Iowa Film and Book Collection (Marty Knepper, John Lawrence), Sioux City Public Museum

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Location: 607 4th Street, Sioux City, IA 51101

Background on “Iowa Film and Book Collection”

The blockbuster films Field of Dreams (1989) and Bridges of Madison County (1995) were based on bestselling books. The Iowa film locations quickly became tourist destinations that persist into the present. In 1996, Marty Knepper and John Lawrence, then colleagues at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, began to study the Iowa film phenomenon and the history of Iowa films. Using film archives and databases, newspaper articles, Iowa Film Office/Produce Iowa resources, film festival information, and direct communication with film directors, they eventually determined that there had been 400+ Iowa films in the period of 1918-2013. From the earliest history of Iowa films made by Hollywood, Iowa has been portrayed in both a pastoral and a satiric way, neither approach representing Iowa and its residents with much authenticity. More recent Iowa films, made since 2001 mainly by Iowans, portray a more up-to date view of the state and its citizens with much more realism: neither as a “heaven” nor as a place immune from the social issues that confront the rest of the nation.

Knepper and Lawrence’s first publications by the Historical Society of Iowa were “Visions of Iowa in Hollywood Film,” Iowa Heritage Illustrated 79.4 (Winter 1998): 156-69, and “Iowa Filmography: 1918-2002,” Annals of Iowa 62:1 (Winter 2003): 30-100. These articles were followed by a later article, “World War II and Iowa: Hollywood’s Pastoral Myth for the Nation,” published in the book Representing the Rural, edited by Catherine Fowler and Gillian Helfield (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2006): 323-40). These articles were part of the inspiration for the Historical Museum of Iowa’s long running exhibition “Hollywood in the Heartland,” launched in Des Moines (600 E. Locust Street) in 2014, for which Knepper and Lawrence consulted and for which Knepper provided video commentaries.  Through the beginning of January 2016, some 55,000 visitors have seen the exhibit, which is scheduled to run until June 2017. Coordinated with the exhibit’s opening, Knepper and Lawrence published The Book of Iowa Films (2014), a catalog of Iowa films supplemented by an interpretative essay and a reprint of the “World War II and Iowa” essay. Information about the book is at The book and Sioux City Public Museum archive organizes Iowa films into several distinctive types: I. Iowa Settings, Fictional Films; II. Iowa Settings, Historical Films; III. Traveling Iowans, films with at least one fictional Iowan as a significant character in a location outside the state; IV. Iowa Documentaries, featuring Iowans, Iowa topics, Iowa history, or Iowa settings; V. Made in Iowa, films shot in Iowa but not set here; and VI, Iowa Mentions, films that mention Iowa in a cursory way.

Research on these films required extensive collecting over nearly a 20 year period. The authors donated to the Sioux City Public Museum videocassettes, DVDs, books, and posters. There are currently more than 300 items (270 films + 30 posters, stills, and books) listed in the Museum’s Past Perfect database under the heading “SC 217: Iowa Film and Book Collection (Marty Knepper and John Lawrence).” The collection includes early films, rare feature films, and hard-to-find independent feature films and documentaries. Items are available for viewing at 607 4th Street, Sioux City, IA 51101 (712-224-5001).  The database of items can be searched only through the Museum’s terminals.