Landlocked Film Festival
Downtown Iowa City (see schedule) — Aug. 21-24
This month marks the eighth year of Iowa City’s Landlocked Film Festival, an event with over 50 film screenings, including these two notable features: Antboy and Whiskey Cookers. The festival runs from Aug. 21 to 24 and screenings will be held at the Englert Theatre, FilmScene and Iowa City Public Library. A complete schedule of the festival is available at Landlockedfilmfestival.org.
In superhero films, there is all too often a huge rush to get to the CGI-dominated fight scenes with only the most superficial exploration of the actual characters and conflicts that are supposed to underpin them. This tendency is especially unfortunate since it denies us both the narrative development present in the original comics and any chance to be seriously invested in the outcomes of these epically destructive battles.
Enter Antboy. Based on the books by Kenneth Bogh Andersen, Ask Hasselbalch’s film is both a charming kids’ movie and a subtle satire of all the superhero tropes we have become so bored with at the summertime multiplex. The protagnoist, Pelle Norman, is your standard, lonely middle-schooler, ignored as insignificant by his teachers, peers and all the pretty girls in his class. That is until the day he is bitten by a scientifically altered ant while fleeing bullies and, naturally, acquires super-human ant powers that allow him to fight villains, get girls and even make friends.
It’s Hasselbalch’s focus on the friendships Pelle forges that makes Antboy so endearing and a stand-out amid a sea of paint-by-numbers superhero films. Though certainly targeted at kids, Hasselbalch’s film nonetheless provides some good adult humor and a tightly paced film.
How’s this for a total downer: You are the son of German immigrants living in western Iowa when World War I breaks out; you make the (no doubt difficult) decision to volunteer for the U.S. Army to fight against your former countrymen; you survive trenches, cold, privations of all description, disease and getting shot at, only to return home to Templeton, Iowa just in time to be welcomed back by the passage of the Volstead Act and the enforcement of Prohibition. Not only are you likely in the mood for a drink right about now, but anti-German sentiment is still widespread and it is increasingly associated with the temperance movement, which portrays ‘the Huns’ as immoderate drinkers and providers of beer and whiskey to otherwise upstanding Protestant, native-born Americans.
This is precisely the situation that confronts the young Lawrence Bach and Johan Irlbeck in 1919. Industrious Midwesterners, these two youngsters respond by spending the winter of 1920 holed up in an Iowa farmhouse perfecting their skills as distillers.
It is these formative months that produce a recipe that would make the town of Templeton famous and would be the indirect antecedent for the spirit that we now know as Templeton Rye. This background is only one of the illuminating stories told in Dan Manatt and Bryce T. Bauer’s intriguing documentary, Whiskey Cookers: The Amazing Story of the Templeton, Iowa Bootleggers. The film is based on Bauer’s forthcoming book, Gentlemen Bootleggers, and will make its official debut at the Landlocked Film Festival.
This documentary is not concerned with the modern story of Templeton Rye or the recent controversies which have surrounded it, but instead seeks to paint a detailed and well-researched picture of the culture and community of Templeton during the Prohibition years.
One difficulty with having 99 counties in your state is that they don’t all necessarily do what they are told. Manatt and Bauer depict a community’s collusion to pretty much ignore a federal law which they find oppressive and contrary to the traditions of its immigrant population. The film focuses on how Templeton and Carroll County were able—through community co-operation, strong immigrant tradition, strategic intermarriage and a general ‘code of silence’ against revealing bootleggers to federal authorities—to essentially ignore the federal mandate of the Volstead Act and to create, as one historian describes it, “a wet island” in a sea of surrounding Iowa counties which remained staunchly dry.
Warren Sprouse teaches in Cedar Rapids and watches baseball throughout the Midwest. He is proud to have covered the Landlocked fest almost since its inception.