Independent film shoots good for Iowa City


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This summer, Backrow Studios, an independent-film company cofounded by University of Iowa alumni Ravi Patel, Tim Nash, and Joe Clarke, is making a movie that will likely do more than make Iowans laugh — it could even put Iowa back on the filmmaking map.

Since former Gov. Chet Culver shut down the Iowa Film Office in 2009 after a fraudulent tax scandal, the film industry in Iowa has been lacking, to say the least, but efforts to produce more films are likely to help turn things around.

The Iowa Film Office was shut down for reportedly misusing tax breaks and the program is suspended at least until July 1, 2013, according to Senate Bill 2380 of the Iowa Legislature.

Despite the fraudulent behavior in 2009, the Film Office had promoted the Iowa film business through tax incentives for big-time movie productions. The Daily Iowan reported that when Iowa Film Office founder Wendol Jarvis managed the office, between 1984 and 2002, it generated approximately $120 million.

The film industry undoubtedly benefits Iowans — producers hire Iowans to work as extras in the production, and casts and crews stay in Iowa hotels and eat Iowa food. They might even decide they can make more films here long-term.

The movie being shot this summer is likely to be a fairly good one, and it should generate more attention. It is the third movie Backrow Studios will release; its previous film, The Wedge, received three awards from the Cedar Rapids Film Festival including "Best Feature." The company plans to top that hit with this movie.

Joe Clarke, the director and producer and a cofounder of Backrow, said that even without the tax incentives, producers have other options, and the current production crew is too small to even benefit from the tax credits anyway.

"The three of us pretty much control everything, and we like it," Clarke said.

He also said that although his team couldn't benefit from the tax breaks, he still wants to promote a film industry in Iowa and agrees that the state should find more incentives for more producers.

"There's a lot of cast and crew in this state who are super talented, so I would love it if everyone could work on movies throughout the year," he said.

Backrow has been recognized for promoting Iowa in The Wedge, through the Iowa Connection Award, awarded at the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival last year. The award "is given each year to the film that best portrays the state's physical beauty and the strong spirit of its people," says the Cedar Rapids Independent Filmmakers' website.

Although independent films such as The Wedge and The Formula are not ultra-large Hollywood productions, they still allow talented Iowans to act, film, and participate in the process of making movies, and they bring something to the community.

"It's really been a community project," Clarke said. "We've been filming all over Iowa City and bar owners, business owners have been really receptive and even excited to have us there. I'm sure there will be people who see the movie and say, 'I've been there.' It adds a little excitement."

The movie industry is difficult to get into, but it's profitable and usually promotes the community. There is plenty of talent and opportunities for growth in Iowa, and we should look for ways to attract more producers so that talent can shine.

We may not have a statewide office attracting the attention of Hollywood producers and Hollywood stars, but with a receptive environment and a few savvy alumni, the Iowa film industry may be able to make a comeback. Support the local films, because local films support us.

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