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Ely Film Festival a dozen days away

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by Parker Loew

Along with providing entertainment and education to festival goers, the Ely Film Festival provides an integral platform for filmmakers to share their voices.

In a world where most of the media people consume is owned by a few large conglomerates, film festivals are becoming necessary for elevating meaningful stories.

“The majority of the media we consume is owned by Disney or Warner Brothers or one of the big conglomerates,” said Ely Film Festival director Jacob White. “The impact a few small groups of people have on the media is interesting.”

Film festivals can be an antidote to corporate media and elevate the voices of small-time filmmakers who have real messages and stories to share.

“I’m not saying shows on Hulu, Disney, or Netflix are not entertaining, but it’s cool to connect people with stories that go a little deeper sometimes,” said White.

This year’s Ely Film Festival will include 15 feature films, 11 blocks of short films, and a few auxiliary events that celebrate independent filmmakers, many of whom created films with locally relevant themes.

There will be a mix of adventure/nature-themed films, indigenous films, regional films, films about human nature, and some different genre films such as western, thriller, and slasher films.

One of the most highly anticipated films at this year’s film festival is titled “Finding Her Beat.”

The film follows a group of female taiko drummers on their journey to one of the first female taiko drum performances.

For thousands of years, traditional Japanese drums (taiko) were played only by men.

The female drummers from Japan, Canada, and across the United States gathered for an all-female taiko residency in 2020, which culminated in a spectacular performance at the Ordway.

“It is a very joyous film about the best female taiko drummers coming together from Japan, Canada, and North America to learn from each other in a residency and to have a big concert,” said Keri Pickett, Co-Director, Director of Photography, and Editor of the film. “It covers a two-year journey coming to life.”

Pickett is 64 years old and lives in Minneapolis. This is the third feature film she has worked on since beginning filmmaking in 2013 after having been a photojournalist for years.

‘Finding Her Beat’ has been very well received and has been in over 50 film festivals, winning several audience and jury awards.

Pickett met White in Duluth at the Duluth Film Festival while he was in the process of launching the Ely Film Festival.

“He wanted us to screen there last year, but we were already beholden to the Duluth Film Festival, and we didn’t want the two to compete with one another,” said Pickett.

This year, the team involved with making “Finding Her Beat” is happy to be a part of the Ely Film Festival.

“Film festivals are so important because films are incredibly hard to make,” she said. “They’re very costly, and it takes just a tremendous amount of energy. Film festivals allow filmmakers a chance to reach an audience of film lovers and people interested in expanding their mind.”

Film festivals such as the Ely Film Festival allow films such as “Finding Her Beat” to be played for an audience who otherwise wouldn’t have seen or known of the indie film.

“It’s critical indie films are brought to communities that don’t get to them often,” said Pickett. “These are often films that don’t get distribution or that only get to play in film festivals.”

A big role of film festivals is to allow the film and filmmaker to become discovered, perhaps leading to distribution deals.

The ultimate goal for people who submit their films to film festivals is to get a distribution deal, but it’s not everything.

“It gives you a chance to see where people laugh and where people cry,” she said. “In the case of ‘Finding Her Beat,’ we were shocked to find a lot of times at many of our screenings, people applaud throughout the film.”

At many of her screenings at film festivals, Pickett is present and loves interacting and speaking with the audience.

Pickett will be in attendance at the Ely Film Festivals screening of “Finding Her Beat,” and will be available to meet and talk with you after the screening.

Pickett says because of how well her film has done at film festivals and how many people the film has reached, she feels as if she has been a part of helping to make history and bring about change.

“The professional taiko drumming company, Kodo, has now embraced women and is putting women center stage,” she said. “I think we really have been part of a seismic shift in this art form and now that that shift has occurred, we really can’t go back. It’s like history has been made.”

“Finding Her Beat” will screen on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m.

Tickets for this and other individual screenings are available on the Ely Film Festival Website starting at $10.

Festival passes are also available for $95 and will include pass holders breakfasts, after parties, panels, and workshops, and a discount on t-shirts.

Please visit the Ely Film Festival website for the entire list of screenings happening from Feb. 8 to Feb. 11.

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