0. WHISKEY_COOKERS_POSTER_HorizontalThe lives of bootleggers during prohibition have been romanticized and captured many times on screens big and small, but one of the most unique and interesting tales of a city predominantly run by bootleggers will debut on local PBS station WQPT at 9 p.m. Sunday, May 8 and 9 p.m. May 12.

“Whiskey Cookers: The Amazing True Story of the Templeton Rye Bootleggers” tells the fascinating tale of Templeton, Iowa, a town which dealt with the oppression of prohibition by banding together to avoid capture by the authorities. The award-winning documentary tells the tale of how this town of 400 German-Catholic immigrants responded to a series of hostile forces — anti-Germanism during World War I, anti-Catholicism during Iowa’s KKK movement of the 1920s, and finally Prohibition — by banding together to preserve their language and their culture — including the German love of beer, wine and spirits.

The result: a town where everyone was a bootlegger — from the Mayor to the Town Marshall to the village Priest.

The TV broadcast’s timing is no accident: 2016 marks the 100th Anniversary of Iowa state Prohibition. Iowa had temperance laws on and off for much of its history; but in 1916, actions by the Iowa legislature instituted strict “bone dry” state Prohibition laws, outlawing alcohol in the Hawkeye state four years before the 18th Amendment and national Prohibition went into effect.
That four year head start helped Templeton, Iowa — population 400 — become the rye whiskey bootlegging capital of America’s heartland.

Whiskey Cookers won Best Documentary at the Iowa Independent and Wild Rose Film Festivals, as well as awards for editing and direction. The soundtrack, featuring Iowa folk artists Foot-Notes, Dwight Lamb, and Alan Murphy, won an Outstanding Achievement Award at the Wild Rose Festival. You can check out the cool trailer for the doc here: https://youtu.be/MuhrPTOFaEQ.

“The Templeton story ended up being a story about family, culture and country,” said director Dan Manatt. “It’s really how a group of immigrants banded together to save their cultural ties.”
Manatt’s film acts as the same – a document preserving the stories and culture of the people of this town and time. During his decade in putting it together, he preserved a wealth of storytelling culture and detail that would’ve otherwise been lost or diluted, given that some of the subjects in the documentary have now passed.

“In doing the research on the story, I was privileged to get to hear their stories and rewarded by getting to capture this unique moment in our history,” Manatt said. “We were always under the impression that this was a colorful local story, since so many stories about bootlegging and that time period always are, but this was so much more. To find out that it wasn’t just a few folks in on this, but everyone in town – the baker, the butcher, the politicians, the police, was in on it – was very interesting. When you think of prohibition you think of these preachers hurling fire and brimstone about the demon alcohol. But here, the town priest himself had a still in the residence of his church. This was a deep cultural story about how these German Catholics felt their way of life was under attack against the backdrop of the end of World War I, and how they came together to persevere and preserve it.”

WQPT has become the gold standard in regard to documentary coverage in the area, and has especially enjoyed a sterling reputation for quality local programming, so Manatt and producer J. Douglas Miller were particularly pleased the local PBS affiliate picked it up.

“We are so pleased WQPT is airing it, and we’re very pleased it’s getting a local audience for this great story of our area history and culture,” Miller said.

Aside from its entertainment value, the documentary also raises some points still salient in our modern culture. Both Miller and Manatt agree that there are elements of the story which still resonate today.
“It’s like Mark Twain said, ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes,’” Manatt said. “A lot of this movie shows that.”

As well as showing a lot of colorful tales of a vibrant and fascinating era. Check it out over the next week for an intoxicating slice of area history.

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written almost 30 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.