Documentary examining Iowa City’s wrestling, writing legacies wins regional Emmy award

During the 19th Annual Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Awards, a documentary with a unique Iowa City flair took home one of the ultimate prizes.


Roman Slabach

Nick Pfeiffer discusses his involvment as producer in the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau on October 16, 2018.

Christopher Borro, News Reporter

A documentary honoring a pair of unique Iowa City legacies has won a regional Emmy.

“Cultivation: Writing and Wrestling in Iowa City” is a 24-minute award-winning documentary created through a collaboration between Think Iowa City and the marketing agency Trilix. It won the Cultural Documentary Emmy on Oct. 6 during the 19th-Annual Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Awards in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The documentary details the history and impact of both Iowa City’s literary and wrestling communities. It features interviews with individuals who participated in the UNESCO Cities of Literature Annual Meeting and the United World Wrestling Freestyle World Cup, both of which were held the same week, from April 3-8.

People from more than two dozen countries flocked to Iowa City for the two events. The documentary showcased wrestlers coming to compete from Azerbaijan, Cuba, Japan, and beyond, while writers traveled from Germany, Iran, Scotland, and more to discuss literature.

“We knew Iowa City had this unique story to tell. It’s not every small Midwestern city [that] gets to host two very large and very different international events at the same time,” said Nick Pfeiffer, the vice president of marketing and communications at Think Iowa City.

The award currently sits at the Trilix offices in Des Moines.

“That’s one of the fun things about working in an environment like this,” said Brett Adams, chief marketing officer at Trilix. “We have … a lot of creative people executing a lot of different creative disciplines. It’s one of the things you want to bring back and share.”

RELATED: Hookup culture documentary informs viewers

Ninty-three Regional Emmy Awards were distributed at the event, and nominees were selected in 45 primary categories, many of which also had subcategories.

“It’s the real deal,” Pfeiffer said about the award ceremony. “They set it up with a host, and they have guests come up to the stage to present the awards, and there are speeches and the whole bit. People were in tuxes, and suits, and fancy gowns, with a red carpet … and 90 percent of the awards there were for local television.”

One of the conversations featured in “Cultivation” was not an interview but rather a conversation between Christopher Merrill, the director of the UI International Writing Program and longtime former Hawkeye wrestling coach and national icon Dan Gable.

“Listening to them banter back and forth on their topics … was just amazing,” Pfeiffer said. “They went into an entire dialogue that didn’t even make it into the documentary about legacies.”

He said the conversation was based on how Gable’s and Merrill’s programs were adapted by their students, who experienced success using styles of teaching taught them in Iowa City.

Nathan McNurlen, a Trilix producer and editor, estimated his team shot between 20 and 24 hours of footage, and they were in Iowa City for the duration of both the wrestling competition and international writers’ meeting.

Pfeiffer said he was in contact with Iowa Public Television to potentially air “Cultivation” as a television program.

“You always want to produce something that you’re proud of,” McNurlen said. “I think all of us … saw that there was a lot of potential behind this story.”