Produce Iowa
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Produce Iowa

Sioux City & Iowa City Champion Women Filmmakers

Colleen Bradford Krantz (Pink Spear Productions)

When 11 immigrants turned up dead inside a locked railcar in Denison, Colleen Bradford Krantz decided to change careers.

That was in 2002, and she was working as a reporter. Three years later, she stepped away from the newspaper business and jumped headlong into filmmaking.

In doing so, she joined a growing number of women working in film — a trend at the center of this past weekend’s Sioux City International Film Festival. The Oct. 3–5 event included workshops and forums about contributions women have made in the film industry so far and what they hope to achieve in the years to come.

Krantz, for one, knew she had what it takes to be a filmmaker.

“I had always wanted to be a print storyteller, so I was happily surprised to see how much I enjoyed working on the visual storyteller side,” she said. “I started by coming in with storytelling and research skills, and I got pretty good at looking for people with strengths I didn’t have.”

She eventually teamed up with a video producer from the Quad Cities to create an award-winning documentary called “Train to Nowhere: Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation,” which offered an honest yet compassionate look at the deaths of the 11 Central Americans and Mexicans in Denison and the subsequent investigation.

Iowa Public Television broadcast the documentary, and it’s available for streaming on Netflix. This summer she received a Greenlight Grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs — another sign that she made the right career move — and is developing a series called “Complete Bull,” about a young woman who is in the business of artificially inseminating cattle.

“I grew up on a cattle ranch in Guthrie County, so I’m pretty familiar with the whole process,” she said with a laugh. “The show would basically be a drama but there’s plenty of room for comedy, obviously.”

That’s the kind of success story panelists and guests discussed at the Sioux City festival. Now in its 15th year, it’s the longest-running film festival in Iowa.

“This year, we wanted to have something different,” festival co-founder Rick Mullin said. “So we looked around and saw that 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. It seemed like a natural tie-in for us especially with the caucuses coming up.”

Iowa native Nora Kirkpatrick, who played Esther in “The Office,” had two films showing this year: “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller” and “Best Seller.” She participated in the festival panel with other notable women in film, including:

· Patricia Meyer, a screenwriting professor who has worked with Oprah Winfrey and Martin Scorsese.

· Rhiannon Koehler, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and acts in the comedic web series “Summit.”

· Sarah Nicole Jones, a writer for “Longmire,” “Forever,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Waco” and “Altered Carbon.”

· Catherine McGrath Wolf, an executive at Blinding Edge Pictures.

· Melissa Blake, a writer and producer for “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “Heroes,” “Ghost Whisperer” and “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior.”

From left: Nora Kirkpatrick, Patricia Meyer and Rhiannon Koehler.
Melissa Blake

“We’re going to take a historical look at women making films from the 1920s to the present,” Mullin said before the festival. “The filmmakers can also kick around ideas and take questions and talk about what it’s like to work with Scorsese, De Niro and other people like Elisabeth Moss, who starred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ and Robin Wright, who was in ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘Forest Gump.’”

Meanwhile, the Iowa City group FilmScene is expanding its annual Women’s March program from the month of March into a year-long celebration of female filmmakers.

“The program was born out of what was happening in the fall of 2017 with the #MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein,” FilmScene’s programming director, Rebecca Fons, said. “That was two years ago, and time marches on and people sometimes forget.”

So the nonprofit group is rolling out its new year-long series, called “Reel Representation,” to keep supporting women in film. The first event, called “Women on the Verge,” kicks off in November through December. Each of the series screenings, including “Wanda,” “Bound,” and “The Headless Woman,” will be followed by a panel discussion.

“Women artists are always fighting for their piece of the pie,” Fons said. “There have been a lot of allies in the struggle, and a lot of people are coming to the table to help them get their films made. The national temperature for general parity and equality in the industry has definitely found its way to Iowa.”

— Jeff Morgan, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

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Iowa Culture

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