Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Area Voices: Ely welcomes independent films from across the country for film festival

An audience in theater seats watching a screen
Ely Film Festival
Attendees at the 2023 Ely Film Festival watching a film.

Festival Director Jacob White joins 'Area Voices' to discuss the second Ely Film Festival going on Feb. 8-11

ELY — 70 films in four days is a dream for movie lovers.

The second Ely Film Festival is Feb. 8-11. Filmgoers will have a chance to check out documentaries, shorts, thrillers, a western, and even a romantic comedy at Ely’s Historic State Theater.

After attending some film festivals in Duluth and around the country, festival director Jacob White became inspired. “I knew that our audience here in Ely would love to be able to see some of those independent Minnesota films and regional films,” said White.

A man in a green sweater being interviewed by a man with red shirt.
Ely Film Festival
Filmmaker Marius Anderson being interviewed at the 2023 Ely Film Festival.

Film Selections

The Ely Film Festival received about 190 film submissions. Using a platform called FilmFreeway, films came in from not only Minnesota filmmakers, but from all over the country. The challenging work was screening the films and narrowing the selection down to 70, which took months.

“Having conversations among the team and just trying to figure out, you know, what might be a good fit that would be of interest to our audience,” said White.

Filmmakers from about 30 different films will be in attendance at the festival this year. Audiences will have a chance to meet the filmmakers face to face in a question-and-answer session after their films.

Hub of the Wheel

What does it mean to be a festival director at a film festival?

“It's kind of like I'm the hub of a wheel and there's all different moving parts that I kind of keep the plates spinning, so everything from fundraising and building the budget to building out and hiring the team,” White said.

White also coordinates with the theater staff, the Ely Historic State Theater board, and the festival team members who are mostly volunteers. He also oversees the technical side of things like the film submissions in the correct format for the film projectors, and making sure the sponsored ads make it onto the screen.

Two Tracks

With so many films, how to decide? Luckily, the festival team created a two-track system to help the audience choose which film schedule works best for them.

The Filmmakers’ Track is great for someone who is interested in learning about the industry and meeting the creatives behind the films. It gives audience members a chance to learn how movies are made.

The Northern Exposure track is for people wanting to learn about various topics. Films will be about Indigenous stories, nature, science, stories of youth taking on leadership roles, and how artists approach their work.

Festivalgoers don’t necessarily have to follow the tracks. White describes them more as starting points in deciding which films to check out.

Downtown Theater

All the films will be shown at Ely’s Historic State Theater in downtown Ely. The theater closed in 2007, but a group of people gathered in the 2010s to renovate the space to make it a functional movie theater again and a hub for arts in the area. They even built a second screen called the Greenstone Theater, which holds about 50 people. Both screens will be showing films all weekend long.

White said, “I think Ely is an interesting place. It's kind of a crossroads, but it's also right on the edge of the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness... People love the arts here just as much as they love the outdoors and the nature, and we really wanted to kind of capitalize on that opportunity to bring people to town for arts programming.”

Tickets are available for individual movies for $10 each at the Ely Film Festival website.

Tell us about upcoming arts events where you live in Northern Minnesota by emailing

Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

Stay Connected