The Highway 61 Film Festival is an all-volunteer celebration of the magic of movies that was established in 2011 as a means of supporting and promoting independent films and filmmakers from all along Highway 61 and beyond.

The Highway 61 Film Festival is held in Pine City, Minnesota, an area known for its emerging arts and culture scene.

Interested in becoming a film judge or volunteer, or just want to find out more? Contact us at: highway61filmfestival@gmail.com

Partnering with ECM Pride for Sept. 18 festival

The Highway 61 Film Festival, Pine Center for the Arts and East Central Minnesota Pride are excited to join as partners in bringing you a special night of great short Minnesota-made LGBTQ+ documentaries on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 18. After a full day of Pride activities in Robinson Park, come join us at Pine Center for the Arts to continue learning and sharing.

What do the Stonewall Riots Mean to LGBTQ+ communities?
On June 28, 1969, police raided the popular LGBTQ bar the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Fifty years later, Minnesotans reflect on the impact of the Stonewall Riots on their lives and in their community at Mia’s 2019 Pride event.
Producers: Emily Taplin & Diana Fraser

Covid Confessions: Drag Performers
Drag performers describe their experiences living through and working in the pandemic while finding new ways to share their art with the community.
Director: Alec Fischer

Tretter Risked It All
Vietnam-era veteran, LGBTQ+ activist and archivist Jean-Nickolaus Tretter spent decades preserving the history of the LGBTQ+ community before donating his entire collection to the University of Minnesota.
Producers: Emily Taplin & Diana Fraser

Patient No More
Patient No More is a feature documentary about the barriers LGBTQ+ women navigate across health care systems and how the never-ending hunt for affirming care affects their lives.
Director/Producer: Diana Fraser

The show starts at 7 p.m. at Pine Center for the Arts (265 5th Street SE, Pine City MN 55063). Admission is free. For more information please email highway61filmfestival.org.

And after the films, keep the evening going at just down the street at Froggy’s Bar & Grill as they host Pine City’s first ever drag show starting at 9 p.m.!


Thank you, Al Milgrom

We’ve lost a friend, a mentor, a guide and a hero. Al Milgrom, who was born here in Pine City, has passed away from a stroke at the age of 98 after a long and remarkable career of making and supporting independent films – including founding the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. He was more energetic as a 90 year old than most teenagers, and we were honored to welcome him to the Highway 61 Film Festival several times and to screen his films here. He was relentlessly productive and creative, and he is and will always remain an inspiration. Thank you, Al. We love you and miss you already.

2020 Highway 61 Film Festival cancelled

Dear friends and fellow filmmakers,

It is with heavy hearts that we must announce that the 2020 Highway 61 Film Festival, previously scheduled for April 3-4, has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are strange times, and none of us living through this experience will ever forget it.  We wish all of you safety and health for you and your loved ones in the weeks and months ahead.

While the film festival is cancelled, we do want to recognize those films and filmmakers who were named winners and official selections for the festival – and note that winners in each category will still receive their $100 cash prizes ($50 for Student Short winner). It’s not much, but we hope that it will help with future creative projects.

Thank you all again.

The Highway 61 Film Festival Committee


 • THE STRENGTH WITHIN at Pine Center for the Arts 

MANUEL • Director: Javier Robles Álvarez • Student Short (WINNER) • Spain • Manuel lives far from his family, immersed in a routine from which he can´t escape.

MY PLANET • Director: Valéry Carnoy • Drama (WINNER) • Belgium • Henri, a baker in his fifties, suffers from his failed love with his wife Marieke. One morning after a quarrel with his wife, he meets Anita, a young contemporary photographer who likes the big shape of his body.

STRONGER THAN STEEL • Director: Jacob Pincus • Student Short • USA • Three days after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, thousands of people in Pittsburgh came together to protest the hate and violence in the country. “Stronger than Steel” explores that even after tragedy, there is hope in this divided nation.

AMY • Director: Srija Jami • Student Short • USA • As a young athlete, Amy suffered a serious injury, which led to opioid addiction and then to heroin. Now she is rebuilding her life.

THE QUIET • Director: Radheya Jegatheva • Animation (WINNER) • Australia • When an astronaut ponders on the quietude of space, he comes upon a startling self-realization. The truth is written in the stars, but what will he uncover?

BATASE • Director: Oliver Marsden • Student Short • Australia/Nepal • 44 kilometers outside the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu lies Batase village. This is their story.

