Brittany Prater is a New York-based filmmaker and artist who grew up in Ames and set her first two documentary features in her hometown. Her 2017 film Uranium Derby — which has screened around the world — offered an insightful and disturbing look at Ames’ significant role in the Manhattan Project, and the fallout from the secretive disposal of massive quantities of uranium in the city. She’s currently at work on a documentary about the problem-plagued 2020 Iowa caucuses based on her footage from an election site in Ames. In addition to directing, she has also written, edited, and produced her films in collaboration with artists from the Cornfield Productions film company she’s established in New York.

In addition to her film work, she’s a visual artist whose tapestry depicting — in extraordinary detail — the history of atomic science was recently displayed at Sotheby’s.

She corresponded with the Informer for a wide-ranging and thoughtful conversation on her films, Ames’ “central role in the history of nuclear weapons development,” and what draws her to Iowa as a place to tell stories.

What were some of your takeaways from filming the 2020 Iowa caucuses?

Editing a documentary is largely about shaping and also adjusting what the takeaways of the experience of filming are. So since I’m still making the doc, my thoughts about what happened in February are still changing.

It wasn’t until I started wading through the seven hours of footage we had of the caucuses themselves, shot from two different vantage points — neither of which were mine — that I started to even understand what had gone wrong at the Meeker school [caucus site] my team and I attended. But the gist of what I learned from watching the night unfold again and again in my little New York apartment during quarantine is (to be broad) that the DNC’s new rules and methods for implementing them were woefully under-planned. This, in combination with the chaos of the already existing and outdated caucus system, created mass confusion in which there were far too many variables at play. At Meeker, it resulted in 21 ballots (and possibly even more) being thrown out. That’s about five percent of ballots at one location. And people spent HOURS there. This story about ballot confusion didn’t really make its way into the press because it was overshadowed by the crashing results-sharing app that took (if possible) even more of the blame than it should have. The underlying problem before the results even could be shared was the complicated nature of the ballots themselves.

The nation’s knee-jerk reaction to the delayed and unreliable results was to blame the state of Iowa for the debacle rather than to take a look at the Democratic National Committee. After having watched how hard people were working for their candidates and for the elections to take place, I found this to be actually quite unfair. I think some of this criticism was born out of the East Coast’s very understandable resentment of the fact that votes here don’t count for much in the scheme of things. I myself voted in the primaries in New York only a month ago when there was only one candidate left. However, another component to the late night shows’ haranguing of Iowa was rooted in the deep seated classism of the coasts, in which all Iowans are perceived as farmers and all farmers as uneducated. Obviously, I disagree on both counts.

Prater’s 2017 documentary explores Ames’ role in the Manhattan Project, and the aftermath.

As far as the caucus system itself goes, I think it’s certainly very dated, which is no epiphany at this point. However, the format of having a political convention where candidates can practice their speeches and get to know actual constituents face-to-face and really listen to them is very healthy for our democracy. I would hate to see that disappear altogether. But I also think that it would makes sense to rotate where this happens, or to pick a more strategically important location.

This year proved that the (rather arbitrary) first-in-the-nation status of Iowa was really only significant because voters across the nation recognized it as being so. As the nation began to question why Iowa’s opinion should be valued above others to such a degree, its prophetic nature disappeared.

The real heart of the problem (and I realize that none of this is new news) is, of course, the Electoral College system. But it seems that the party should face one obstacle at a time and until we are able to regain control of the government, there will be no way to get rid of the college. My argument would be that temporarily it would make sense to hold the first-in-the-nation political convention in a place that is more critical to a Democrat win — Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan. Once a balance of power has been restored and the Electoral College system is abolished forever (please, please, please) then we should move it someplace more reflective of the party as a whole in terms of demographics and that place should rotate every four years. That, I think, would be the ideal goal to shoot for. And actually, no, that’s not even the ideal goal. I think the ideal thing to do would be to have all the states vote in the primaries on the SAME day. Wouldn’t that be crazy?

These are a collection of thoughts I had about it, since you asked and it seems impossible to talk about it without mentioning all these things — but also I’m a filmmaker and not a political journalist. And for the very reason that no one needs any more summary or explanation from me, the film itself won’t include any kind of voiceover, because I would like to provide something for the rest of the country that the TV stations did not, a way to see what the caucuses actually are and who the candidates were, without all the sensationalizing that takes place when cameras point at a speaker (and nothing else in the room) waiting and hoping for something controversial to happen. There will still be plenty of editing — and editing is absolutely a manipulation, but I wanted to limit the manipulation to that — to editing with the aim of making the movie funny and entertaining without summarizing too much for the audience.

And as far as the film goes, I had initially wanted it to be a joyous celebration of democracy and of the diversity of opinions within the Democratic Party. I wanted to show leftists and centrists debating and also ultimately working together or agreeing to disagree. However, the impeachment trial was also the same week, so that will play a role in the film, too. Since the impeachment trial was really about the president’s tampering in the previous election, it seems quite important to include bits of it in the film.

