The Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival is all about Iowa connections on-screen and behind the scenes. And Fourth Wall Films, based in Moline, Ill., is all about preserving the Midwest's "forgotten" history.
Fourth Wall filmmaker Kelly Rundle is thrilled the two are again intersecting, with screenings of "River to River: Iowa's Forgotten Highway 6" and "Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg" making the cut for this year's film festival.
The event, founded in 2001, runs Friday and Saturday (April 1 and 2) at Collins Road Theatres in Marion. The 63 selected films - ranging from 2 minutes to 2 hours - include a mix of features, shorts, documentaries, music videos and experimental films from students, amateurs and professionals. They compete for gold and silver Eddy awards, audience choice and Iowa connection awards.
Networking is an important part of the festival, and filmmakers frequently appear to discuss their work with each other and their audiences. At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, director Adam Orton and co-producer Beau Batterson will hold a Q&A session and share a sneak peek of the trailer for "The Summerland Project," shot in Cedar Rapids in 2014.
Rundle, 56, who grew up in East Moline, Ill., and his wife, Tammy, 54, a Waterloo native, have been enamored with the Cedar Rapids festival since their initial experience in 2006. Living in Los Angeles at the time, they flew out for the event, and were proud to win a Gold Eddy award for "Villisca, Living With a Mystery," spotlighting the unsolved ax murders that have haunted the tiny southwest Iowa town since 1912.
That initial appearance was "special to us," Rundle said, adding that he appreciates the organizers' overall mission.
"It's unique among Iowa film festivals, because all the films have to have an Iowa connection. That can be anything from an Iowa story to someone who was involved in the production who was from Iowa," he said. "The audiences are great. They are enthusiastic (and) they are engaged in the films."
He's especially glad to see student categories - something he said many other festivals don't have.
"I really enjoy watching the students at work when we're there," he said. "I like the way that they're trying to nurture and encourage up-and-coming new filmmakers."
Fourth Wall's Seberg documentary is a direct result of networking. Garry McGee of Elma, who had conducted a bevy of interviews with the late actress' family and friends, called the Rundles in Los Angeles after reading about Midwest screenings of their Villisca film. The conversation picked back up after the Rundles moved back to the Midwest in 2007 and ran into McGee at a Mason City film festival.
"We're always looking for Midwestern stories that have a local or regional following but deserve a much wider audience or awareness," Rundle said. "This was obviously one of those stories."
It's a tale of Hollywood and heartbreak, beginning when an unknown 17-year-old Iowa girl beat out 18,000 actresses to play St. Joan in Otto Preminger's 1957 film. The documentary goes behind the scenes of her rocky life in the international film spotlight, her civil rights activism that drew FBI attention, and her mysterious death in Paris in 1979 - deemed a "probable suicide." "That leaves room for doubt," Rundle said.
"I have nothing particular in common with Jean Seberg. Our lives are so different," Rundle said. But because of their Midwest roots, he said he felt like he could identify with her.
"I hope that audience members, when they see that film, see their own daughter or granddaughter or niece or sister or friend. I just think the story relates to people on that level."
The Highway 6 documentary, making its first film festival appearance, travels a more nostalgic route across Iowa. Taking on the form of a classic car cruise from Davenport to Council Bluffs, it looks at the towns and stories along this forgotten stretch of highway that weaves under and over Interstate 80 in places.
Rundle hopes the film inspires viewers to take their own weekend jaunt along the route, to discover hidden gems like Ladora, home to the secret writer of the "Nancy Drew" mysteries, or Dexter, site of a Bonnie and Clyde shootout.
"A lot of people are already telling stories on the East Coast and on the West Coast, and a lot of times, it's the same stories over and over again," Rundle said. "What we'd like to do, is find a story that's been forgotten in some way - or even just set aside in a way that people don't remember - and bring it back to people's consciousness."
WHAT: Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival
WHERE: Collins Road
Theatres, 1462 Twixt Town Rd., Marion
WHEN: 6 to 10 p.m. Friday (4/1); 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday (4/2); Eddy Awards, 9:30 p.m. Saturday
TICKETS: Advance: $8 per session (Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening) or $25 all-event pass; day of shows: $10 per session, $35 all-event pass; theater box office or Crifm.org/ticketinfo.html