TAKE 2 • Director: Angad Bawa • Drama • India • Haunted by his past, Ishranth, a disgruntled filmmaker is living a secluded life. Natasha, his granddaughter, spends a weekend with him; not having met for years. Can her growing awareness help liberate Ishranth from his desolation and mend broken ties?

WOMEN AT THE WHEEL • Directors: Pat Benincasa and John Mark Hostetler • Documentary • USA • Artist Pat Benincasa tells the story of thirteen women who defied spirit-crushing social norms to invent, race and design their way in to automotive history.

HOME – JOSELYN’S STORY • Directors: Susana Torres, Griselda Martinez, Isabel Lozano, Leonie Sarath and Nattaly Gomez • Student Short • Oakland, CA • Joselyn, who was brought to the United States from Honduras by her mother when she was 9 years old reflects on the decision her mother made for her.

LIBERTAI • Director: Bill Szilagyi • Documentary (WINNER) • Brazil/South Africa • Artist Crawford Mandumbwa of Botswana speaks openly about African politics, society, art and culture, and still addresses the question of why Africa remains in big social problems.



SEASONS BY THE RIVER • Director: Christopher Lange • Made in Minnesota • A homeless couple lives on the shores of the Mississippi River during Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter in Saint Paul, Minnesota, amidst the life and death of nature around them.

HAPPILY MARRIED AFTER • Director: Alison Guessou • Made in Minnesota • When sharing her tips for a happy marriage, a young wife must come to realize that marriages are never perfect, or else she stands the risk of losing it all.

CODE GREEN • Director: Cynthia M. Uhrich • Made in Minnesota • Shelby is a teenager with a terrible secret; one that is damaging her health. After collapsing at home–she can no longer hide—and is forced to do battle with her own monster.

IN THEIR NATURE • Director: Vanessa M.H. Powers • Made in Minnesota • Violet struggles to reconcile with her husband’s infidelity, despite her sister’s insistent meddling, over a weekend at the family cabin.

SNACK TABLE • Director: Rachel Weber • Made in Minnesota • Anna can’t wait to escape the office party from hell, but an unexpected invite leads to a fantastical escape from the mundane. Is it real? Does it matter? And where the heck is Larry?

OH MY STARS • Director: Cynthia M. Uhrich • Made in Minnesota (WINNER) • In the days of the Great Depression, a disfiguring factory accident and a miserable home life compel Violet Mathers to leave Kentucky for San Francisco. Screenplay by renowned author Lorna Landvik, based on her novel of the same name.

WRECKED • Director: Mathieu Mortelmans • Drama • Belgium • Amane is a lawyer. At a federal prison she questions Nina, who just started serving time. Each of them struggles with her own conscience and their meeting quickly takes an unexpected turn.

AURORAS IN THE NORTHLAND • Director: Matthew E. Moses • Made in Minnesota • A short time lapse collection of aurora displays shot in northern areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

THIS WILD LAND • Director: Brendan Harris • Made in Minnesota • The film focuses on efforts to protect the Boundary Waters and the people who help spread appreciation for the land and carry on, in their own individual ways, the legacy of Sigurd Olson, a writer and conservationist who was responsible for the area’s National Forest designation in 1978.

 • FEARFULLY FUNNY (LATE NIGHT) at Three Twenty Brewing Co.

THE DEAD ARE HOME • Director: Kirk Eckstine • Made in Minnesota • A “paranormal” investigator finds more than he bargained for when he searches a real haunted house.

KILLER HIKE 7 • Directors: Justin + Kristin Schaack • Made in Minnesota • “Teenagers” go hiking the day before their high school graduation…murder ensues.

DETOURS • Director: Christopher Yates • Drama • Belgium • Simon must bring his baby back to his ex-wife who has threatened to withdraw custody if he’s late again. In the rush, he smashes the side mirror of a parked car. He decides to flee. As the baby drifts off to sleep in the morning traffic, Simon realizes he’s being followed.

LOST TREASURE OF THE VALLEY • Director: Robert Husted • Action/Horror (WINNER) • Studio City, CA • A young photographer and an adventurer discover that all of the abandoned shopping carts in LA’s San Fernando Valley lead to a hidden cave off of Sepulveda Blvd. with a lost treasure inside – guarded by a dragon!

HEAR HEAR • Director: Emmet O Brien • Action/Horror • Ireland • A one shot horror film about finding your voice.

