MAY TOWNSHIP — It has been 15 years since St. Croix Valley resident Paul Creager started the first film festival on his family’s farm, but since then the Square Lake Film and Music Festival has made a big name for itself.

“(It’s) a milestone for us; nobody knows the future,” Creager said. “We’re happy to (make it to) this year.” The festival will take place Saturday, Aug. 5 at the secluded farm at 13363 Partridge Road N., Stillwater.

Headliners at this year’s event include Twin Cities notables ZULUZULUU, Gramma’s Boyfriend and Roma di Luna. One of the highlights of the night is a combination of film and live score, this year provided by Afro-funk band ZULUZULUU. The band will accompany the 1902 silent film “Le Voyage dans la Lune” (“A Trip to the Moon”), which many consider to be the first sci-fi film.

Creager explained that it is a special treat to have folk rock band Roma di Luna playing at the festival, since the band split up and only recently reunited. 

“So that will be a special element,” Creager said. “It’s kind of a luna theme with the poster you see and the movie (“Le Voyage dans la Lune”) and Roma di Luna. It’s just a coincidence, but it came together that way.”  

The festival will show short films produced by local filmmakers inside the barn on the property, while musicians cycle through the main outdoor stage. This year, the featured film is a documentary by filmmaker Mark Brown that tells the story of musician Gaelynn Lea. Lea is a singer, violinist and disability activist from Duluth. She was born with the condition osteogenesis imperfecta, which affects the development of bones and limbs. She uses a wheelchair, and has developed a technique to play violin by holding it in front of her, the way a cello is played.

“Gaelynn is becoming an international artist; she’s recognized nationally for her music,” Creager said. “We’re really excited to premiere a film about her. That’s a cool thing for us because it’s very much our mission to cultivate more short film, and the filmmaker reached out to us and said ‘I’d like to premiere at your event.’ The idea of our mission is to provide (a platform for) short film and animation. You’d never do this with a full movie theater, but since we’re an arts organization, it is the way we’re designed.”

The festival is also a juried contest for filmmakers, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“We have a really strong film selection this year,” Creager said. “It seems to gradually improve every year—more quality submissions, not always just more. But it feels like an up year for Minnesota short film and animation. I think that those films are really important because they’re the films that more economically and racially diverse filmmakers make — their first film. Those first films, if they reach an audience, the chance of (them successfully making) more exponentially increases, especially if we’re supporting work that may not be inherently commercial.” 

Cash prizes are awarded in the categories of animation, comedic shorts, short documentary, experimental film and more. This year’s jury is comprised of 10 experienced filmmakers, many of them local residents. Creager met one of the judges, Stalin K., through his Fulbright educational work in India last summer.

“I was observing trainings of how people with no background in film are introduced to film as a tool for social change,” he explained. “And it really was an impactful experience … It really blew my mind; how do you train somebody to make film who doesn’t have electricity in their house? How does something connected with consistent electrical access become the preferred social change medium in India? The medium of film has really evolved, it’s really changing because we all have smartphones. We’re an arts organization, not a social organization, but these things all blend together.”

The festival includes food vendors, but guests are welcome to bring their own refreshments. Attendees are encouraged to bike to the festival; those who do will receive a 50 percent discount on admission. A group of cyclists will leave from The Hub Bike Co-op in Minneapolis at 10 a.m. and follow the Gateway Trail, which ends just 2 miles from the festival site. 

General admission is $35, and $15 with the biker discount. Children 12 and under may attend for free. Find the festival schedule and tickets at www.squarelakefestival.com.

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