Screened at the American Film Institute Documentary Film Festival (AFI DOCS) (4/5)
In an age of ever-growing media consolidation and sterile corporate journalism, it’s comforting to see that good old-fashioned reporting is managing to stay alive in small town newspapers like The Storm Lake Times, the subject of this endearing documentary. As publications of this type disappear in droves, the public is losing the kind of personalized local coverage that we all need to stay informed. But, fortunately, periodicals like this family-owned, Pulitzer Prize-winning, twice-weekly Northwestern Iowa newspaper are sustaining the tradition, despite the deck being stacked against them. Directors Beth Levison and Jerry Risius document the challenges and joys associated with keeping an operation like this alive, as well as the range of big and small stories that the paper covers, from the foible-filled 2020 Iowa caucuses to the COVID outbreaks at nearby meat packing plants to the crowning of grade school pig festival queens. As a former journalist, I must admit to being somewhat partial to material like this, but its heartwarming tone is genuinely engaging, presenting a slice of Americana that may be disappearing but that can still be savored through a cinematic experience like this.