MOLINE — “The Amish Incident: Rural Conflict & Compromise,” the latest film by Mid-America Emmy-nominated filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle of Moline, will premiere on WQPT-PBS at 9 p.m. Feb. 10.
When school officials decide to bus Amish children into town schools in November 1965, a newspaper photographer captured an iconic image of kids fleeing from authorities into a nearby cornfield.
The rural Oelwein, Iowa, incident and the photo ignited a firestorm of arrests, fines and controversy leading to a unique precedent-setting covenant between the "Plain People" and the state of Iowa, according to a synopsis of the 26-minute documentary.
“The Amish Incident” weaves interviews with key people with newly discovered archival materials and photos to tell “a fascinating and memorable true tale of rural conflict and compromise,” according to a release from the Rundles' Fourth Wall Films.
“We considered including the Amish incident story in our documentary 'Country School: One Room – One Nation',” said producer Tammy Rundle. “Ultimately we found that it was a complicated and dramatic story that should be explored in a separate film.”
“I go to the Amish community to talk to an Amish patriarch. We’re talking in a room with no lights. There’s no water. There are lanterns around,” Gene Raffensperger, eastern Iowa reporter for the Des Moines Register at the time, says in the new film. “They didn’t have telephones. And he’s talking about the school thing, I never walked into one just like that and I’m saying to myself, ‘My God, this is the jet age colliding with horse and buggy.'”
The filmmakers previewed an early version in November in Independence, Iowa to a packed Starlight Cinema Theater. The 1965 incident took place in the Independence area.
With the fiscal sponsorship of The Moline Foundation, “The Amish Incident” was partially funded by a grant from Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area. Interviews in 2009 for “Country School” were partially funded by a grant from Humanities Iowa. Filming took place in Fayette, Buchanan and Polk counties.
“As we reviewed the 2009 footage and began to think about how to tell the story, we were surprised that it wasn't just going to be a film about a conflict with the Amish,” director Kelly Rundle said. “It's equally a film about journalism, and how reporting – in this case, one photograph – can crystallize public opinion on a policy issue.”
“It was a complex story to tell and in keeping with the old days of journalism, we decided to creatively use the 'printed word' to tell the story,” he said. “The Amish do not allow posed photos or sitting for a video interview, so it was especially challenging to paint a picture of who the Amish are and do their story justice.”
Fourth Wall found Waterloo-based photographer David Marvitz, who had gained the trust of the Amish over the years, and they allowed him last year to photograph them while at work, the film release said. He had to adhere to specific restrictions in photographing them.
Marvitz shot in Amish country, where the incident took place (respecting their wishes of filming from a distance, not identifying faces), and the key locations pertinent to the story, the Rundles said.
The husband-and-wife team are producers of a dozen award-winning documentaries, including the “Lost Nation: The Ioway” series, “Villisca: Living with a Mystery,” “Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg, and four regional Emmy-nominated films including “Good Earth: Awakening the Silent City,” “River to River: Iowa’s Forgotten Highway 6,” and “Letters Home to Hero Street.”
'Thunder' to rumble in March
Their first docudrama, “Sons & Daughters of Thunder,” will have its world premiere at 6:30 p.m. March 16 at the Putnam Museum National Geographic Giant Screen in Davenport, and then screen in Cincinnati, Ohio at the Garfield Theatre on March 23.
"Sons & Daughters of Thunder” tells the true story of 1834 Lane Seminary debates in Cincinnati. Organized by Theodore Weld, one of the architects of the abolitionist movement, “the shocking oratory sparked intense controversy and awakened a young Harriet Beecher (Stowe) to the horrors of slavery,” according to a Fourth Wall release.
Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) went on to pen the anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which changed American public opinion in favor of abolition.
Advance tickets for the Putnam premiere will be available starting Feb. 11, at Putnam.org. Tickets are $10 per person and pre-ordering is strongly recommended.