THROATS WILL BE CUT • Director: Joshua Thomas • Action/Horror • USA • Mother is angry.

THE SCREENWRITER • Director: François Paquay • Comedy (WINNER) • Belgium • In order to sell his script, Jonas accepts a deal to rework the screenplay with … some help. [Dear Francois – Please contact us at highway61filmfestival@gmail.com about your award!]

SIDEPIECE • Director: Teddy Tenenbaum • Comedy • Sherman Oaks, CA • Nothing is what appears to be in this short romantic-comedy about two people who find each other on a very special dating app. You just can’t trust what you read anymore.

EERIE • Director: Dipjoy Routh • Student Short • The story of a couple whose life was going well, but after one night that love life became dangerous and scary.

FAIRY TAIL • Directors: Justin + Kristin Schaack • Made in Minnesota • A hopeless romantic discovers an unlikely intruder and finds love at first fight.

Here we go for 2020!

We are very excited to be opening for submissions for the 2020 Highway 61 Film Festival!

Cash prizes are awarded to the first place winners in each category.
Action/Horror Short OR Feature: $100
Animation Short OR Feature: $100
Comedy Short OR Feature: $100
Drama Short OR Feature: $100
Documentary Short OR Feature: $100
Student Short (Age 18 and under only!): $50
“Made in Minnesota” (Short/Feature films shot in MInnesota): $100

Submissions for Student Short films are free, and “Made in Minnesota” films are $1 before our regular deadline. Find out more and submit your film at https://filmfreeway.com/Highway61FilmFestival

The 2020 Highway 61 Film Festival will be April 3-5, 2020.



“Open” by “Caveman Chuck” Coker is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

THANK YOU! From the Highway 61 Film Festival

We just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who made the 2019 Highway 61 Film Festival possible! All the amazing filmmakers who submitted and joined us for shows, all our sponsors, advertisers, judges and committee members … THANK YOU AGAIN! None of this would have happened without you!

Film Schedule – 2019 Highway 61 Film Festival


Enemies and Friends

Breaking the Silence • Director: Maddie Sweetin • Student • Arkansas • 9 min • A very young woman is forced to make an unthinkable choice.


My Dad was Contacted  by Aliens • Director: Niklaus Lange • Documentary • USA • 9 min • What happens when your hero believes in something you can’t? This true story explores how a distant dad’s encounter with aliens in 1986 tested a son’s patience and a father’s patriarchy.


By a Hair • Directors: Lauriane Escaffre and Yvonnick Muller • Comedy Short • France • 21 min • In three days, Elodie is taking an exam to get a beauty diploma. Her father, a butcher, would like more help from his daughter in his shop. But at the moment, Elodie is dealing with an other issue – she has to find a hairy model to pass her test. 


Hounds • Directors: Ido Shapira and Amit Cohen • Animation • 6 min • Israel • The life of a dog, trained to act as human, changes when a pack of hounds gathers around his house.


Widdershins • Director: Ben Reingold • Student • USA • 10 min • A college student experiments with a pill that shows him alternative futures. 


My Best Friend • Director: Myriam Ballesteros • Animation • Spain • 4 min • Carola, a gifted but awkward teen, decides to build a robot friend. But an accident means she ends up with Annie, a sparky and affectionate android who makes sure Carola has the craziest and most fun-filled birthday of her life.


Battledream Chronicles • Director: Alain Bided • Animation • France • 24 min • Syanna, a young Caribbean girl, wakes up amnesic in a world where she has been enslaved by a global colonial empire.

 The Spirit Seam • Director: Ashley Gerst • Animation • USA • 15 min • Pollywog and her Pap-Paw make the most of life in an Appalachain coal-mining town in the 1950s.

The Black Basilisk • Director: Edward Loupe • Action/Horror • USA • 10 min • A woman, trying to get away with murder, receives help from the creature who lives in the drain under her bathroom sink.  


Tea Party • Director: Kevin Isaacson • Action/Horror • Iowa • 8 min • A Southern belle plays hostess to the very classmates who tortured her in high school. 


Tapferkeit • Director: Joseph Quinn • Drama Short • USA • 19 min • During the WWII North African campaign, a German sniper of the AfrikaKorps and a U.S. Combat engineer find themselves the sole survivors of a battle. They must reluctantly join forces to escape a marauding band of desert nomads and the unforgiving desolation of the Sahara desert.


