Iowa Arts Council
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Iowa Arts Council

Iowans Get Creative in ‘The Film Lounge’

If you could tell a story — any story — to the entire state of Iowa, what would it be?

That’s the essential question at the heart of “The Film Lounge,” an annual showcase of Iowa filmmaking featured on Iowa PBS. The fifth season of this television series premieres Feb. 6 with a mix of short films that focus on, among others, a lighthouse keeper in Ireland, a guy who skates down the California Coastal Highway, and a husband who worries his wife might replace him with a mail-order clone.

The films are limited only by their creators’ vision and imagination. Documentaries, flights of fiction, music videos — they’re all fair game, as long as they run between 2 and 20 minutes.

“A lot of filmmakers in Iowa have day jobs and report to clients who may take their projects in various directions,” said Liz Gilman, who leads Produce Iowa, the state office of film and media production. “In ‘The Film Lounge,’ they can flex their creative muscles with whatever stories they want to tell the world.”

Gilman launched a pilot show called “Cinema Iowa” on public television in 2014 shortly after the state film office reopened as part of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. Three years later she enlisted help from the Iowa Arts Council, another division in the same department, and together with Iowa PBS launched “The Film Lounge.”

“All these great storytellers around the state had content, and the state-run television channel needed stories, so it just seemed like a natural fit,” she said. “And the Iowa Arts Council is a trusted space for Iowa artists to submit their creativity.”

The idea caught on. Filmmakers from across the state started submitting their work.

“You definitely need to get your work out there. You can’t tell how good your stuff is until you get other people looking at it,” said Paul Huenemann, an award-winning filmmaker from Cedar Rapids whose spooky animated film called “The Gurgle” aired in the first season.

Lucius Pham, a senior at Drake University, took a chance and submitted a music video featuring the Des Moines hip-hop artist Teller Bank$. It pairs fictional flashbacks of the star’s earlier days hustling on the streets with current shots of him living large.

Pham is eager to see it air statewide. He said he has produced videos before, but this is “definitely the first time one of my rap videos will be on PBS.”

Tune in to “The Film Lounge” online or on TV

Episode 501 airs at 11 p.m. Feb. 6 and 7 on Iowa PBS. (Another option: Tune in to a virtual watch party with the filmmakers at 4 p.m. Feb. 6 on OVEE. Find details at

  • “Enjoy Your Evening” from Justin Norman of Des Moines is a comedy about the awkward experience of small talk with a person you feel obligated to endure, regardless of how grating they become.
  • “salt & sea” from Jack Sarcone of West Des Moines is a lyrical film about the solitary life of Gerald, one of the last living lighthouse keepers in Ireland.
  • “Ultra” from Bruce James Bales of Des Moines is a high-energy documentary that follows Caleb Smith’s journey as he skates his way down the California Coastal Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
  • “Hook” from William Locker and Stefan Hansen both of Des Moines is a music video shot entirely with a 360-degree camera to create a vibrant party for the eyes.

Episode 502 airs at 11 p.m. Feb. 13 and 14 on Iowa PBS. (Tune in to the virtual watch party at 4 p.m. Feb. 13.)

  • “Welcome to a Better You” from Jacob Withers of Des Moines is a comedy about a man who comes to believe that the clone his wife ordered to help around the house is there to replace him.
  • “The Call” from Lucius Pham of Des Moines is a music video that juxtaposes hip-hop artist Teller Bank$’s current state of opulence with flashbacks to past times of poverty.
  • “One Stolen Moment” from the Dubuque filmmakers Ben Burkholder, Ben Friedman, Pat Hunt and Michael Runde is a documentary that focuses on four Loras College athletes whose competition schedules — and athletic careers — were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Entries for the next season are due June 1. Find all the details at

Michael Morain, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs



Empowering Iowans to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by cultivating creativity, participation & learning in the arts.

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The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs empowers Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to resources.