Digital stories to inspire

FREELAND FOUNDATION FOUNDER Steve Galster speaks to last year’s festival attendees before the opening night film. While this year’s festival will be a virtual event, Galster will yet again introduce the festival’s opening night film and discuss Freeland’s mission of eliminating trafficking. Joe Schulz photo

by Joe Schulz

Even though the streets of Green Lake will not be flooded with festival-goers wandering between downtown venues, organizers of this year’s Freeland Film Festival hope moving the event online will bring a global audience to Green Lake. 

“Anyone from anywhere — as long as they have an internet connection — can attend, which in a way makes us a global film festival,” Festival Coordinator Evelyn Galster said of the change. 

The Freeland Film Festival runs from Friday, Sept. 11 to Tuesday, Sept. 15, with the content featured being accessible during that time by visiting 

“Since last year’s festival, the world has turned upside down from a zoonotic outbreak and racial tensions,” Freeland Foundation CEO Steve Galster and Festival Executive Producer Rich Christian said in a written statement. “Our festival offers a platform for free expression about the causes and effects of these crises, as well as the search for solutions.”

Freeland aims to raise awareness for key issues facing the global community — including illegal wildlife trafficking, human trafficking, systemic racism and climate change — as well as draw connections between those issues. 

“Freeland’s vision is a world free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery,” Galster and Christian said. “Freeland Film Festival continues to offer a platform to share stories about the impacts — short and long term — that wildlife and human trafficking inflict on societies and how to recover from them.”

Evelyn noted hosting the festival amid a period of social upheaval provided a unique opportunity to inform the community through “stories to inspire” related to current events.

She added Freeland believes in fighting for climate justice and that the organization has a responsibility to speak out against systemic racism as well. 

“You cannot separate the two. You cannot have climate justice without racial justice. That is why our films speak to both issues,” Evelyn said. “The virus, trafficking and racism, all of these things are connected in one way or another, so this is an opportunity for us to tell stories that have impact and significance.”

In terms of specific programming, Festival Producer Dawn Borchardt noted much of the programming also will  tie into Freeland’s “End Pandemics” campaign, as a page on the festival website will be dedicated to hosting videos produced for the campaign.

To kick off the festival,  Steven Galster will give a live presentation Friday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. from Thailand, which will introduce the opening night film, “The Last Ice.”

“The Last Ice” features the story of Inuit people fighting to preserve their ancestral ways, as colonialism, global warming and industrial extraction of Arctic resources threatens the future of their lasting traditional culture. After the film, Freeland will host a panel Q&A with the film’s director, Scott Ressler.

“I’m super excited about this one; it’s really relevant right now with everything that’s going on with climate change and the polar ice caps melting,” Borchardt said. 

Another film the festival will showcase that Borchardt believes remains relevant is the 1968 documentary “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me N*****.”

“It’s a really beautiful documentary that takes place in Harlem, interviewing people on the street while protests are happening against the Vietnam War,” she said. “They’re specifically talking about the African American community participating in the war and how people feel about that. It really resonates with a lot of the sentiment that’s going on today.”

Beyond films, the festival will feature several panels. One of those panels was inspired by the Netflix documentary series “Tiger King.” 

The “Tigers in America” panel features Big Cat Rescue founder and star of Netflix’s “Tiger King” Carole Baskin, National Geographic filmmaker Molly Ferrill, Nat Geo photojournalist Steve Winter and Nat Geo journalist Sharon Guynup. The panel will discuss problems related to more tigers live captive in the United States than the number of them in the wild

“That’s another timely program we have because during quarantine pretty much everyone binge watched ‘Tiger King,’” Borchardt said. 

Another panel is set to feature local experts talking about the health of the Big Green Lake watershed. 

Green Lake Conservancy Vice President of Conservation Thomas Eddy will host the “State of the Lake” panel discussion between Green Lake County Land Conservationist Derek Kavanaugh, Green Lake Association Executive Director Stephanie Prellwitz, Green Lake Sanitary District Administrator Lisa Reas and research hydrologist Dale Robertson. 

“We want to make sure the topics are global, but have relevance to Green Lake,” Evelyn said. “The issues environmentally and climate change are going to be the same, no matter where you are, so we want to tie that all together so that it makes sense for people in Green Lake.”

While the move to a digital festival has presented challenges, Galster is optimistic that folks will come to Green Lake virtually for a weekend of “stories to inspire.”

“We’re excited about doing it virtually,” Evelyn said. “It’s hard not to compare it to last year, but it will be so much more accessible than last year.”