Winona, Minn., can call itself home to many things — gorgeous views, amazing donuts, and a robust arts scene — no matter the time of year. And for one week in February, documentary films take center stage in Winona for the Frozen River Film Festival. Since its inception in 2006, the Frozen River Film Festival has aimed to connect viewers with people “at the heart of current events, organizations at the forefront of social change, and distinct cultures in an increasingly global community.”

This year’s festival presented a unique opportunity for Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Through its Arts Co-Curricular program, the university’s undergraduate Winona Campus hosted a screening of one of the festival’s documentaries, “Space, Hope and Charity,” in Page Theatre.

“This film signified how essential building a community is for student success, and it was even more powerful to see it on the big screen in Page Theatre on a college campus,” Lynette Johnson, senior director of arts and event services, shared. The documentary tells the story of Charity Woodrum, a young woman from rural Oregon whose dream of becoming an astrophysicist is nearly upended after the tragic loss of her husband and young son.

Diana Jenkins, the film’s editor, spent the week in Winona attending Q&A Panels as part of the film’s screenings during the Frozen River Film Festival. She has participated in several festivals holding screenings of “Space, Hope and Charity” along with the film’s director, Sandra Cummings, and Charity Woodrum, whom the film is about. Jenkins began her career doing daily news in San Francisco, Calif., and now resides in Los Angeles. She worked for Dateline and various news magazines before finally moving into documentaries, and has won a Peabody award for her work on “Surviving R. Kelly” on Lifetime.

If you ask Diana how she would describe her work on this particular film, she would say it was a “labor of love.” She was struck by who Charity was as a person and the challenges she’s overcome in her life. Seeing Charity’s story resonate with people who have seen the film has been an honor for Diana to witness. The most burning question audience members have after seeing the film centers around grief. “Whether it’s a parent or a child,” Jenkins says, “invariably, people in the audience have had a loss that they are quite taken by. That’s the most common question: how do you get through it?”

“I think the film is important in so many ways. It’s important for students to see how they can persevere. It shows young people who have had no help in their background, no family that will push them through or give them money or guidance that they can still do it. They can do it on their own with some help. Charity found tremendous support from friends, her instructor, Dr. Fisher, and even some strangers who came out and wanted to help.”

While in Winona, Jenkins took drives along the Mississippi River between screenings, enjoying the unseasonably warm winter weather and exploring the lookout on Garvin Heights. She also spoke about her work as a film editor with Saint Mary’s students and how they can use their knowledge, education, and life experiences to impact the world around them. 

“Getting a professional of Diana’s caliber to speak to our students about filmmaking and editing was truly a blessing,” said Dean Beckman, associate professor and chair of the Business and Communication Department. Diana spoke about the different parts of filmmaking — how films get made, finding funding for projects, marketing, and public relations — but also about the impact of storytelling.

“Storytelling is a critical skill for our students to learn,” Beckman added, “and Diana’s words of advice resonated with them. Several students told me after the presentation that her talk changed their perspective of the film industry for the better, specifically documentaries.”

“I’m really passionate about the storytelling component,” Jenkins shared. “And for each student, I looked at them all and tried to get them to believe each had a story to tell. I don’t even think they know their potential. But that’s why I just kept saying, ‘if you have a story, tell it however you need to get it out. Just get it out there.’ Whether it’s their story or someone else’s, they have something to offer to others that they could tell in any way they want.”

Jenkins deeply believes in young people, who she feels will leave the world better than they found it. “They look at things differently than my generation did. I just have every faith in these students — that they can be the change.”

“Hosting one of the feature film showings for the Frozen River Film Festival at Page Theatre was an incredible partnership opportunity for Saint Mary’s and the Arts Co-Curricular program,” Johnson said. “We have been able to provide housing to the festival’s visiting directors for the past three years at the Alverna Center and have hosted their fundraiser events for the past two years. We hope to continue growing our partnership with Frozen River Film Festival and other arts organizations in the future.”



Through the Arts Co-Curricular, Saint Mary’s University partners with organizations like Frozen River Film Festival, Minnesota Beethoven Festival, Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts, Sandbar Storytelling Festival, and more to bring arts and culture experiences to students on Winona’s undergraduate campus.

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