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Review: Landlocked Film Festival

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | AUGUST 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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I showed up for the opening film at the Englert, "Photostoria," a few minutes late and sweating like a diseased animal. The weather is a tacky topic, no doubt, but five more degrees would have ruined the Landlocked Film Festival on its opening day, Aug. 21. Still, I made it to the theater alive and grabbed my full-access pass from will call. Perhaps only 20 or so people were scattered throughout the venue for the beginning rush of independent film celebration.

As the movie rolled and I tried to become immersed in the plot about two lovers and their mysterious photographer friend while fruitlessly attempting to scribble notes in the dark, a small child to my left, perhaps only two or three years of age, began expressing his feelings on the event—a senseless, mindless mumble that grew to a ferocious lecture on nothing. This kid was on a mission to make the walls of the Englert ring. Someone was not having a good time. I thought:

You have no idea the opportunity your parents are offering you, little man. This is the edge, a glimpse into the future of personal artistic endeavor, postmodernity at its most primal, and you're bored? Don't you get it?

Right? To be perfectly honest, I barely understood what the film was about, at least from a professionally critical or artistic level. But I was struck by a realization that threw serious criticism about sound quality and character development into the Dumpster out back.

One of the film’s scenes featured the silhouette of two main characters, Rita and John, standing on opposite sides of a hallway in MacBride Hall, in the north side of the building where the sun blazes through the large windows overlooking the foyer, an image I had seen countless times coming and going from classes.

This was local, grassroots filmmaking. It didn’t take a studio in Hollywood and tens of millions of dollars. Someone wanted to make a movie about something, and they just did it! This sentiment was confirmed during the Q and A session with the film’s creators after the credits had rolled and the lights had been raised. When asked by a festival representative about advice for young filmmakers, one of the Steenlage siblings (three of whom created the movie together) simply said:
“Just do it.”

Indeed.

The next day I attended a free documentary at the public library titled “The Price of Sand,” a film by Jim Tittle about the mining and processing of silica sand—a product used for hydraulic fracking—in Minnesota and Wisconsin and how it has affected small communities in the two states.

Embarrassingly sweaty again, I wandered about the building before heading to the help desk where, thankfully, the couple in front of me asked about where to go.

“You start walking out like you’re going to leave, then go left towards the bathrooms…”

Crisis averted.

The film made its point tactfully, tastefully avoiding the hissing that sometimes takes hold of documentaries. Its stark, blunt humor made the issue lighter but all the more understandable. There were light chuckles, and the meeting room in the library was packed to whatever capacity it offered.

After the film, a panel of experts from the UI College of Public Health—including Professor Thomas Peters, who humorously explained that “overburden” is often referred to as “nature,” discussed how the process of mining for silica sand is slowly creeping into northeastern Iowa, namely into Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Clayton Counties. 

After my amateur analysis based solely on an unbiased PowerPoint presentation and a documentary I had watched 20 minutes ago, the whole process of fracking—digging up the sand, processing the sand, trucking it somewhere by the hundreds of thousands of tons, using it to dig up oil—sounded like a heinous evil, the human species destroying its habitat to afford taking a vacation elsewhere, a double-timed effort to consume and rip apart the landscape. 

But then again, I had only captured a brief understanding of a scientific industrial process some individuals spend decades studying. The bigger point is that the film had me, and a room full of people, thinking about a growing, fairly local issue in a way that avoided the scrappy, idealistic, and generalizing shouting typically adopted by bigger media’s sensationalism. 

Score two for independent films.

The final stop on my Landlocked adventure was a film created by the Iowa Bacon Board, a seemingly silly group of adults who take the consumption of bacon very seriously. The romantic thriller mockumentary about the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines, “The State of Bacon,” premiered at FilmScene at 6 p.m. on Aug. 23, an event bolstered by complimentary bacon and a red carpet patterned with strips of the smoked treat. It was preluded by the short film “Cardboard Titanics,” a goofy documentary about a group of middle-aged adults who construct and race cardboard boats.

It was a light ending to my Landlocked Film Festival experience. Hilarity. “The State of Bacon” taught the audience where bacon comes from. It featured a satirical pageant and Icelandic actors—people the crew met on a trip to Iceland where they decided to dispense American-style bacon to the masses, also leading to their meeting many prominent Icelandic political figures. It taught us about Iowa’s looniest festival, an event for thousands of bacon lovers that sold out in under four minutes last year.

And it had bacon (more movie theaters should hand out bacon during movie screenings). It also had a full-circle realization to complete my adventure to the heart of the film festival. The movie’s creators are pretty chill guys who love what they do. As we exited the theater, I asked Marshall Porter, Chief Bacon Officer (see what I mean?), why they decided to make the film. His response:
“Well, why not?”

Exactly.


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