Englert to screen two films celebrating the Mill — one made at its peak, another since its demolition

Last Night at the Mill

Englert Theatre, Friday, Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m., $10–20

The western wall of the Mill in 2020. — Matt Steele/Little Village

For those still mourning the loss of Iowa City’s beloved, iconic venue the Mill, this one’s for you! Come out to the Englert on Friday, Sept. 23 to sit back and reminisce on the venue that impacted so many. There’s going to be a screening of the Last Night at the Mill, a concert film created by filmmaker Dave Olive in 2003, and a showing of University of Iowa students Daniel Huyer and Grace Keber’s short film, Remembering the Mill.

The Mill’s history begins in the 1960s, originally opening as a coffee shop in 1962. Ten years later, it moved to its well-known spot on Burlington Street. In the early days, the venue was a folk music club that allowed primarily bluegrass and acoustic artists to play. As time went on, the Mill expanded to booking a variety of genres and began to host non-music-related events such as literary readings and political meet-ups. It’s also been a popular festival venue, hosting acts for Mission Creek, the Floodwater Comedy Festival and more.

Throughout the years, the ownership changed only once, in 2003. Keith Dempster retired and Marty Christensen and Dan Ouverson became the new owners. Olive’s film captures the Mill’s 40th anniversary and Dempster’s retirement celebration. That evening, musicians Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, Rick Cicalo and Dave Zollo came together for an intimate performance.

Olive described his film as primarily a music documentary, capturing “a very vibrant performance.” He frequented the Mill in the ’70s when he was a student at the UI. “My film doesn’t really deal with the Mill being torn down or anything like that,” Olive said. “I was focusing on the music, which I thought was really good.”

When Olive approached the Englert asking if they’d like to do a showing of the film, it was around the same time that the building was being demolished. Brian Johannesen, a local musician and the senior programming manager at the Englert, said the film does an excellent job highlighting the fact the Mill was always more than just a music venue.

“Even though this film takes place long before I ever moved to Iowa City,” Johannesen said, “that same vibe of community, respect and love that I experienced at the Mill is alive in the film.”

In addition to Olive’s doc, a short film produced last spring by students at the Daily Iowan will be presented. Remembering the Mill highlights the venue’s history and stories from community members. It was created in 2022 in response to the Mill’s closure during the pandemic. The DI’s film, which features archival footage and interviews, complements and gives context to Olive’s concert film. Presented together, the two films will undoubtedly honor the Mill one last time — showing its impact on the Iowa City arts community and perhaps even offering closure to audience members.

Video still from ‘Last Night at the Mill’ (2003)
The Mill audiences listen to a reading during the 2019 Mission Creek Festival. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 310.