Waterway Jay

Jay Gustafson aims to show how interconnected we are with our water systems by launching a 4,3000-mile paddling journey through Minnesota Waterways. The film “Waterway Jay” by Brenda Piekarski tells his story, and will be shown at the upcoming Downstream Environmental Film Festival in Northfield. (Photo courtesy of Downstream Environmental Film Festival)

Cannon River Watershed Partnership’s Downstream Environmental Film Festival is a reminder of a crucial resource that’s easy to overlook, yet vital to life itself: water.

The third annual film festival features two evenings of films and discussions, all with a focus on water and river issues, organized by the CRWP. On Friday, Feb. 22, the festival opens with the Downstream Environmental Films event at the Grant Events Center in Northfield. About a dozen short films will highlight how water shapes our lives, both in Minnesota and around the world — including Heriberto Rosas Jimenez’s “Cannon River Clean Up,” filmed in Northfield.

The second, the Upstream Dinner and Films event, will take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27 at Imminent Brewing in Northfield. The event was originally scheduled a week earlier, but was rescheduled due to a winter storm in the forecast.

After a catered dinner by Just-Food Co-op, attendees will watch several short films, followed by a panel discussion by a few of the filmmakers.

Through these films, Kevin Strauss, community engagement coordinator of the CRWP, hopes to remind viewers that water is something to be protected, not taken for granted. While some of the films take a documentary-type approach, others seek to tell a story, bringing worldwide issues close to home through picture and sound.

“Film gives us a chance to see places that we’re never going to go,” said Strauss. “Film is a lot more immediate for us. You can see and hear what’s happening in a place. It feels like you’re there.”

At the Upstream event, visitors will have the opportunity to view the short film “Waterway Jay” and hear from its subject, Jay Gustafson. In 2017, Gustafson embarked on “Paddle for Progress,” an over 4,000-mile journey to paddle all 34 of Minnesota’s State Water Trails to raise awareness of water issues.

Almost half of Minnesota’s water is considered “impaired,” said Gustafson, meaning it’s unsuitable for recreation and/or aquatic life. Water is central to the state’s identity, he said, and he advocates for each Minnesotan to take individual and collective action to improve water quality. People expect clean water to come out of their faucet every day, and Gustafson noted that as water contamination continues, it becomes more expensive to treat.

“This is not an outdoors issue; this is not a recreation issue; this is not an environmentalists’ issue. This is an everybody issue,” he said.

At the Upstream event, Gustafson will share ways that Northfielders can get involved in protecting waterways.

“The reason that it connects everybody is because nobody is immune from the impact that water has on our life,” he said.

This year’s Downstream festival is the first to feature two events. In 2018, when Imminent Brewing hosted the one-night film showing, over 200 people showed up. This year, organizers knew they needed the extra capacity that the Grand Events Center offered, but kept the Imminent event as a “sampler.”

If interest continues to grow, Strauss hinted that the CRWP may even take it on the road in future years.

“We’re hoping that communities even beyond Northfield will have a chance to see this festival.”

The festival also serves as a kickoff to the city of Northfield’s ”Year of Water,” a 12-month series of water-related activities, workshops and events. The yearlong celebration centers around the “We Are Water” exhibit, which travels the state to educate Minnesotans on local water-related issues. The exhibit will come to Northfield for the months of June and July, housed in Carleton’s Weitz Center for Creativity.

“We’re hoping people think a little more about the water around them, and what we can do individually or as groups to keep our water clean and safe,” said Strauss.

Reach Reporter Anne Kopas at 507-645-1117. Follow her on Twitter @NFNanne.

Reporter and Editorial Assistant at Northfield News

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