Emmy-nominated film to be shown Sept. 17 at Oakland Mills
Award-winning filmmakers Tammy and Kelly Rundle of Fourth Wall Films spent two years visiting over 70 one-room schools throughout the Upper Midwest for their most ambitious documentary to date, “Country School: One Room – One Nation.”
The Emmy-nominated documentary film will be featured in a special screening event at the Oakland Mills Nature Center, 2593 Nature Center Drive, Mt. Pleasant, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. A question-and-answer session with the filmmakers will follow the program. Admission is free to the public.
Over 80 hours of interviews, vistas, and historic sites shot in all four seasons in Iowa and four other states have been distilled down to a feature-length documentary that tells the dramatic true story of the life, death and rebirth of one-room schools in the Upper Midwest.
“They did what they were supposed to do,” said Iowa historian Dorothy Schwieder. “There was a time when they met the needs of society. There was also a time when they ceased to meet the needs of society.”
Quad City Times film critic Linda Cook gave the film 4-out-of-4 stars and wrote: “Another documentary gem...vivid and fascinating.”
Film reviewer Mike Schulz of the River Cities Reader wrote, “Country School emerges as a definitive portrait of education in a one-room environment, a work that’s every bit as informative, engaging and impassioned as those telling its tales.”
Along with the expected nostalgia, the Rundles’ journey revealed a few surprises: guns in school, bullying, lunch-stealing ponies, weather disasters, a country school designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the passion former students, teachers and preservationists have for these sometimes forgotten and neglected little schools.
“The mythology both demonizes and glorifies the one-room school,” said writer Bill Samuelson. “The truth is somewhere in between.”
Country School also takes a closer look at rural schools and how they attempted to unify American immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“By 1900 in Wisconsin we had over 50 ethnic groups, all of them committed to public education, and the little country school as the symbol for accomplishing it,” said writer Jerry Apps.
In another angle that seems ripped from today’s headlines, old lessons hold true as small town schools that once received students of consolidated one-room schools now face closure themselves.
“One-room schools are a page in American history that is turning, and perhaps in another generation or two, there will be no one left to tell the story,” said Samuelson.
Preservationist Bill Sherman of Des Moines (the man who proposed a schoolhouse for the Iowa quarter) suggested the topic of one-room schools to the Rundles at the premiere of their award-winning film Lost Nation: The Ioway.
“If we can understand the role that country schools played in our culture, then we can better understand who we are and how we evolved into the country, the state, and the communities that we are,” said Sherman.
Iowa is ground-zero for one-room schools. Just after 1900, the state had nearly 13,000 one-room schools—more than any other state. Iowa still has 3,000 existing buildings and 200 restored schools—again, more than any other state. Over 50 Amish and Mennonite one-room schools are still in operation in Iowa, and several of those are still part of a public K-12 school district.
“Country School: One Room – One Nation” received a regional Emmy-nomination in 2012. The documentary has received numerous awards at film festivals, screened over 100 times all over the country, was broadcast on PBS stations and was released nationally on DVD.