Storm Lake Image

Storm Lake

By Liam Trump | November 15, 2021

NEW TO PBS! Co-writers and co-directors Jerry Risius and Beth Levison’s Storm Lake offers a window into the journalism process and how local newspapers like the Storm Lake Times can give a voice to people living in small towns scattered about the United States of America. Throughout the documentary, it’s made clear how the Storm Lake Times staff consistently represent their clients and interviewees in an unbiased and thoughtful manner.

The film opens with the main, Pulitzer Prize-winning subject, Art Cullen, as he goes about a normal day in the office at the Storm Lake Times. Afterward, the town of Storm Lake, Iowa, is introduced in all its glory. The exposition relating to Storm Lake makes the first few minutes an informative and engaging experience.

Of course, after the mainly positive exposition of the town, the documentary focuses on the more negative aspects relating to running a local newspaper. Mostly done through the Cullen family’s commentary on the state of media, light is shed on the near-constant struggle that the Storm Lake Times and other small businesses in the area must endure in order to survive in a town where big corporations are taking over.

“…the near-constant struggle that the Storm Lake Times and other small businesses in the area must endure…”

It just so happens to be that agriculture is one of the mainstays that Storm Lake relies on. With the introduction of big corporations, the local farmers of Storm Lake have organized a rally to unify themselves. This entire tale of pushing back against big businesses is captured by none other than Tom Cullen, a reporter for the Storm Lake Times and Art Cullen’s son.

Storm Lake shows how much the Storm Lake Times and, by extension, its staff care about the well-being and overall representation of the community they’re a part of. Whether it be singing competitions, caucuses, or immigration, the Storm Lake Times makes it a priority to speak on behalf of the Storm Lake community. Even when they have to report on politicians such as Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden, they do so by asking them direct questions that relate to the issues that directly affect the citizens of Storm Lake.

Immigration is a considerable part of the Storm Lake community. For the majority of the town’s existence, its populace consisted mainly of white Americans, but that all changed in the 1990s when the number of immigrants settling there increased to a great extent. A big problem emerges among the immigrants who make up a substantial percentage of Storm Lake’s meatpacking industry: they are stuck having to deal with jobs where testing for Covid-19 is nonexistent.

The town of Storm Lake continues to persevere through the many pitfalls and tribulations they face each day. Storm Lake mirrors the Storm Lake Times in an almost poetic way. The newspaper and its staff brilliantly represent the ever-diverse populace of their town. While the documentary doesn’t have headlines or columns, it does have gorgeous establishing shots, great music, and fantastic narration, all of which blend together, allowing Beth Levison and Jerry Risius to tell the true tale of Storm Lake, Iowa.

Storm Lake (2021)

Directed and Written: Beth Levison, Jerry Risius

Starring: Art Cullen, Tom Cullen, Dolores Cullen, John Cullen, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Storm Lake Image

"…gorgeous establishing shots, great music, and fantastic narration..."

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