Landlocked Film festival returns to Iowa City for 5th year


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As the lights dim and the crowd’s chatter dies down, an air of excitement builds among viewers, their gazes transfixed on the screen. The magic of cinema has enthralled moviegoers for more than a century, and over the years, countless characters in epic adventures and smaller, personal films have enthralled them.

This week, the Landlocked Film Festival will return to Iowa City for its fifth year. The festival will kick off at 7 p.m. today with Country School: One Room — One Nation, a documentary about the lasting effect of American’s one-room schools. After that, 73 more films will be shown through Aug. 28 at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., the Bijou, the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., and hotelVetro, 201 S. Linn St.

“Landlocked stands out because we are very comprehensive,” said creative director Mary Blackwood. “We offer more panels and workshops than the other film festivals in the area … Every year, we say we have to cut back, but it’s hard to say no to a great film. There are so many highlights; we have such a strong slate this year. We’ve got some fresh young talent … and some fresh old talent.”

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Among the highlights is White Knight, a story following a Ku Klux Klan grand dragon’s stint in jail and his experiences with his cellmate, a Latino field worker imprisoned for fighting for labor rights.

The film was written and directed by Arizona native and quickly rising star Jesse Baget, 29, (some of the fresh young talent Blackwood referred to), and stars Tom Sizemore. This comedy reminds Blackwood of works by the Coen brothers.

“It is beautifully shot, and it is hilarious,” she said.

An aspect of the film festival that many look forward to is the documentary films, and this year’s festival will screen more than 25.

Hidden Battles is a documentary about the psychological effect that killing in combat has on five different soldiers. Among many reasons, producer Lila Yomtoob said, she is most proud of the documentary because it follows soldiers from quite diverse backgrounds: a female Nicaraguan soldier, a Palestinian fighter, an Israeli sniper, and two American soldiers.

The film has been invited to nine film festivals in the United States, and it has been recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services as a movie that will make a difference in society.

“We are so excited to be at the Landlocked Film Festival this year because Iowa City is such a cool town,” Yomtoob said. “It has people from such diverse backgrounds, and I think they’ll really enjoy our film.”

Despite entries coming in from all over the world, and the Landlocked selection committee giving no special treatment to local filmmakers, two films at the festival this year have ties to Iowa City.

Mrii pro Mynule — Dreaming Up the Past when translated from Ukranian — is a documentary directed by UI cinema/comparative literature Associate Professor Sabine Gölz. The film explores early music from Ukraine, featuring people who revive old traditions.

“Ukraine is the only country in the world where an epic tradition has survived,” Gölz said. “This film was a research project about people, place, and music and an effort to understand the culture.”

Dreaming Up the Past has been screened at film festivals across the world, from Washington, D.C., to Toronto to Kiev, Ukraine. And just last weekend it won “Best Feature Documentary” at the World Music and Independent Film Festival in Washington.

Another film with local ties is Black American Gothic, a documentary that explores conflicts surrounding Chicago public-housing residents moving to Iowa City.

After the screening, discussion groups will take place to talk about the issues about Iowa City’s Southeast Side. The talk will address the misrepresentation that the area is a “bad” or “dangerous” place.

“The discussion groups after the film will be an exercise for all of us to have frank conversations and form that experience,” said Robert Gutsche, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a cofounder of Crossing Boarders. “We hope it can spill out into the rest of the community and provide us with the tools that we need to talk about issues of race, and class, and the goods, and the bads, of our changing city … This is a really progressive community, but I don’t know if we’ve taken steps to confront this issue.”

Blackwood agrees about the benefits of showing Black American Gothic at the festival to catalyze community improvement.

“This is so exciting, because it is the kind of thing in which a film festival can really do something for the community,” she said. “It can start a conversation about a topic that needs to be discussed in this town.”

Whether it’s an animated short film from Denmark or a documentary about the city one lives in, the Landlocked Film Festival will offer something for every type of moviegoer.

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