After Many Tries, Quad-Cities’ Fourth Wall Films Looking for First Emmy Win in November
After four previous nominations for Mid-America Emmy Awards (but no wins), the veteran documentary filmmakers received three more
The Emmy awards (for TV broadcasts mainly in Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois outside Chicago) will be announced on Nov. 21 in an online ceremony.
“We believe in the films and we’re glad the Emmy judges believe in them, too,” producer Tammy Rundle said over the weekend.
“Becoming Harriet Beecher Stowe” and “Sons & Daughters of Thunder” both had their broadcast premiere on WQPT, the Quad-Cities PBS station.
The first tells the story of the 19th-century writer’s life in Cincinnati, Ohio and how these life-changing experiences contributed to her best-selling novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) lived in Cincinnati between 1832 and 1850, and just after her move to Maine, she adapted her Ohio experiences and anti-slavery sentiment into America’s most influential novel.
The doc debuted in February 2020 on WQPT-PBS. It includes scenes from the Rundles’ 2019 docudrama “Sons & Daughters of Thunder” featuring Jessica Taylor as acclaimed 19th-century author Harriet Beecher Stowe and numerous other well-known actors from the Quad-Cities region.
The Rundles’ film received an Emmy nomination in the Documentary-Cultural category. Dee Canfield of Moline read excerpts from Beecher Stowe’s letters in the film.
The doc features interviews with Joan Hedrick, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life”; Philip McFarland, author of “The Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe”; historians Chris DeSimio, Christine Anderson, Ph.D., John E. Douglass, Ph.D.; John Getz, Ph.D., and Michelle Watts, Ph.D.
Production took place in Cincinnati, Piqua and Ripley, Ohio; Maysville, Ky.; Litchfield and Hartford, Conn.; Brunswick, Maine and Andover, Mass. The project got a major grant from Ohio Humanities (an affiliate of The National Endowment for the Humanities), and Friends of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House served as the fiscal sponsor for the grant.
The docudrama “Sons & Daughters of Thunder” received three nominations including Best Arts/Entertainment: Program/Special, Best Original Music Score by William Campbell (of Davenport), and a nomination for Writing (Screenplay). The screenplay was adapted by the Rundles from the play “Sons & Daughters of Thunder” written by Earlene Hawley and Curtis Heeter. Kent Hawley co-produced the film with the Rundles.
“Thunder” tells the unforgettable true story of the first-in-the-nation 1834 anti-slavery debates in Cincinnati, Ohio, led by firebrand abolitionist Theodore Weld as portrayed by Thomas Alan Taylor (Davenport). The debates had a profound impact on a young Harriet Beecher Stowe’s views on slavery.
Kimberly Kurtenbach served as the executive producer and casting director on the project and played Harriet’s sister Catharine Beecher in the film. Janos Horvath (Rock Island) starred as Lyman Beecher.
“I was blessed to serve as Executive Producer, Casting Director and as an actor in this remarkable project,” Kurtenbach posted recently on Facebook. “My congrats to Tammy Rundle and Kelly Rundle, the remarkable producer and director of this film and my forever thanks for bringing me on board your project, Congrats to our entire team, cast and crew for being a part of telling this very special and very timely story.”
The film starred many local acclaimed actors, and included crew members from the Q-C region. Filming took place at the Dillon Home Museum in Sterling, Ill., the Jenny Lind Chapel in Andover, the Karpeles Manuscript Museum and Augustana’s House on the Hill in Rock Island, the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati, and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Conn., where Stowe lived next to Mark Twain.
In August, “Sons & Daughters of Thunder” received seven awards from the Iowa Motion Picture Association, out of eight IMPA nominations.
It won five top Awards of Excellence:
- Best Live Action Entertainment — Long Form (60 minutes or more)
- William Campbell for Best Original Music Score
- Thomas Alan Taylor for Best Actor
- Kimberly Kurtenbach for Best Supporting Actress
- Kelly Rundle for Best Direction — Long Form
Rundle tied for best director with Davenport’s Stephen Folker for “Overdue.” The IMPA said: “These two amazing films were so great that the judges felt one could not win over the other.”
Awards of Achievement were presented to Kelly Rundle for Editing — Long Form, and to Jessica Taylor for Best Actress. Kevin Railsback received a nomination for Best Director of Photography.
“We are honored that Sons & Daughters of Thunder and several of the talented creative artists involved in the film project were recognized for their outstanding work by the IMPA,” Tammy Rundle said. “The award for Best Live Action Entertainment is shared with the entire cast and crew, including playwright Earlene Hawley, co-producer Kent Hawley, and our supporters who stuck with us during this challenging project. Thunder was very much a collaboration of gifted and dedicated professional artists.”
“Thunder” was partially funded by a grant from the Quad City Arts (Illinois Arts Council Agency, Hubbell-Waterman Foundation and Deere and Company); and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. The Moline Foundation and the Shell Rock Community Historical Society served
as the fiscal sponsors for the project.
Kelly Rundle said recently that both film projects hold powerful lessons for today.
“Harriet wrote a novel that changed the public’s view on slavery from colonization to abolition. Her life and work pokes a serious hole in the notion that one person can’t make a difference,” he said.
The synopsis of “Thunder” and its drive for social justice sound familiar today, Rundle said.
“In the wake of a mysterious and deadly epidemic, students engage in a series of debates and protests arguing that black lives matter and that slavery should be abolished,” he said.
