LOST NATION: THE IOWAY
Last October, Moline-based filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle debuted their documentary Lost Nation: The Ioway, a 53-minute exploration of the Native Americans for whom the state of Iowa was named. And if you were one of the lucky ones who saw this Fourth Wall Films production at its October 11 premiere in Des Moines, its October 21 engagement at the Putnam Museum & IMAX Theatre, or its subsequent screenings throughout the Midwest, you likely already know that it's something special - a fantastically informative, beautifully constructed, and (not for nothing) thoroughly enjoyable piece of work.
Yet while the film is pretty great, its DVD (available October 7) is absolutely outstanding. Lost Nation: The Ioway has been made with intelligence and skill, and as Kelly Rundle says on one of the movie's two commentary tracks, viewers appear responsive to it "not because it's a Native American story, but because it's a human story." Fittingly, the bonus features have been assembled with as much thought, care, and filmmaking savvy - and joy - as Lost Nation itself. (There's even something akin to a gag reel.) The extras here do exactly what DVD extras ideally should: They entertain, but they also expand your appreciation of the movie by offering so much more to appreciate.
Chief among the DVD's pleasures is, of course, its feature attraction. (Kelly serves as Lost Nation's director, editor, and cinematographer, and he and wife Tammy share producing, writing, and sound credits.) Detailing the complex, heartbreaking history of the Ioway, a largely forgotten tribe of Native Americans, the movie contains lucid commentary from Midwestern scientists and scholars, and is filled with fascinating anecdotes; archaeologist Dale Henning discusses the days when one could travel much of Iowa by canoe, and artist Lance Foster offers insight into Ioway tools and dietary staples. (Singed raccoon, we learn, is a delicacy "so tender that it's like pork.") Among the 35 interviewees, however, more than a dozen are Ioway tribe members, and their recollections, imaginings, and visible pride and melancholy lend the history even greater social context. Lost Nation isn't merely interested in who the Ioway were, but how who they were shaped who they are now. (A similar effect was produced in the Rundles' chilling ax-murder documentary, Villisca: Living with a Mystery.)
Through the wonderfully knowledgeable and engaging on-screen participants, the Ioway's tragic past and still-vital present come alive without the filmmakers resorting to re-creation or voice-over, and the movie is aesthetically gorgeous, to boot. Filmed on location in eight U.S. states, the compositions are beautiful without calling undue attention to their beauty (shots never last longer than necessary), and even the rare detours into cliché are effective; scoring a film's prelude to "Amazing Grace" isn't exactly novel (or subtle), but the haunting flute rendition here sets the appropriate elegiac tone, and its selection becomes retrospectively moving when, 40 minutes later, we hear it performed in the language of the Ioway.
A bare-bones DVD edition of Lost Nation would, in itself, be worth celebrating. But given its plethora of bonus features, this package might just be indispensable, not least for the commentary track offered by linguist Jimm Goodtracks, who translates the entire film in the Ioway language. There are expanded and new interviews; charming, hugely informative commentary with the Rundles; a mini-doc filmed at a Native American powwow; an intriguing look at an archaeological dig with students from Luther College; and an extra that's almost stunningly smart - a 10-minute (on the dot!) version of the movie designed for elementary-school students that touches on nearly all of the film's main themes and provides ample opportunities for classroom discussion.
And then there's the DVD's "Behind the Scenes" feature, which is indispensable in its own right. We rarely think of the talking heads in documentaries as "performers," but as this utterly delightful featurette makes clear, accidents occur just as readily in nonfiction as in fiction: interviewees get tongue-tied and ask to start over; microphones are knocked over; outdoor filming halts while trains pass. (At one point, after an interviewee giggles at her momentary lack of composure, Kelly says, "We promise that won't be in the film," and Tammy adds, "It'll be in the outtakes.")
The Rundles treat their subject matter with the utmost respect, but there's also a playful spirit in both the feature and its bountiful extras - the joy of filmmakers clearly in love with movies, and the art of making movies. Lost Nation: The Ioway's final outtake finds a man speaking and suddenly coughing, telling the filmmakers, "I swallowed a bug." Which is exactly what Marlon Brando says in his most famous flub in the Apocalypse Now doc Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. There's no way the Rundles could have possibly planned their interviewee's bug-swallowing response, but this movie-lover's heart soared knowing that they recognized it.
Lost Nation: The Ioway will be available at Borders, Amazon.com, and other DVD retailers beginning Tuesday, October 7. For more information on the film, visit IowayMovie.com.