Meet Edina's Hometown Heroes

Edina is made up of people who pride themselves with making the city a great place for living, learning, raising families and doing business.

John Swon

Movie-lovers everywhere know of the Cannes, Toronto and Sundance film festivals, but Minnesota “cinephiles” don’t have to travel nearly so far for a taste of filmmaking at its best. Edina is now home to its own annual showcase, thanks to a dedicated corps of volunteers spearheaded by Edina local John Swon.

Swon first proposed the novel idea in 2010, early in a term on the Edina Art Center Board (now the Arts & Culture Commission). He envisioned the Edina Film Festival as a yearly fundraiser for the Art Center – and as a valuable addition to the City’s arts offerings in its own right.

“With the Edina Arts Festival, the Fall into the Arts [Festival], the areas like the Promenade, it’s clear that Edina has a great appreciation for the arts in general,” Swon explained. Even so, the Commission is always looking for room for improvement, and “at the time, film was an art we really didn’t have much organized coverage for locally.”

Swon secured the go-ahead from the Edina City Council later that year and has served as chair of the Film Festival Committee ever since.

The inaugural year’s line-up at the Edina Landmark Theater – running the gamut from a documentary, to a variety of critically acclaimed shorts, to an Orson Welles “golden oldie” – says a lot about the Committee’s hopes for the Festival. “We really wanted something for everyone. We wanted the Festival to be the next community event,” Swon said.

It’s a tall order, but the Edina Festival Festival is certainly trending in the right direction. Attendance is consistently solid, and the event is beginning to garner the attention of both filmmakers and the media (the latter including a recent mention in The New York Times).

This early success comes as no surprise to those who know Swon, who was uniquely suited to steer the project through its formative period. In addition to nine years’ experience as a venture capitalist for independent film projects, Swon co-founded and for five years organized the Smmash Film Festival in Minneapolis.

While that background proved instrumental in getting the project off the ground, Swon is quick to point out that the success of a massive undertaking like the Edina Film Festival represents a true community effort.

“People often think that selecting the films must be difficult, but that’s actually the easy part. There are always good movies available to choose from,” Swon explained. Fundraising and event promotion actually account for the bulk of the back-end work. Fortunately, “we have a great Steering Committee with members who each bring something to the table and just jump right in.” Otherwise daunting logistical challenges are also simplified considerably by the spirited and generous support of the Edina Art Center and Edina Community Foundation.

He is equally thankful for the sustained backing of area sponsors, who, far from simply cutting a check, show a genuine appreciation for the arts and often look for ways to go the extra mile.

Given such broad-based support, Swon is gratified to see that the Festival has not only been able to grow, but to expand beyond the walls of the Edina Landmark Theater. Tie-ins for 2013 include a bowling special at Southtown Lanes in Bloomington (in conjunction with the screening of the cult classic The Big Lebowski), and nightly after parties in the 50th & France Neighborhood over the three-day run of the Festival.

“It’s gotten to a point where people can participate, and can give to the Art Center, without even having to attend a screening,” Swon said.

15 of 37  Heroes

© 2014 City Of Edina, Minnesota