Nestled in Iowa along the Mississippi River, not far from both Illinois and Wisconsin, exists a festival celebrating independent film and filmmakers that has already been named one of the Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World by MovieMaker Magazine. It’s the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival, now entering its seventh year, taking place Apr. 26-29 in downtown Dubuque.
According to the festival’s executive director Susan Gorrell, that praise is matched by those who attend the festivities. “The best compliments we can get are what filmmakers say about us and the relationships we have with them,” she notes. “I truly believe JDIFF is the festival for the independent. A boutique, unique festival that brings back the importance of independent; the big big and the little guy. It’s about the art and what each individual filmmaker brings to it. When you come, you have such a great time, you might even want to move to Dubuque.”
Gorrell would know; her home is three hours from the city and when she first started with the fest in its first year, she would commute into town and stay with friends. Now she and her husband own a home in the city. “I believe in JDIFF and Dubuque that much that I’ve now invested in the community,” she says. “It has a way of getting a hold of you and wanting you to stay.”
As for what sets JDIFF apart from the hundreds of celebrations around the world, Gorrell cites not only the location and community, but the respect shown to everyone. “I’m a firm believer in communication from the minute a submission comes in, all the way through to the actual event,” she says. “I try to answer all emails and be available for any questions and/or conversation. No matter how what the budget or how big or little your name is, you are special at JDIFF.”
Some of the events at this year’s fest include a screening of Laurel and Hardy films with an original, live score performed by the band Ceili Rain and a ’70s Block Party that will include “beer gardens, games and great music.” There are also panels, coffee talks, and premieres, including “Supercon” starring Maggie Grace and John Malkovich. There’s an awards ceremony on Saturday night, in which over $30,000 in prizes will be handed out, and a closing party on Sunday, when the audience choice award is announced.
Gorrell adds that getting around is a breeze; almost all events take place within walking distance and there’s a free shuttle service that includes pickup from the three surrounding airports. And finally, it’s cheap. “It’s Iowa hospitality and prices,” she notes. “Beer and food is cheap here.”
These sentiments are echoed by Tyler Daugherty, the director of sports and events at Travel Dubuque, who also serves on the fest’s board of directors. “We have a great location on Main Street, you can walk to everything,” he notes. “It’s a great setting and a great background, and we’ve been fortunate with good weather. People think Iowa is flat cornfields but we’re right along the Mississippi River and we have beautiful bluffs. And the festival does a great job showcasing the area.”
That area includes two museums that are Smithsonian-affiliated, a river walk that was voted one of the top in the country by USA Today, and, if you’re willing to take a drive, the actual baseball field from the movie “Field of Dreams,” located less than an hour away. “It’s a unique opportunity to see parts of the Midwest the beauty we have to offer,” says Daughterty.