Arthur Rambo • Director: Guillaume Levil • Drama Short • France • 18 min • Alain is a little boy from the Reunion Island born on the wrong side of the tracks. To earn a few pennies, he recites Arthur Rimbaud’s poems to drivers stuck at the red light. One day, Alain is invited to Guillaume’s birthday who lives uptown.   



From Home to the Stars

The Lake Mystery (trailer) • Director: John Birrenbach • Not for competition • Pine City • 3 min • A man seeks to understand strange happenings on the local lake. 


Epiphany • Director: Artie Terry • Not for competition • Pine City • 4 min • Sometimes a man just thinks too much.


The Backward Astronomer • Director: Jake Nelson • First Place – Animation • United Kingdom • 10 min • A privileged, young man falls in love with a wealthy woman and together they lead reckless lives of opulence in New York City. That is, until he finds something better—a doorway leading directly to the surface of the moon.


The Big Shot • Director: Miklós Borsos • First Place – Drama Short • Hungary • 27 min • A has-been movie star is unable to convincingly perform his own drowning in the movie’s key scene. Time is running out when in the heat of a debate the director, as if struck by lightning, comes up with an outlandish idea.


Almost Home • Director: Emmet O’Brien • Drama Short • Ireland • 9 min • A family is haunted by the last words of a wayward daughter. 


Emily • Director: Dave Heinzel • Drama Short • USA • 15 min • After the unexpected death of her mother, a young woman struggles to cope with grief and guilt. 


The Grind Message • Director: Niels Christian Askholm • First Place – Documentary • Denmark • 21 min • Pilot whale hunting has been a practiced tradition for at least half a millennium in the Faroe Islands. However the long-lasting tradition is subject to criticism from all over the world. This documentary follows the arguments of six locals on the matter.


The Art of Getting Lost • Directors: Luca Schilirò & Fabrizio Casorzo • Student • Italy • 11 min • An artist struggles to produce his last work in a difficult family situation.


Lullaby for a Mother and Child • Director: Emma Lorie • Animation • Australia • 8 min • “There was once a mother and a child who lived far away…”  And so begins the story of a rhino and her calf. 


Sand and Flower • Director: Jiaqi Wang • Animation • United Kingdom • 4 min • An interpretation of the  poem “A Grain of Sand” by William Blake.  


Zoe • Director: Marta Krunić • First Place – Student Short • Croatia • 12 min • Somewhere between dreams and reality, in a dimension unknown to man, a dimension on the verge of shadows, a girl enters Martin’s life.


Caronte  • Director: Luis Tinoco Pineda • First Place – Action/Horror • Spain • 15 min • After a car accident, Debbie starts to regret the way she underappreciates her family. Unexpectedly, Debbie’s story connects with Arsys’s, a space fighter pilot who tries to survive a huge space battle which takes place in another universe.



Magic in Minnesota

Behind the Loon • Director: Daniel Claxton • Documentary • Minnesota • 21 min • Go deeper with Minnesota United in this documentary that takes you behind the scenes of the club and Twin Cities’ growing soccer culture.


Drowning • Director: Joseph Dutra • Made in MN • 2 min • A personal story about a traumatic experience.


Just Coffee • Director: Matthew Dressel • Made in MN • 12 min • A diner descends into chaos when an elderly patron takes advantage of their Free Refill policy. 


Our Transition • Director: Connor O’Keefe • Made in MN • 9 min • The filmmaker explores his transition to male and coming out at 13 years old by reliving the experience through the perspective of his parents. 


relativ(ity) • Director: Josh Mruz • Made in MN • 7 min • A young woman seeks the keys to her future by building a machine to take her into her past. 


Rag Dolls  • Director: Justin + Kristin Shaack • First Place – Made in MN • 4 min • Playtime turns into uncontrolled shenanigans when a child discovers rag dolls in an antique chest. Her imagination runs wild, but for the dolls’ real-life doppelgängers, self-control is out of their hands.


We Are Kickball • Directors: Joshua Zapata-Palmer, Joshua Cisewski • Comedy Short • Pine City • 9 min • Two opposing church members challenge each other to an absurd kickball game to recruit an outsider to their side of the pews.


Shift • Director: Brent S. Duncan • Made in MN • 11 min • A man is in a race against time to stop the government from taking what he has made and destroying what he has loved.