Impeachment has become a “casualty to partisan times,” as Adam Schiff so smartly stated. Therefore, our elections themselves are the last stronghold against a would-be dictator. So, the through-line of the film will have to do with the fragility of democracy. An imperfect system that clearly hasn’t served everyone as well as it should, but that could do and be much better if we get the chance to revive and rethink it.

And then COVID happened. That won’t be in the film at all, thank god.

One of your artworks was recently shown at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. How did you conceive of and create this tapestry?

I started the tapestry back when I was doing research for Uranium Derby — maybe in the first or second year of working on that movie. I was spending a lot of time editing and I wanted something to work on that wasn’t on a computer. I had an art background originally and had been shifting gears quite a bit to learn how to make the doc.

I still wanted to tell a story but through an object that people could experience differently than they would a video or film. So I thought of scrolls and then of the Bayeux Tapestry, which is this 230-foot-long embroidered piece that tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England and dates back to the 11th century. It felt like a natural thing to adopt this old storytelling method that was really developed for a time when most of the population couldn’t read.

Prater’s atomic tapestry.

I was doing some research for Uranium Derby in order to understand the origins of the science behind the bombs — the basics of it. I ended up looking quite a bit further back than the documentary actually starts and came across so many interesting anecdotes about the different scientists who were involved in “unlocking the secrets of the atom” — which is what so many different sources call it. Despite the fact that I myself am against nuclear weapons, I was also intrigued by what a feat it was to discover that the smallest building blocks of nature are actually divisible — and then to begin dividing them within a matter of 50 years.

I decided to start a timeline of nuclear research including some of the anecdotes and names I came across and mash up these old archival images with the through-line of the Bayeux Tapestry — its medieval looking horses and soldiers sort of standing in for the march of time (in my mind).

There are, of course, many scientists not included in the tapestry that I made and in different countries — most notably, Russian scientists are missing from it — but this piece for me was a way of digesting the American telling of that history, which focuses more on Germany, France, England, and the US (with some important Polish expat chemists included). The tapestry begins with [Wilhelm] Röntgen in 1895, who to me looks strikingly like Edward the Confessor at the beginning of the Bayeux Tapestry — though it’s probably just the beard. His discovery of the X-ray opens the tapestry, which ends 50 years later in 1945 with the Trinity test.

A section of Prater’s atomic tapestry.

As I began putting images together, it turned into a way to process for myself certain aspects of the history of warfare and the role science played in that history, but in a way that could be open for the viewers to interpret for themselves.

The piece started as a series of collages on wood panel. I would take the old photos and scans of the tapestry and merge them together, make a plan in Photoshop and then put them together physically, ironing one image on top of another. The T-shirt transfers were a bit translucent and I would also paint and draw on top of them in certain places. They were black-and-white photos but when I ironed them on, they had a greenish hue.

Initially, I was going to have these collages be the piece — a series of wood panels covered in a layer of green plexiglass. But the T-shirt transfers were peeling and there was something about the surface I wasn’t that crazy about, so I had the idea to have them machine woven.

I scanned everything back into Photoshop and assembled together there and ordered a few sections of it to see what they would look like. The collages lost a lot of definition in the weaving, but there was something I actually liked about that. And then I realized that if I embroidered on top of the weaving, I could bring back some of the details that were lost.

It was a happy accident that the whole thing made a return to a woven format but in a new way. Looms were the early precursors to computers and the origination of the pixel system we are so used to now with printers. I really liked that and also that these black-and-white images were being entirely made out of primary colored threads. The images weren’t entirely black and white but swayed towards brown or green here and there, depending on if I’d burned the original T-shirt transfers a bit with the iron, or if some other accident had occurred in between.

A section of Prater’s atomic tapestry.

I tend to like finding ways to use new technology but mix it with hand-done “real” stuff, because you can tell when things are entirely digitally made verses when someone’s hand and a material are involved. The computer, in this case, was a way of translating the whole thing.

Anyway, that’s where the piece came from. It was a series of ideas that evolved over a number of years like a book or movie or anything else. I worked quite a bit on it for a while and then the documentary dominated my life for quite a few years and the tapestry sat folded in my closet waiting until last summer when I was able to have a studio for a few months (thanks to the generosity of some lovely friends/artists) and really dove into it again.

I liked the piece, but I wasn’t sure if anyone else would see anything in it because I have the tendency to throw so much into my work that sometimes the content gets a bit lost. But the in-progress piece was pinned up to the wall for the Bushwick open studios. Some really great curators came through and really responded to it. I ended up working really hard to get a section of it complete by November, so that it could be in a show at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. The piece displayed there was essentially two thirds of it, the entire black-and-white section ending in Pearl Harbor. It does switch into color around 1941, which I thought made sense because Technicolor movies were starting around then (1939, really, with The Wizard of Oz). Actually, I had to artificially color a bunch of the black-and-white photos to change it to color, so that made sense to me, too.

The color section is really when it starts to get into the negative repercussions of the scientific developments, so it reads quite differently without that. But Pearl Harbor seemed like a fitting place to stop, since the piece is really massive and there wasn’t space for the whole thing. The three sections at Sotheby’s totaled 60 inches high by 50 feet wide.

