feeling that this place was something special and that it would be a nice place to live. Keith and I were going to buy a house in Madison five years ago. On a whim, in the middle of winter, we drove around and ended up in Mineral Point on High Street. The historic buildings made me feel as if I were in a story book. I remember being taken by the display window at the Bohlin Gallery. There were large hand blown glass ornaments hanging and twirling, showing off their various swirly colors. Next to it, the crumbling brick walls of what used to be an old gas station, now it is the Set in Stone Wine Bar. Then there was the pig on Bruce Howdle’s roof. For Nick, what sealed the deal was watching a very unique movie at the Mineral Point Opera House in the middle of the afternoon. There he met Phil Mrozinski, now the executive and artistic director of the festival, and an instrumental part of the house’s restoration efforts. That experience for Nick and later living in Mineral Point ignited the idea of the film festival, in an unknown town, in this place called the Driftless Region. His good friend Darren Burrows came on board as well as area resident Jeremy Patnaude, the general manager of State Theaters, a movie cinema chain in Southwest Wisconsin.
photos courtesy of Eve Studnicka
Fast forward to the fall of 2010, it finally happened. Now in its third year, participating movies are being shown in six theaters and in six different towns in the area. The festival highlights Wisconsin made movies by Wisconsin artists. People are excited and are inspired to create. Young film-makers Will Crotz and Eve Studnicka (festival coordinator) are hard at work on a documentary capturing the essence of Mineral Point. New restaurants have opened up, buildings are being restored, and more and more people are starting to call this place home.
Pedro E. Guerrero, most well-known for being Frank Lloyd Wright’s photographer, chose to spend the last three summers of his life in this little town creating art and being with friends. A documentary about him was featured at the festival. When I asked his dear friends in town, local artists Diana Johnston and Tom Kelly, why Pedro liked Mineral Point, the answer was that it was just a nice place to be. He worked at the Johnston’s basement creating whimsical mobile pieces which we had the great opportunity to see last August at The Brewery. He also created a one of a kind book of photographs of Tom’s studio.
I started to write this piece mainly to write about the Driftless Film Festival but I realized it could not be written without connecting the magic that Mineral Point is. We’re happy that the Driftless Film Festival has made its roots and is now part of the cultural identity of this place called the “Driftless Region”. Even more, we are so grateful to all of the intelligent, creative, and active citizens and friends who keep this place alive.
By the way, if you missed “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, you can see it again this Sunday, November 11 at the opera house at 3PM. $6.
Contributed by Leslie Damaso