The Big Water Film Festival takes place on the shores of Lake Superior, in Ashland, Wisconsin and surrounding communities. Our Festival headquarters is the Bay Theater on Main Street in Ashland, an Art Deco theater with a completely modernized main screen with stadium seating. We also have screenings at various venues in the communities of Bayfield, Washburn, and Drummond.

Regular attendees at our Festival know it for its friendliness and the ease with which audience members and filmmakers can mingle and chat. Our Friday evening screenings are always preceded by a reception with good food at a bar across the street from the Bay Theater.

Big Water's first twelve years were as a live Festival. Then, in 2020 COVID forced us to cancel what would have been the 13th BWFF. Our 14th Annual Festival (we just decided to skip 13, like the 13th floor at a hotel) was all virtual, and ran from January 7 to March 6, 2022. You can see what films we presented here:

We accept films of all genres and points of origin. Some of our favorite films have been made by local or Midwest filmmakers and some have come to us from all around the world, including Iran or France or Canada. Our website lists all of our previous award winners.

As we open for film submittals for our next Festival (the 15th), we do not yet know if it will be in-person, virtual, or a hybrid. We will have to see where we are at with the pandemic as we get closer to our Festival dates.

If your film is selected and we plan to show it virtually, we will ask your permission before doing so, and you will need to upload a streamable file of your film. For our virtual showings we use the Eventive platform, which provides full DRM anti-piracy protections.

If your film is selected and we plan to show it in-person only, we will ask you for a copy of your film in a format that we can use at our theater and other venues.

BWFF values your work and devotes a fair amount of its budget to awards. The Big Water Film Festival awards the following prizes: Best Feature, Best Short, Best Short-Short, Best Documentary, Audience Favorite, and the Loren Savitsky Young Filmmaker Award. Each award comes with a certificate, a beautiful hand-made award bowl, and $150. (For as long as we are obliged to run a virtual-only Festival, we unfortunately cannot include the award bowl among our prizes.)


1. We prefer not to stream films at the in-person Festival. Accepted films will have to send us a hard copy (DVD, Blu-Ray, or DCP) for festival screening. Some exceptions can be made where international shipping would be difficult, or where a downloadable link can be provided. We want to show your film under the best possible conditions, which is why we do not want to run the risk of interruptions due to internet problems.
2. The entrant certifies to the Festival that he/she/it has the right to submit the film and all visual or sound elements contained in the film, to the Festival, and to consent to the public showing of the film, and will defend and hold harmless the Festival, its committee members, and sponsors for any costs or damages associated with any copyright or other intellectual property or other claim (such as but not limited to libel, slander, or invasion of privacy) associated with the film or its submittal.
3. The entrant grants to the Festival the right to use the film, any trailer(s), still photos, publicity materials, and information about the cast and crew to promote the Festival.
4. If the film is accepted, entrant grants to the Festival the right to show the film at the 15th Annual Festival, which will be presented online only during the month of January, 2023. The Festival will not be obligated to withdraw the film from the Festival unless entrant provides notice to the Festival of the film's withdrawal before October 10, 2022.

Overall Rating
  • Justin + Kristin Schaack

    Thank you so much to the staff and volunteers at Big Water Film Festival. The hospitality, screening venue, and location in Ashland were all a delight! Thank you so much for supporting filmmakers.

    December 2019
    Response from festival:

    Thanks, Justin and Kristin. We love your films and hope you come back soon.

  • KARE 11

    Wonderful festival in beautiful lakeside town put on by people who adore film. Plus, the awards were pottery plates, how cool is that? Thank so much for having us out and for all your do to support independent filmmakers.

    November 2019
    Response from festival:

    What a great film you shared with us. Thanks for coming.

  • I can't thank Tish, Claire, and the rest of the staff for making us part of this year's festival. The communications and support were amazing. We will definitely keep this festival on our radar for any future projects we have!

    November 2019
    Response from festival:

    Thanks, Pat. We loved "Tin Can."

  • Thank you, Big Water Film Festival, for selecting my film, FROM SEED TO SEED, and for the generous award of Best Documentary. I wish I could have attended the festival to enjoy the quality programming in your beautiful community. The communications were excellent and very friendly. I highly recommend this festival to filmmakers and audiences alike.

    November 2019
    Response from festival:

    Katharina, we were so happy to be able to show your film. Next time, you’ll have to come visit us!

  • Randy Slagle

    Great festival and friendly hosts and crowd. Lots of questions about my film and it was fun interacting with the audience. Highly recommend the festival to others!

    November 2019
    Response from festival:

    Thanks, Randy. We were so happy that you were part of the festival! We hope to see more of you and your work in the coming years!