Sink • Director: Isaac Stacey • Student • Minnesota • 1 min • Isaac is perpetually tormented by his self doubts and sometimes feels as if he is drowning in his lack of self-worth… 

Can’t Go Home • Director: Jesse Rubbelke • 18 min • Made in MN • Pine City • Two men, both victims of circumstance, are pushed to their breaking point. Desperate for change, both refuse to surrender what they love to a world that keeps on taking.


Jay’s Longhorn • Director: Mark Engebretson • Made in MN • 93 min • The story of Minneapolis’ seminal punk rock music club. Opened on June 1, 1977 — three years before the 7th St. Entry — the Longhorn was the only place to see punk rock in Minneapolis.



Laugh to Death

Zed • Director: Justin Carter • Action/Horror • United Kingdom • 3 min • A poetic homage to the 1970s survivalist horror genre.


How it Feels to be Hungover • Director: Viktor Hertz • Comedy Short • Sweden • 10 min • A man wakes up at a clinic specialized in malignant hangovers. The doctor prescribes 600 ml of ice cream and two action comedies, but also shares some news, which doesn’t make him feel any better…


Doppelganger • Director: Kirk Eckstine • Made in MN • 5 min • A home invasion takes a terrifying new twist, or a very old one…


Mi-Fi • Director: David Mair • Made in MN • 2 min • A very lazy man invents teleportation. 


Zipperman • Director: Edward Linder • Made in MN • 2 min • A leading man is dealing with the price of fame in a private situation.


Rest Area • Director: Sean A. Skinner • Not for competition • Minnesota • 21 min • Based on a short story by Stephen King, a writer finds that her pen name can become her alter-ego. 


Night of the Fluffet • Director: Raymond Wallace • Action/Horror • USA • 8 min • A cautionary tale about the dangers of bringing a wild Fluffet into your home.


Seafood Diet • Director: Max Levine • Comedy Short • Baltimore • 10 min • A movie about a bad joke.


Snoop! • Director: Kevin Saxby • Comedy Short • Canada • 13 min • In the shadows of a derelict jazz club, a private investigator named Steve meets with the adulterous man he’s been following for the past month.


Sac de Merde • Director: Greg Chwerchak • First Place – Comedy Short • New York • 13 min • A unlucky-in-love yet irrationally optimistic New Yorker thinks she has found the man of her dreams. But he has baggage. 


Skin: The Movie • Director: Ronn Kilby • First Place – Comedy Feature • Los Angeles • 50 min • After a socially awkward Midwestern woman inherits a movie studio her dead father and a band of misfits help her learn valuable life lessons.



The Lightest Darkness  • Director: Diana Galimzyanova • First Place – Drama Feature • Russian Federation • 87 min • A neurotic private eye struggling to finish a case takes a train voyage – and his own dark secrets begin to reveal themselves.



Finding a Better Way

Things Were Better Before • Director: Lu Pulici • Animation • Italy • 6 min • A seafaring voyage into the deepest oceans. 


Waterway Jay • Director: Brenda Piekarski • Made in MN• 7 min • In 2017, Jay Gustafson launched Paddle for Progress, a two-year, 4,300-mile personal journey to draw attention to water issues.


The Wolf House • Director: Nicholas Clausen • Made in MN • 9 min • A whimsical ‘hobbit house’ goes up for sale. Who will buy it? This documentary short travels from Minneapolis to Palm Springs to meet the artist who created the Wolf House.


Riplist • Director: Mike Scholtz • Documentary • Minnesota • 67 min • A group of friends get together once a year for their celebrity deadpool draft day. But while playing the game of death, they also learn the value of life.


The Arrowhead Traverse • Director: Kristopher and Ruth Lencowski • Documentary • Minnesota • 23 min • Maura and Bobby Marko attempted a bold traverse of the Arrowhead of Minnesota by bicycle, canoe, and foot; all with their 3-year-old son and 9-month-old daughter along for the adventure.  


Gravity, Our Frenemy • Director: John Akre • Made in MN • 4 min • This is an educational lecture on the benefits and misfortunes caused to us all by the force of gravity.


Delucas • Director: Scarlett Gooch • Student • Arkansas • 10 min • The best pizza in Hot Springs is made by the city’s most interesting transplant.   


How Much I Love You • Director: Ashley Kramer • Student • USA • 5 min • A short profile documentary chronicling Diane Ostrega, a single mother, domestic abuse survivor, and Polish immigrant, as told by her daughter, Monica.