AFI Docs 2021 Review: Storm Lake

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde


Storm Lake directed by Jerry Risius and Beth Levison is more timely than ever. On the surface, it is a documentary about the struggling local news industry in the United States. But, in reality, it goes much deeper than that. While it explores the rising phenom of “news desserts”, as news shifts away from local newspapers to online coverage, it just as importantly explores the significance of community and family.  

In the doc, we are introduced to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times. The Times, as it is affectionately called by the locals, was founded by Art’s brother John in 1990 by delivering an essential public service to the people of Storm Lake, Iowa, by covering news from a local perspective. As eloquently put by Art “without strong local journalism to tell a community story, the fabric of the place becomes frayed.” 

It seems that The Storm Lake Times is much more than a newspaper. It’s family! Art’s wife, Dolores, is a photographer; his son, Tom, is a reporter; his sister-in-law, Mary, is in charge of recipe features. Even their dog, Peach “the Newshound”, is part of the Storm Lake Times Team. Beyond this incredible family dynamic we get to learn more about the community which gives the documentary a very “lived in quality” although it really starts to drag at the end. 

Spanning a period of 4 years, from 2017 to 2021, this documentary unpacks how civic and democratic processes work in Iowa and Storm Lake, in particular, through a local lens. Throughout this experience the primacy of local journalism is emphasized as news shifts online and becomes increasingly polarized. Risius and Levison do an exquisite job of making you feel like you are living in Storm Lake and sometimes even a member of the Storm Lake Times. In the end, The Times is almost like a key into the soul of the city. I recommend this one for news junkies out there or anyone who just wants to get reacquainted with the power of local storytelling. 

Storm Lake Trailer


Storm Lake was screened as part of the AFI Docs 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Episode 85: VIFF 2020 Doc Talk / Mr. SOUL! / Into the Storm / My Mexican Bretzel

“My Mother when she saw the film. She told me I had made a most truthful portrait of her parents than if I had told the truth. So maybe it’s better sometimes to use fiction to tell truths.”

Nuria Giménez Lorang (Interview Link)

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Dick Johnson is Dead & MLK/FBI. Followed by the VIFF 2020 Documentary Titles: Mr. SOUL!, Into the Storm, and My Mexican Bretzel.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

Mr. Soul! is currently available in Virtual Cinemas

My Mexican Bretzel on IndiePix Unlimited

Into the Storm is currently seeking distribution.

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The Father

Written by Taylor Baker


Playwright Florian Zeller’s directorial debut The Father an adaptation of his own play is an exquisite demonstration of tone management and trusting of central players. There is no gawdy tricks, nor leaning on tropes. From start to finish The Father is exactly what you see it as. Confusing, scary, loving, and sad.

Wonderful turns by Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, and Rufus Sewell cement the ever changing world that Hopkins encounters. The deft balancing of the preceding players is remarkable, them together with an understated brief performance by Olivia Williams end up mixing together as the beating heart of this thing you take with you. It’s a story to be sure, and Zeller is masterful at telling it. But the very unreliability of it, make the people Hopkins leans on the reality of the piece. Likewise they are the keystone’s of the film that the audience will assuredly carry away with them, unable to explain the film without bringing them to central focus.

We don’t know what happened to Lucy and by the end it doesn’t quite matter. But if you like me found yourself continuing to think about it. Then perhaps we can agree this isn’t just deft storytelling, this is mastery of structure. This is one of the most fully formed voices I’ve seen spring into the film medium this year. More exciting than this project, is the promising future that Florian has. I can’t wait to watch that future in theaters instead of at home.

Highly Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/21/20

The Father is part of the AFI Festival 2020 line up.

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