Filmmakers Tammy and Kelly Rundle 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 film will have its world premiere at the State Historical Building in Des Moines on Friday, November 19, 2010 at 6:00 and 8:00 pm.
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.”
Along with the expected nostalgia, the Rundles’ journey revealed a few surprises: guns in school, children punished for being left-handed, 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. “Most people thought it was a pretty nice place to be.”
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 and an obvious choice for the world premiere. Just after 1900, Iowa had nearly 13,000 one-room schools—more than any other state. Iowa still has 3,000 existing buildings and 200 restored schools—more than any other state. Over 50 one-room schools are still in operation in Iowa and three of those are still part of a public K-12 school district.
Des Moines area one-room schools that appear in the film include the schoolhouse at Living History Farms and Cole School in Boone. More theatrical bookings, film festivals, a national DVD release, and Midwestern PBS broadcasts are planned for Country School: One Room – One Nation in 2010 and 2011.
The Country School twin-premiere event will be held at the State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust, Des Moines St. on Friday, November 19, 2010, at 6pm and 8pm. Tickets are $10 per person through www.Midwestix.com or $13 at the door. In addition to the film, the premiere evening will feature music by Just 4 Fun Old Time Music—showcasing music from the documentary, a historical display of country school memorabilia, and Q&A with the Rundles and film participants following the screenings. DCA’s 6th Annual “Chili for Charity” for the Food Bank of Iowa will be served from 5-8pm for $5 per person. The premiere is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, Preservation Iowa and Sierra Investment Management.
Additional screenings of “Country School” will continue on Saturday, Nov. 20 at 2pm, 4pm and 7pm, and Sunday, Nov. 21 at 2pm. Tickets are $8 per person at the door.
The Rundles' documentary "Lost Nation: The Ioway" won numerous film festival awards. The film screened over 105 times throughout the country, was distributed nationally on DVD and continues to be broadcast on Midwestern PBS stations.
Country School: One Room – One Nation was funded in part by Humanities Iowa, the Kansas Humanities Council, the Wisconsin Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area.