Most people have heard the term "film festival," but not many known exactly what it is. Some people might not even know that right here in the Tri-States area, a massive film festival takes place every single year — right in the heart of Dubuque.

The Julien Dubuque International Film Festival (best known as "JDIFF") is gearing up for its 11th year. The five-day event starts on Wednesday, April 20th and runs through Sunday, April 24th. JDIFF features dozens of films from around the globe, with a focus on "enriching the community and bridging cultures through the education and promotion of arts through independent film," at its core, as outlined on its website.

Put simply, a film festival is an extended presentation of films in a specific city or region. It typically lasts several days at a time with a plethora of feature and short films being shown. For some festivals, like the world-famous Cannes or Sundance (the largest one in America), the festival provides an opportunity for films to be purchased for distribution by studios, who will then release the movie in theaters, on streaming, home video, or some combination of the three.

JDIFF has been recognized as one of the "25 coolest film festivals in the world" on top of being one of the "Top 50 film festivals worth the submission fee" by MovieMaker Magazine. It grows in size every year. And the person behind it practically beams with passion for culture, education, and cinema.

That woman is Susan Gorrell, Executive Director of JDIFF. Gorrell has helped propel the fest to greater heights with each passing year. She was kind enough to let me speak with her last week regarding JDIFF's mission and what's in store this year.

"The fest is the mothership. Everything else is a fighter ship," Gorrell said, in a line that couldn't better sum up the immensity of putting on a festival of this magnitude.

What she means is that JDIFF is the umbrella and "everything" else" underneath it — from the venues, the sponsored events, the meet-and-greets, the panels, the networking opportunities, the filmgoers and filmmakers, and of course the films themselves — are what makes the larger festival special.

This year, JDIFF is taking place at nine different venues: the Five Flags Center, Phoenix Theater, the Holiday Inn Ballroom, and the National Mississippi River Museum just to name a few.

Gorrell noted that putting together the festival every single year boils down to coming up with answers to two important questions: how does it financially/economically help Dubuque and how does it benefit the filmmakers?

"[JDIFF] gets people to travel to Dubuque and instills a sense of pride in the community," Gorrell said. "For filmmakers, they want to sell their movie. They want to see it on different platforms. [We] create the networking events for that to happen."

Gorrell became connected to JDIFF when she worked as a producer on a film that was showing at the festival. She enters the 2022 season with eight years as executive director under her belt.

I asked Gorrell if she could stress one thing about JDIFF, what would it be? "It's open to the public," she reiterated.

A lot of people might not understand that Dubuque's film festival is indeed open to any/everyone who wants to buy a ticket to any number of the films being shown. Also on the docket are a handful of different social events.

"There's a Friday night block party on 2nd and 3rd Street. Food trucks arrive at 5 pm and music starts at 7 pm," Gorrell said. Attendance is free as well.

In addition, there's an after party at Hotel Julien (the festival's headquarters), and a beer and food tasting on Sunday. The tasting is free if you buy a ticket to the documentary One Pint at a Time, which revolves around minority craft brewers, but anyone with a ticket can attend.

Film festivals can be intimidating to anyone unfamiliar with how they work. Thankfully, JDIFF's website makes it easy to follow. You can check out the "Film Guide" on the official website for information on movies that will be shown (and where), and you can check out the "Events" to see what is taking place in-between the movies being shown. Ticket information can be found on the website as well!

JDIFF runs from April 20 - 24th.

LOOK: A history of Black representation in movies