It was the "best year ever" for the fourth annual Oneota Film Festival (OFF).

OFF Board President Kyrl Henderson said while registration numbers approached 600, an estimated 100-150 attendees participated without registering.

"The venues were all full for the most part, and we had a lot better attendance on Friday and Sunday than we had in the past," said Henderson of the free festival hosted by Luther College Jan. 18-20.

A diverse crowd

Henderson said for him, it was interesting to see who attended what films, which ranged from adventure and health care to wounded veterans and education.

"I have this impression of people. And when someone I know who is 55 and enjoys knitting opts for the skateboarding film, I take notice," he said.

"That kind of thing happened all weekend."

Henderson added he was pleased with the participation in the two panel discussions, following "Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare" and "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements."

"The people who attended both were really engaged," he said, adding such participation helps the Board to fullful its goals.

"Our mission is: 'Through film, discussion and other media to engage a large and diverse audience in the critical issues of our time,' ... As a film festival, we are not proponents of any point of view, but the filmmakers are. What we want to do is start the conversation."

Record submissions

Henderson said the Board was encouraged by the number and types of submissions they received, especially by students.

"We feel the future of the film festival is in younger people," he said.

(For a Q & A with the co-winner of the student film category, see Page B-10.)

This year was the first year OFF offered a micro-film seminar, which was taught by Cade Loven of Decorah and attended by seven local youth.

"It worked out really well, and I was really impressed. Thanks also to Decorah Bank and Trust, Sims TV and Electronics and the Game Exchange for making that aspect of the film festival possible," he said.

Other event sponsors included Oneota Community Food Cooperative, Decorah Newspapers, Wild Rose Timberworks, Cindy Huber of Farm Bureau Financial Services, Donlon Healthmart Pharmacy, The Norse Culinary Team, T-Bocks Sports Bar and Grill and the Hotel Winneshiek.

Media partners include Decorah Newspapers, KDEC FM 100.5, Inspire(d) Media, Radish magazine and KPVL.

Additional support was provided by the Decorah Chamber of Commerce, Decorah Public Library, Driftless Art Collective, R.L. Torresdal Company Inc., Amundson's Clothing, Decorah Bicycles, Decorah Hatchery, Wadsworth Construction and Upper Iowa Organics.

Walter Ordway of Soldier (Ia.) sponsored the member/filmmaker reception, and Featherlite sponsored the filmmakers' visits.

Additional event hosts included Oneota Community Food Coop, T-Bocks Bar and Grill and the Hotel Winneshiek.

"Our total budget, if you take into account the dance, is around $20,000," he said.

Henderson said the dance, featuring Madison funk band Tani Diakite and the Afrofunkstars, sold over 200 tickets.

"We had a great crowd and all the people were digging the music," he said.

Local impact

Henderson said he is pleased to see more out-of-town attendees coming for the festival each year and supporting local businesses.

"About 30 percent of our attendees are from outside the area. They come and purchase lodging. They go out to eat and participate in other entertainment things. I talked to several visitors who had been to museums, shops and galleries downtown."

While Henderson said he is grateful to everyone who helped make the festival possible, he would appreciate if people would take the time to visit and fill out the guest survey.

"This is how we improve it. Getting feedback and assessments of what we're doing. That's really what this is about," he said.

"And raising topics we feel are important, in the broadest possible way. From organic tomatoes to our spiritual and economic lives, how do we continue to live and be in a way that is sustainable on a long-term basis?"

Henderson also thanked the many OFF members who support the film festival each year, allowing for its continued success.

For more information on how to become a member, visit and click "become a member."