Untitled Storm Lake Project

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: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production


Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Art Cullen fights to protect his rural town from powerful local and national forces while his family newspaper hangs by a thread.


Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Art Cullen fights to protect his Iowan farming town of Storm Lake from powerful local, national and global forces, even as his family newspaper hangs on by a thread.


This will be a vérité, character-driven film that holds the audience in step with lives few people know, and even fewer understand. The film unfolds over the course of one year, starting in Spring 2019 as colossal machines seed 30 rows at a time and Storm Lake residents stir from a bitter Midwestern winter. Filming will continue through the harvest of patchwork corn and soybean fields, little league games, skinned knees and ice cream cones. We watch a multi-lingual second generation return to school, leaves turn crimson and fall into the contaminated lake no one dares swim in. We endure sharp winds that whip across barren fields, a child’s first snow day, and the promise of new hope in Spring 2020 as elections approach. Art gears up to fight the good fight against the next round of republican challengers while life sprouts again from the soft black soil. We set out to show the dramatic transitions this community has weathered over three decades, juxtaposing the aging mechanisms of rural life with the modern conveniences of Big Ag. Art’s reportage will allow us to create a tableau of intersecting lives through vérité filmmaking. Everyone here knows each other’s business, and friends and frenemies will often find unity from opposite viewpoints for the collective good. The hand of the filmmakers will be understated to create space for the viewer to fully inhabit these conflicting, impassioned perspectives. A majority of the film will be shot with a 24mm lens to approximate the field of vision of the human eye. In interviews, the wide lens will situate each character within their environment to convey the geography of their daily lives. A second camera with a much tighter frame will reveal the depth of emotion on our subjects’ faces and in their stories. Each scene will be intimately tied to who the subject is, what they do, and ultimately, how they see the world. As a professional cinematographer, I approach each project with fresh eyes, creating a visual palette that will allow the people I film to tell their own story. Coming from an Iowa farming community, I will be able to create a look that allows us a window into my subjects’ world. It’s an approach that will take time and care; I’ll meet people organically and make them feel at ease, then step back and allow them to tell their stories with integrity.


Jerry Risius - Director/DP
With over 25 years experience as a Director of Photography on such projects as Generation Wealth (Sundance 2018), Seeing Allred (Sundance 2018/Netflix), Brave New Voices (HBO 2009), The Devil Came on Horseback (Sundance 2007), and more recently, as a Field Producer/DP on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and Parts Unknown series, Risius brings a depth of filmmaking experience along with a local knowledge and perspective that very few can. He grew up on a small farm outside Buffalo Center, Iowa, a town of approximately 1,000 people about an hour from Storm Lake. Having roots in the area will put locals more at ease and allow them to share their lives in a way that is personal and connected.

Beth Levison - Producer
Levison is an Emmy and Peabody-winning producer based in NYC. Her most recent film Personal Statement (dir. Juliane Dressner), about three seniors who fill the college guidance gap in their high schools, was the opening night film of AFI DOCS and aired on national PBS (2018). 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide (dir. Hope Litoff), an intimate exploration of mental illness and grief, premiered at Hot Docs and was broadcast on HBO (2017). Previous projects include The Trials of Spring (dir. Gini Reticker), about women human rights activists in the Middle East, and her independent directorial/producing debut Lemon. Levison’s consulting credits include Cooked: Survival by Zipcode (2018), In the Land of Pomegranates (2017), and Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012). She is faculty with the School of Visual Arts MFA program in Social Documentary Film, the founder of Hazel Pictures, and a co-founder of the Documentary Producers Alliance (DPA).

Evan Neff - Associate Producer
Associate Producer Evan Neff engages with visionary storytellers to provide comprehensive support for creative productions. Evan associate produced Sam Green’s live documentary, A Thousand Thoughts (Sundance 2018) and has worked on SFFILM and UnionDocs operations teams. He serves on the screening committees of Tribeca Film Festival and the Independent Filmmaker Project. Evan is inspired by film’s ability to communicate piercing cultural critique, reveal unspeakable beauty, and express nuanced visions of the human experience. Moreover, he’s drawn to “melting pot” stories where perspectives clash to create new traditions and ways of seeing. He’s searching for the place where the bits of his African American and Western European cultural identities meet, and it’s why he’s excited to help tell the story of Storm Lake—a community in compelling and nuanced transition.


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