August 3, 2015

Independent film festivals gaining more of an audience in Iowa


Liz Gilman

More than one dozen Iowa communities are now hosting annual independent film festivals and while they’re not yet at the level of Sundance, they’re growing in popularity — and dollars generated — every year.

Liz Gilman, executive producer of Produce Iowa, the State Office of Media Production, says film festivals are drawing bigger audiences while providing a boost to the creative economy in communities across the state.

“There’s roughly 15 in Iowa and I’m hearing more and more of other ones, too, so it keeps building,” Gilman says. “There’s a listing of about 15 film festivals on and that will take you directly to the link of the community film festivals, so you can learn more about them.” A weekend film festival can mean a huge tourism boost. In April, Dubuque hosted the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival. It attracted more than 4,000 attendees and 125 filmmakers from 11 states and five countries. It also generated some $261,000 of economic impact — in one weekend.

Plus, Gilman says the quality of the movies being shown at even the small-town Iowa festivals has grown exponentially. “You’ll find that you’ll go to a film festival and you’ll see some titles and there’ll be people in from all over the world to these film festivals,” Gilman says. “I’ve started catching some of the titles of certain films that go to other circuits, so, they’re getting the top of the top names in the film festival circuit.”

Wherever you are in Iowa, she says, there’s likely a film festival near you. “It’s a lot of fun and one of the great things is that they’ll have the filmmakers there,” Gilman says. “You can do a little Q-and-A with them afterwards and start to understand what they were thinking when they did certain parts of the movies. It’s really interesting to understand the creative process and start discussions.”

As more filmmakers attend the festivals, they’re seeing how friendly and hospitable Iowans are, which Gilman says, helps to put Iowa on their radar in terms of potential locations for filming. The next scheduled Iowa film festival is this coming weekend (August 6-8) in Burlington with the Snake Alley Festival of Film.


Adams County tornado labeled an EF-1

National Weather Service photo of silos damaged near Prescott.

National Weather Service photo of silos damaged near Prescott.

A survey team from the National Weather Service has determined that the tornado that went through northeastern Adams County Sunday was an EF-1.

The the worst damage happened about 8 miles north-northeast of Prescott. The tornado traveled south before turning northeast.

Machinery and bins were hit hard, and some corn and soybeans were flattened by the storm.

The National Weather Service says the storm hit around 6:25 and lasted about 25 minutes. It had high winds at 100 miles-an-hour while cutting a 350-yard path for 4 miles.

While buildings and crops were damaged, nobody was injured or killed in the storm.


The next phase for the old Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison

Governor Terry Branstad at the news conference this morning.

Governor Terry Branstad at his news conference this morning.

Governor Terry Branstad says it’s unclear what may happen to the now-vacant Iowa State Penitentiary property in Fort Madison.

“It’s kind of impressive or imposing,” Branstad says, “depending on how you look at it.”

The prison was established in Fort Madison 176 years ago, before Iowa became a state, and on Saturday more than 500 inmates were moved into the new state prison about two miles away. Branstad says he’s talked with the mayor of Fort Madison about some of the plans being discussed locally for what became known as “The Fort.”

“There are facilities that could be used by the community for recreation and otherwise,” Branstad says, “and we certainly want to work with the community of Fort Madison on it.”

But Branstad says some areas of the facility are just too old and obsolete to be converted for another use. Some closed prisons, like Alcatraz in California where Al Capone was held or Robben Island in South Africa where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years, have become tourism attractions. The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia — famous for its system of total solitary confinement — was closed in 1970 and now offers haunted tours at night.

Branstad was asked about the old prison in Fort Madison at his weekly news conference. Find the full audio here.

(Photo by Asya Akca)

July ends up slightly cooler and wetter than normal

Rain-guage-61515State Climatologist Harry Hillaker says the sizzling summer days of July had a little less heat to them than normal.

“Overall averaged out to about one degree cooler than usual for the state as a whole — although there were some parts of far south and southwest Iowa that were just barely above normal for the month. We certainly did have some periods — especially toward the middle of the month — that were certainly very hot and humid,”Hillaker says.

While some of those days produced very high heat indices, none of the warmer periods pushed the actual air temperature into triple digits. “Ninety-seven degrees was the highest reading we had in the state in several different places on several different dates scattered throughout the month, mostly in the middle portion of July,” according to Hillaker. “On the other extreme, all the way down to 44 degrees on the second and third of the month in some parts of northern Iowa.”

It’s too early to tell, but Hillaker says July will likely end up being the warmest month of the year. “That would be the case probably 80 percent of the time. Last year we had an unusually cool July, and August was actually our warmest month of the summer — but usually it is July,” Hillaker says. Some of the cooler weather was a result of rain clouds over the state. “For the state as a whole, it was on the wet side of normal. Statewide average rainfall was 5.71 inches, which is about an inch-and-a-quarter more than usual for July,” Hillaker explains. “It ranks 19th wettest in 143 years of records. Have to go back five years, July of 2010, to find a wetter July in the state.” His numbers are a statewide average, and blend together the highs and lows.

