New Mile Media Arts Launch Party
MERGE — Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m.
University of Iowa filmmaker Kevin Kelley just won his second Emmy award this year, for Mural, a documentary about the UI’s iconic Jackson Pollock painting. Rather than rest on his well-earned laurels, however, Kelley is poised to launch a new non-profit dedicated to exactly what he does best: making documentaries. Just granted its 501(c)(3) status this summer, New Mile Media Arts is celebrating that launch on Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. with a party at MERGE. Wine and light hors d’oeuvres will accompany a preview of the organization’s first project, Stout Hearted, a documentary about art conservationist George Stout.
“I had a small production company part-time for years while working at the University of Iowa and made a few documentaries that were extremely under-funded that did not get distribution, so I just focused on industrial work,” Kelley said in an email. This new project will be far from that industrial focus — New Mile Media Arts is centered on producing films with a connection to the state of Iowa, stories, said Kelley, from “right in your own backyard.”
“We love Iowa, and I want bigger audiences to know our stories,” Kelley said. New Mile wants to tell Iowa stories, but with a broader, even international appeal. “When someone from the community comes to us with a project idea, it must have some sort of social impact globally.”
Kelley has assembled a winning team for his new endeavor. His primary partner is his wife, Marie Wilkes, who he credits with coming up with New Mile Media Arts. It was her work in the non-profit sector — 15 years with Kahraman Near East Dance Ensemble — that led the couple to decide to seek 501(c)(3) for New Mile. They believed the company would be more successful as a nonprofit, and also wanted to give back to the community, offering an educational mentoring program for young filmmakers.
“Unlike with commercial investors who might be able to control the content, distribution and artistic style of the film, that is left up the the artistic director,” Kelley said, of doing film as non-profit work.
New Mile Media Arts’ board was built from people that Kelley had worked with at the University and Wilkes had worked with at Kahraman: Richard Koontz, Joan Kjaer, Jen Knights and Carol and Don Wick. It’s a working board, Kelley noted; the five, with Kelley and Wilkes, make up “the core of the production team.”
“I am constantly impressed at how much they rally to the cause and come up with brilliant ideas,” he said of his board.
The feeling is mutual. Board member Knights said in an email that, when Kelley approached her about joining the team, there was no way she could say no.
“Someone I know was doing something cool, something exemplary, and I didn’t want to miss out. More than that, I wanted to help it succeed,” she said. “I love storytelling in its many forms, and video is one of my favorites. Kevin is a master of pairing sound, image, and narrative to create a moving and inspiring on-screen story. I love his work, and I am proud to be part of it. I hope my involvement will help his work — and the stories of the people whose lives he illuminates — reach more people.”
Stout Hearted: George Stout the Man Who Saved Art, New Mile’s current — and first — project, explores the story of a UI art student from Winterset, Iowa who became leader of the Monuments Men, World War II soldiers tasked with recovering artwork stolen by the Nazis. The subject is ideal for Kelley, who studied painting in college, coming to film later (“I made my first 16mm film in 1973 when I was 17,” he said, “but I didn’t make a professional documentary until 1988”). He’s drawn to documentary work not for the subjects he connects with personally, though, but because of its broader appeal.
“I love the truth [documentaries] unveil about a subject or a person,” Kelley said. “I think a good formula for a film that you can watch over and over again is: It has to make you laugh, make you cry and make you think.”