Englert reflects on 2020 with short film ‘Ghost Creek’

This week, The Englert Theatre will premiere its short film ‘Ghost Creek’ in an effort to reflect on the events of 2020 and COVID-19’s impact on the local artistic community.


Emily Wangen

The Englert theatre is seen on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. The Englert holds a variety of concerts and events.

Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

It’s March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has just begun, and the future looks uncertain across all walks of life. The Englert Theatre must make the difficult decision to postpone — and later, to cancel — the Mission Creek Festival for 2020. It would have been the music festival’s 15th year.

Eleven months later, on Feb. 16, the experiences and losses the arts felt in 2020 premiered in the form of a short film.

The Englert Theatre’s debut short film “Ghost Creek” will premiere digitally, and will be viewable from the Englert’s website. A trailer for the film can also be viewed on YouTube.

The film was initially planned to be a mix of documentary-style videography with a loose narrative focusing on the cancellation of the Mission Creek Festival, but ended up becoming an entirely fictional story. “Ghost Creek” is intended to reflect on the losses the artistic community has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also serve as an anthem to the communal value of art and the mutual perseverance that artists share.

The plot itself focuses on a single protagonist and her journey through existing in the seemingly endless and dreary world of 2020, but also what she dreams her life could be like in the future. The film will also incorporate a supernatural element, hence the “Ghost” portion of the title.

To local filmmaker and “Ghost Creek” director Benjamin Handler, the film is especially unique in that it heavily incorporates music from local Iowa artists, and features multiple scenes that were filmed like a music video. He also touched on the benefits of working with a smaller production team, as it allowed for more freedom both in filming and with the creative direction of the film.

“Just having that roster of Iowa musicians that we incorporate into the film was really exciting for me because I love music videos,” Handler said. “And getting to work together with local musicians for a whole film — I think it’s something special.”

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The 18-minute short film is Englert’s first venture into the world of cinema. As such, when the concept for the film came together in the summer of 2020, there was a learning curve for production, said Jessica Egli, the film’s executive producer and Englert events director.

Egli described the end result as a gift to Englert’s patrons, and ultimately an example of how thinking outside the box has helped Englert uphold their mission during uncertain times.

“Even though it’s a short film, it’s an incredible amount of work,” Egli said. “It’ll be really awesome to see the months and months of work that our team has put in, and to see all of it just come to life in the premiere.”

Although the Englert usually specializes in music and theater arts, it is part of their mission as a leading member of the Iowa City artistic community to continuously expand their artistic endeavors, Egli said. “Ghost Creek” has definitely opened some doors for the Englert to produce more cinematic content in the future, Egli said.

Englert Marketing Director John Schickedanz said that the project was one to help replace some of the energy of the Mission Creek festival that was lost in the event’s cancellation. He described the film as an investigation of the difficulties of living through a pandemic, through the lens of artistic expression.

“We knew that we needed to do something to keep the spirit of Mission Creek alive,” Schickedanz wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “The production team has planned out the details to ensure that we created the best representation of art that embodies the collective feeling of that time in history.”