Roll Tape!

Perspectives on the Iowa Filmscape

The state of Iowa still struggles to prove itself as a cultural oasis, attractive to those looking for a well-rounded place to plant new roots. Iowa City is some kind of exception to this, but still lacks the entertainment options of a big city—even if it has that big city “feel” to new residents experiencing their honeymoon period with the town. To celebrate our happy access to two area film festivals this month, here’s a look into the presence of film in Iowa from four different angles.

Landlocked in a Hard Acre

Both the Landlocked Film Festival and the Hardacre Film and Cinema Festival are all about independent, underground films, and attract entries from the United States and beyond. Hardacre is in its 11th year of operation and touts cinema as art and filmmakers as artists, which isn’t necessarily untrue of major Hollywood films, though directors who haven’t proved themselves yet must cater to studio wishes before producing their own vision.

One short being shown at Hardacre this year will please any Charlie Rose or Samuel Beckett fan—”Charlie Rose” by Samuel Beckett. This film takes a single episode of the seasoned journalist (and masterful conversationalist) and pits Charlie against Charlie, Rose against Rose, in a dual of Internet knowledge. The question on every Internet watchers’ minds is, Which Charlie will get PWNED? Face it: it’s fabulous

Hardacre is August 1–2 at the Hardacre Theater in downtown Tipton and costs $15 for the entire festival, $6 per program. For more information, visit

By Hardacre’s experience level, Landlocked is just a baby, being only in its second year of existence. But two-year-olds seem to grow fast. Just in its second year, Landlocked got tucked under the wing of the Summer of the Arts fundraising ventures and have a structure of support behind it. Landlocked co-director Mary Blackwood said that one of the exciting things about the festival is facilitating the interaction between dozens of filmmakers and the curious public. A welcoming audience in the Midwest is better than a non-existent audience on either cost. And the festival’s mere existence in this town allows area economic development officials to continue to tout this place as a cultural mecca.

Landlocked is from August 21–24 at various locations in downtown Iowa City, and the events are all free. For a schedule of events, visit

Produce this!

For those whose only source of news is Reddit or Digg and who haven’t heard yet, Iowa Governor Chet Culver signed the Iowa Film Promotion Act in early 2007. The Travel Iowa website of the Iowa Department of Economic Development is marketing the incentives as “half-price filmmaking,” using a somewhat confusing math to come up with that half-off price. From the website:

“For example, if a project has $1,000,000 of qualified spending, then the investor pool earns $250,000 in transferable Iowa income tax credit certificates plus the producer or production company earns $250,000 in transferable Iowa income tax credit certificates. These credits can be sold to any Iowa taxpayer for market prices.”

The easy-to-figure-out math is “tax-free income”—for Iowa-based or incorporated-in-Iowa vendors, that is. This incentive targets potential Iowan sources of labor in hopes of creating a strong labor base specialized in the filmmaking support capacity. The labor needed however, is for those low-level jobs that rarely allow for creative output. Brute force or organizational skills would land a prospective laborer a job in the budding Iowa film industry. While this doesn’t assure creative minds with talented production skills a dream ticket to a fulfilling career on their home turf, it does inspire the hope that maybe someday—if they meet the right person and say the right thing— they might have a chance that didn’t exist before the film incentives.

But at this point, Iowa just has to settle for the stimulated economy in those camera-ready communities born lucky. All a producer-director team has to do after attracted by the incentives is visit, look at the place, eat at a local hoe-bunk-to-them diner, and whisper prophetically, “This is the place.”

Location, location, location!

Those of us living the car-less life near downtown Iowa City pre-2007 are still bemoaning the loss of Campus 3 Theaters, which was in the Old Capitol Mall right next-door to The University of Iowa campus. As the Coral Ridge Mall with its giganta-plex opened in 1998, Campus 3 was freed up to show more mainstream art house films (an oxymoron, I know), and foreign films like Amelie could be shown to an audience seeking non-blockbusters.

Sure, more screens opened up at Sycamore Mall, making it Marcus Sycamore 12 and filling the void of the absent screens, but those looking for entertainment outside of the bar scene had one less option to pick. Shopping still seems to thrive downtown, but straight-edge residents looking for fun do not add up to the critical mass necessary for an entertainment establishment to survive without alcohol. Rumors are rustling around about a group trying to bring the big screen back to an indoor theater year-round, but word is that the big dogs ight need to throw down and C-O-M-M-I-T-T. (The extra “T” is to show they mean it.)

For all those wondering what the Bijou Theater is up to after the floodwaters subsided, rest assured that they are up to about two blocks closer to downtown. It’s an option many of us in the area demand on keeping open—even if it isn’t set up to play the same role Campus 3 played­—and now, it’s showing films in Lecture Room 2 in Van Allen Hall. Intelligent films for an intelligent audience in an intelligent room. For providing a stable back up for these hard-to-find films, I’d like to say thanks, Mr. Space Scientist!

The McLeod/Busse IMAX in Cedar Rapids closed last year, taking another precious option away from those in the area accepting life here instead of a big city. Chicago’s IMAX showings of The Dark Knight were booked pretty solidly throughout the first week, and it’s certain that people here would have flocked to a Cedar Rapids IMAX showing of the movie, too. When it was still around (it ceased to exist due to too many financial burdens and leadership turnover), NASCAR, Harry Potter, and nature flicks dominated its screen—it was a science and technology center, after all.

People got to see part of The Matrix trilogy in IMAX, sure, but it all ended too quickly, having lived only seven years after its opening. Will all major art and entertainment endeavors in the area have that kind of tenuous existence?

Minor art and entertainment options in this area have to be sought out. Sometimes one can trek down to the Samuel Becker Communication Sciences Building and look for screening announcements from teaching assistants in the UI’s Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature, but that’s a happy gamble. And, there’s always that 3-hour drive to Chicago to find those shows needing the critical mass to support them.

Sex and the Gotham City

And if there’s one thing that Iowans love, if it’s any indication by consecutive, sold-out movie showtimes, it’s well-promoted, much-hyped summer blockbusters. Lines of eager women were anxiously waiting for the icing on the cake of their favorite television fantasy, Sex and the City. And gaggles of people left the show mouthing “I loved it” into their cell phones, feeling that sisterly bond with their SATC dates, and bitching about other theater-goers’ sense of fashion.

But that movie still had available tickets after 3 p.m. for opening night showtimes. The Dark Knight, however, as rumor has it, had theaters wiped clean of tickets before morning turned into afternoon, with theaters adding early morning showings (like, 3 a.m.) to accommodate those thirsty for the cinematic experience of the decade.

Some of us here actually thought we could stop by the local theater after work and still get tickets for opening night; others made plans to run off to Des Moines or Chicago for the heart-racing 18-wheeler-rollover, blow-your-mind eyes-widener of seeing the film in an IMAX theater. Few of us bumble-fucks could live in this state without having that taste of cinema desire in our mouths as this film hit the theaters. Thanks, Internet, for helping us Iowans feel like we’re a part of the pop-culture masses.
Melody Dworak has seen many people shake their heads in sympathy once she confesses she’s lived in Iowa City for eight years and is neither a professor nor on her way to becoming one. One day, she hopes to break free from Iowa City’s siren song.

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