Tom Steward

Tom Steward is the bureau chief of Watchdog.org's Minnesota Bureau, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is an investigative reporter focused on waste, fraud and abuse in government and has previously worked for WCCO-TV (CBS) and KSTP-TV (ABC) in the Twin Cities. Follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter.

Banned in Winona: The Sequel

Posted by: Tom Steward Updated: January 25, 2014 - 2:17 PM

Sunday January 26 at 10 am was supposed to be the screening time for “FrackNation” until the film became the first cancellation ever by the Frozen River Film Festival. 

But don’t worry about the event running out of excuses for banning the feature documentary at the last minute from the silver screen in Winona. 

A newly released email chain of the conversation between the festival staff and the film’s directors adds to the evolving excuse list of explanations being tallied by Watchdog Minnesota Bureau.  Readers have plenty of choices, unlike the residents of Winona when it comes to documentary films this week depicting both sides of an issue of critical local importance—hydraulic fracturing.

The emails released by the directors to one of “FrackNation’s” fiercest critics, blogger Steven Horn, appear to debunk the Winona festival’s claim that the screening was contingent on participation in a panel post-showing. 

There may well be other emails out there that shed more light on the controversy, but these establish the order of events that led to FRFF pulling the plug on the documentary.  If FRFF has other emails to add to the record, the organizers, who have not responded to our inquiries to date, know where to find us. 

“The emails clearly show the film festivals claim to be bogus,” said Phelim McAleer today. “They moved the screening to a different time because no film maker was present. They were happy with it. Then they gave into pressure.”

Here’s a review of the reasons publicly stated for the clumsy cancellation/censorship of the documentary by an event in jeopardy of being rebranded the Not Ready for Prime Time Film Festival.  (The .com domain remains available at last check.) 

1/ Questions about financing (see fundraising campaign for the film on Kickstarter.)

2/ FRFF’s sister festival in Telluride somehow figured into the decision (denied by Mountainfilm in a       Washington Times story.)

3/ ”A bad film” (see New York Times, Variety, Associated Press and other reviews.)

4/ Alleged “bullying and harassment of women” (see Horn's blog post.)

5/ No speaker provided for Q & A session (see 1/7/14 FRFF email.)

6/ $10,000 for Q & A session (no mention in email chain).

7/ Hollywood directors stirring up publicity for film (gasp!)

True, in a December 19, 2013 email festival director Crystal Hegge asked whether one of the film’s co-directors would be able to participate in a panel following a 1 p.m. Sunday showing that was “about 90% confirmed.”   

A December 20, 2013 reply from co-director Magdalena Segieda informed Hegge that “unfortunately, no one from the FrackNation team would be able to come. Let me know when you set the the (sic) time.  I will wait for your laurel to start promoting the screening.”

Hegge went ahead and booked the film without mention of the Q & A in a January 7, 2014 email moving “FrackNation” to a less desirable time.  “The screening will be at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, January 26. Has the exhibition files been sent yet? Also, please fill out the attached form for our files.”

Fast forward to January 17 when Hegge brought the curtain down.  “I am writing to inform you that we will not be showing FRACKNATION during our 2014 festival. Due to the high quantity of films at the festival we have decided not to show this feature film without a filmmaker attendant.”

Despite the "high quantity of films" the documentary was replaced with a panel discussion.  Segieda’s email appeal went nowhere.  “But we have already published and promoted the screening with time and address to thousands of our fans on our social media...”

Hegge left the door open, however.  “Thank you for your submission and please consider us in the future.”

Here’s hoping they do.  After all, their company is Hard Boiled Films.

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