Previous Fourth Wall Emmy nominations
The Moline-based filmmakers (who previously operated their business in Los Angeles) have been nominated for regional Emmys for four documentaries:
- “Good Earth: Awakening the Silent City” (2017)
- “River to River: Iowa’s Forgotten Highway 6” (2015)
- “Letters Home to Hero Street” (2015, co-produced with Lora Adams and WQPT)
- “Country School: One Room – One Nation” (2010)
“Country School” was the first time the Rundles entered a film in the Emmy competition following a March 2012 qualifying broadcast on
Country schools took rough-hewn pioneers and multilingual immigrants and transformed them into a literate and patriotic new nation. That film provides a never-before-seen perspective on one-room schools in the Upper Midwest. From the first schools in new states to the demise of their widespread use in the 1950s and 1960s, the visually stunning film takes viewers “back to school” for a dramatic new look at the lasting impact of America’s one-room schools.
The award-winning “Letters Home”” is a co-production by Fourth Wall Films and Lora Adams of WQPT. The 25-minute documentary focuses on a young Mexican-American veteran’s view of World War II as told through letters he sent home to his family in Silvis.
He becomes one of eight veterans of WWII and the Korean War killed in combat from the same block-and-a half long neighborhood now called Hero Street, USA. Frank Sandoval was just starting a new job at the Rock Island Arsenal when he was drafted in 1942. He sent hundreds of letters to family and friends during the two years he was in the service and the 130 letters that remain tell the story of his epic journey from Illinois to India. Killed on the bank of the Irrawaddy River in Burma in June 1944, Sandoval was the first of the Hero Street Eight to fall in combat.
“Letters Home” reenactments featured local actors Eric Juarez, Maya Chavez, Cindy Ramos and Josh Wielenga. The film received a Silver Eddy and the Audience Award at the 2015 Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival.
“River to River” was inspired by the research and photography of Dave Darby, executive director of the Iowa Division of the Route 6 Tourist
Association. The film guides viewers on “a nostalgic classic car journey through yesterday’s soda shops, filling stations, general stores, drive-ins, historic sites and roadside attractions” that line Iowa’s U.S. 6, according to a Fourth Wall release.
And in 2018, they were nominated for the documentary “Good Earth: Awakening the Silent City.” Fourth Wall successfully competed with 42 proposals by 36 other media production companies nationwide to win a contract to produce “Good Earth” for the visitors center at South Dakota’s newest state park, Good Earth at Blood Run.
Good Earth: Awakening the Silent City tells the fascinating and forgotten story of the Blood Run National Historic Landmark as told by a Native American grandfather to his grandchildren. Produced in 4K, the documentary combines vivid present-day views of the park’s scenic vistas and wildlife with dramatic historical reenactments portraying daily life in the year 1650.
Among the 2020 Mid-America Emmy nominations, the only other local project to be recognized was WHBF-TV’s Tiffany Lundberg for “A Castle Built Out of Love,” which aired in May 2019.
It features Havencrest Castle, hidden behind the trees in Savanna, Ill. In 1976, artist Alan St. George and his wife, Adrianne, bought the 23-room mansion originally built in 1901.
They immediately got to work creating an extraordinary home that would tell their unique love story, according to WHBF. For 30 years,
Alan, the artist, and Adrianne, the visionary, worked together designing and building what would become a 63-room castle.
They loved entertaining guests and filling their home with laughter, but in 2006 the castle would go dark, the episode said. Adrianne was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and died two days later.
For years, Alan kept to himself, mourning the loss of the woman he met when he was just 13 years old. As time passed, Alan decided he was ready to let light and laughter back into their home, the story said. He opened the castle for limited public tours on weekends in October of 2018, and remains open through Nov. 1.
Rundles’ first just in time for Halloween
The first Fourth Wall documentary ever made, 2004’s “Villisca: Living with a Mystery,” will air on WQPT on Thursday, Oct. 29 at 8 p.m. It’s a spooky, true-crime tale, whose shocking murders (of two adults and six children) have never been solved.
“Villisca” tells the epic true story of the June 9, 1912 Villisca, Iowa Children’s Day axe murders. Following just two months after the sinking of the Titanic, America’s greatest unsolved mystery “built and ruined political careers, created a lasting community split over the guilt or
innocence of a local man — a state Senator — and produced dozens of litigations including three sensational trials,” according to a film release.
The documentary also explores the possibility that the Villisca crime, and similar axe murders in Monmouth, Illinois; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Ellsworth, Kansas, may have been the work of one of America’s first serial killers.
Filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle combined rare period photographs, startling computer animation, original art, limited re-enactments, and fascinating interviews with historians, eye-witnesses, town residents, and forensic experts to shed light on the spellbinding mystery and to dramatically reveal the face of a new suspect.
The documentary (on the most notorious crime in Iowa history) features interviews with Villisca case expert Dr. Edgar Epperly, Dr. Bruce Stillians, and the late Robert K. Ressler, a former FBI agent, forensic profiler and the author of “Whoever Fights Monsters”.
The award-winning “Villisca: Living with a Mystery” can be streamed at https://www.vimeo.com/ondemand/villisca/http://www.vimeo.com/ondemand/villisca/. To buy an extra feature-packed DVD, visit https://fourthwallfilms.com/dvds.htm.