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By Rosemary McCoy
Film lovers in the Okoboji area had been traveling the 80 miles west to Sioux Falls to see the independent movies offered by Cinema Falls, but they wanted more.
They asked the organization’s founder, Julie Anderson Friesen, if she could bring independent movies to them and help build a film community there, and she found a way to make it happen.
On the first Thursday of the month, film lovers in northwest Iowa can watch a hard-to-find movie on the big screen at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji as part of Cinema at the Lakes.
“It’s really great to bring and share the films and to see the films grow communities” of people who share a similar interest, said Anderson Friesen, who started Cinema Falls in 2012. She owns Anderson Friesen Creative, and she and her husband, Curt, own Dakota Video & Post Productions.
Cinema at the Lakes is a collaboration between Cinema Falls and the art center. It kicked off June 1 with “Fanny’s Journey,” based on a true story from World War II. Tonight’s film is “The Fencer,” which Cinema Falls goers saw a year ago as part of an exclusive screening. The film now is coming to cities such as New York and Los Angeles – and Okoboji because of the film series.
The August film will be “Score,” a documentary about the music behind the movies. “Score” will be part of the next season for Cinema Falls, too, Anderson Friesen said. She’ll be able to do the same amount of work to secure a film and then share it at both locations. That won’t work for all of the films, however, because PLAC doesn’t have the same digital capability as venues in Sioux Falls.
“In a perfect world, I would help them be successful so that they could invest in that,” she said. “We hope to create something of enough value to them.”
The center had been putting on film nights, but the movies were already available to the public. Cinema at the Lakes will give audiences a chance to see independent films that aren’t widely available.
“It’s a beautiful theater to see a film,” Anderson Friesen said. The size is similar to the Belbas Theater in the Washington Pavilion, and there’s a space where she’d like to host receptions after the films. Most of the Cinema Falls films are shown at the West Mall 7 Theatres.
With less than a week to promote the first film in June and starting from “ground zero,” organizers were pleased with the turnout, which was the biggest crowd for a film event at PLAC and about half the size of the first Cinema Falls screening, Anderson Friesen said.
While the year-round population of the Iowa Great Lakes region is in the thousands, the community swells to 100,000 people during the summer. Some of those lake residents and visitors are from Sioux Falls, which is 80 miles away, and there are a handful of businesses here that operate there, too, such as Bracco and Parks Marina.
“It’s a really fantastic arts community,” Anderson Friesen said. Okoboji Summer Theatre is marking its 60th season this year, PLAC is in its 52nd year, and the community is dotted with art galleries.
The initial season of Cinema at the Lakes will run through the year but the hope is that it will continue.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated since it was first published to correct that Julie Anderson Friesen is the sole founder of Cinema Falls.
When Cinema Falls patrons from the Okoboji area asked founder Julie Anderson Friesen about bringing independent movies to them, she found a way to make it happen.