Free Range Film Festival

Duluth visitors, in this summer of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, let me encourage you to break out of your Lake Superior beachhead, and drive little inland. Climbing over the steep hills above the lake basin and heading southwest, the land flattens into green farmland. The area near Wrenshall has crop fields and hayfields, with rolled bales, surrounded by northern woods. Many of these farms pride themselves in producing organic food for the local area.

And if you get there at late July, you’ll find the land grows something even more surprising—its very own film festival.

The Free Range Film Festival is held each summer in the 1916 barn belonging to Annie Dugan and Janaki Fisher-Merritt. For $10 a person can watch independent films for 2 days on the 14 by 24 foot screen, in their hayloft. They have a special name for these independent films.

“A Free Range Film is any film, video or kinescope nurtured without the use of pesticides, growth hormones or a distribution deal from a fancy-pants Hollywood studio,” says their website.

Many of these movies are shown at festivals like Sundance, but those places are minus the barn and farm. Most of the movies are either documentaries and animation. But these are not your typical documentaries and animations. Let’s look at a couple of films from last year as an example.

“Missing” by Ewan McNicol documents two cat owners in their attempts to find their missing cats, with often bizarre and funny methods.

“Rise Up” by Brian Barber is a short strange cartoon involving seagulls and different Duluth personalities and landmarks.

“Inside the Whale” by Greg Carlson, shows the struggles of an artist to draw a picture a day, for every page of Moby Dick. It might sound easy for an artist, but like Ahab, the artist became a victim of his obsession.

“Catnip: Egress to Oblivion?,” was directed by Jason Willis . This mockumentary is so well done, it takes many a few minutes to realize it isn’t seriously warning of the dangers of catnip.

The festival will be held July 25-26 this year, at 999 County Rd 4, Wrenshall, MN. For more information go to