“Some parts of northwestern and also northeast Iowa were actually much drier than usual. Dubuque for example, just 1.2 inches of rain there,” Hillaker says. “But on the other hand, much of southern Iowa had a very, very wet month. Knoxville had 13.33 inches of rain during July, which was their second wettest July at Knoxville in 122 years of records there.” As we head into the last four months of the calendar year, Hillaker says there’s only one month that stands out for unusual temperatures.

“Year-to-date, temperatures running just a little bit cooler than normal, not greatly so. And most of that because of a really cold February…all the other months have been pretty close to normal. A few degrees above, a few below, but nothing greatly out of the ordinary, other than February,” Hillaker says. He says there’s not a lot of unusual numbers when it comes to rainfall either. “We’re running about an inch-and-a-half of rainfall above normal for this point in the year. All of that surplus, for the most part just coming during July. But overall, pretty close to normal on the rainfall end of things as well,” Hillaker says.

He says early projections are for August to be a little cooler than normal.


Branstad favors more ‘specific, strategic’ earmarks in education spending (AUDIO)

Gov. Terry Branstad at his news conference today.

Governor Terry Branstad at his news conference this morning.

Governor Terry Branstad says he’d like to earmark more state funding for schools rather than give districts a lump sum to spend as local officials see fit.

“Instead of the old way that we used to do things, we gave all this across-the-board money with no accountability and Iowa kind of stagnated while other states put focus on things that increased their standards and improved their student achievement,” Branstad says.

Branstad’s comments run counter to what many Republican presidential candidates are saying about allowing parents and local school boards to make decisions about curriculum.

“We used to buy the idea: ‘We don’t need to have state standards. This can be done at the local level,'” the Republican governor says.

Branstad says that’s why he has earmarked money for a teacher improvement plan and specified that schools are to spend a certain amount of money on reading programs in the early grades and classes for older students that focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

“It’s not just give us the money, no accountability any more,” Branstad says.

Branstad’s been getting criticism from local school administrators for vetoing nearly 56 million dollars that many schools had planned to use to buy new textbooks and computers. Branstad suggests he might have approved that level of one-time spending if it had been targeted.

“We want to become best in America again and I think that’s going to take specific and strategic investments in education that focus on things that really make a difference,” Branstad says.

Branstad cites the $10 million he had suggested for programs to help minority students do better in school. Legislators did not earmark the money for that initiative. Branstad says it’s time for state policymakers “to move forward” and work together on “proven” programs, like the focus on science, technology, engineering and math courses.

Branstad made his comments this morning during his weekly news conference.

AUDIO of Branstad’s news conference, 31:00

(Photo by Asya Akca)

At least one tornado confirmed in southern Iowa

At least one tornado touched down in rural southern Iowa last night, near the towns of Creston, Cromwell and Williamson. National Weather Service meteorologist Roger Vachalek can’t yet confirm whether there were multiple twisters.

“There may have been just one tornado,” Vachalek says. “We sent out a survey team today to take a look at that. That occurred in Adams County so we’ll have folks out there surveying the damage this morning and we’ll have some results from that later on this afternoon, probably before about 5 o’clock.” While some crops were torn up and a few farmsteads were hit by the likely tornado, there are no reports of anyone being hurt.

“From what we understand, from some of the photos we’ve received that will help us with the survey, it did damage some farms and cut through some fields, so there’s some significant damage,” Vachalek says. “Fortunately, we did not see it go through any major towns or cities last night.” Before last night’s storms, there had only been 25 tornadoes reported statewide this year, far below the annual average of 46. Last year, there were 55 twisters reported across Iowa.

Damage reports were scattered across central and southern Iowa from last night’s bout of severe weather. “These thunderstorms that developed around the Des Moines metro area and then filled in quickly over the southern counties, did produce a number of large hail reports, some in excess of 1.75 inches, or golf ball-sized or larger,” Vachalek says. Large hail was reported in the following counties: Adair, Dallas, Marion, Jasper, Taylor and Union.

A possible microburst knocked over a semi near Des Moines while Chariton reports wind gusts of almost 60 miles-an-hour. Vachalek says we’ll see somewhat cooler weather most of this week, with rain possible much of the next five to seven days.


State drug czar applauds reinstatement of federal take back program

PillsThe director of the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy is applauding a recent decision by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reinstate its National Prescription Drug Take Back program. Steve Lukan says prescription drug abuse remains a fast growing problem in Iowa and a safe and environmentally sound method to dispose of unused medicines is key to keeping those drugs from being misused.

“I think we certainly, as a state, need to pay attention to the strong drugs that are out there in our medicine cabinets,” Lukan said. “We do have a lot of prescription pain killers that are often times very powerful and unfortunately, sometimes end up in the wrong hands.” The next special collection of old, unwanted prescription drugs is scheduled for Saturday, September 26.

“It’s certainly a good opportunity to have conversations inside your home about proper use of medications and also just really trying to reinforce making healthy choices and avoiding drug use,” Lukan said. During the first four years of the DEA’s Take Back program with local law enforcement, pharmacies and community groups, nearly 26 tons of unused prescription drugs were collected in Iowa.

According to Lukan, there are also nearly 50 local law enforcement agencies and pharmacies that have established permanent drop-off sites to collect controlled prescription medicines in Iowa.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reports overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, have been rising in Iowa – with 77 such deaths in 2014.