The color section that is woven but that I still need to assemble focuses in on the path of the uranium that went into the bombs. The uranium used for the first bombs came from the Shinkolobwe mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [It] was stored on Staten Island for a while before going to these different sites that were involved in uranium production and enrichment: St Louis; Ames, Iowa; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico.

And that’s right around where Uranium Derby picks up the story. I think most people in Ames don’t realize just how much uranium came into town and — as you show — likely remains there. It’s a pretty chilling film. For folks who haven’t seen it yet, can you summarize Ames Lab’s role in the Manhattan Project?

Ames Lab didn’t really exist yet during the Manhattan Project time, which was all top secret. The Department of Energy (or, as it was previously called, the Atomic Energy Commission) didn’t officially exist yet, either. But Ames Lab was, in a sense, born out of the Manhattan Project, as were some of the other national laboratories. Ames Lab is the smallest of the national laboratories. During the early 1940s, it was a small group of men, most of them very young chemists and metallurgists, developing the first method of uranium purification, or “processing,” as it was called. Uranium is attached to other metals naturally, and the guys in Ames came up with a way to provide large quantities of pure uranium that could then be enriched at Oak Ridge. Enriching uranium is the process of isolating a certain fissionable isotope: U235. The most commonly occurring isotope of uranium is 238, which is a good thing in a sense, because otherwise it would be far too easy to enrich uranium.

What they were doing in Ames was an exothermic process. My understanding is that the uranium ground into a fine powder, mixed with calcium carbonate — that is the part I don’t entirely understand, as I’m not a chemist — [and] also, I think, some kind of fluoride. At any rate, this mixture was put into large copper tubes that were called “bombs.” These were placed over or in a very high heat and when heated high enough, the pure uranium would form at the bottom in a derby shape and the excess stuff could be chipped off.

I think that the laboratory was also involved in lots of other bench-scale research, certainly later on after the war when it was an official laboratory, but I don’t know a lot about that. I had heard the word plutonium here and there without really knowing what the involvement in that was. It could also be that they simply provided the uranium, out of which plutonium was made in Washington, but I heard a few other things that weren’t confirmed. One source told me that the laboratory was involved in trying to extract energy from spent plutonium. Then also, thorium was the metal that was widely researched and experimented with at the laboratory after the war, and perhaps also during. I’m not sure.

At any rate, during the war is the history that is most spoken about and easiest to find information on. The team led by Frank Spedding and Harley Wilhelm were working together back and forth with Enrico Fermi in Chicago and provided the uranium for the first sustained chain reaction at Stagg Field. After the war, the process was taken over by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works and Ohio Lead Company and was a much larger-scale operation there during the Cold War. Mallinckrodt and Ohio Lead have their own stories, and I didn’t follow them too far, but I did ascertain that the contamination from the process that was invented in Ames was widespread in and around Fernald, Ohio. Uranium from rusting steel barrels managed to make its way into the groundwater and also contaminate the aquifer. Efforts are being made to clean the aquifer, but that is an enormous undertaking that may or may not even be possible.

The contaminated sites in the country I heard the most about in interviews and research were Fernald; Hanford, Washington (one of the worst); the Savannah River; Gunnison, Colorado; and St Louis Airport. But there are many more, I’m sure. Also, I met a number of Navajo people in Window Rock who had really horrific stories about uranium mining in Arizona and near the Grand Canyon. This is an aspect of our history that has not been widely talked about, the way in which Indigenous American people, particularly Navajo and Shoshoni people, were used and largely exterminated by the continued uranium mining. Many people still today are fighting to keep mines closed and they are fighting massive companies. One of the biggest companies is called Energy Fuels — a Canadian company that operates the White Mesa Mill, which is the only operating uranium mill in the United States. Activists I met in the American Southwest seemed to concur that if this mill could be closed, the companies pressuring to reopen the uranium mines around that area would no longer have a real financial reason to want to operate. So if someone wanted to focus on an antinuclear goal, the closing of that mill would be a good place to start.

The film shows how the willful ignorance of officials — and a lax regulatory culture — has allowed information about contaminations to be buried; some people just don’t want to know. It seems like the building of the Hunziker Youth Sports Complex in the 1990s was the last time (before your film) that there was an effort to address the possible contamination of that area in Ames — but the park was pushed through and the area never tested for radiation. Do you feel that city or state officials at that time acted in bad faith when they pushed through the development of the sports complex?

Well, as with anything, I think it’s complex. Which is why the film took so long to make, in order to really understand and convey what happened in a way that could make sense to a viewer.

Actually, the field was tested, it just wasn’t properly tested. I think the general public understands quite a bit better now the manner in which a company or an organization sponsoring a set of data or research can easily influence the findings of that study. The DOE did hire an independent contracting company called RUST to come in and test the field. However, the geologist I asked to evaluate the RUST report said it was a very difficult report to understand. Holes were dug sort of randomly without any clear consistency in terms of locations, and he mentioned that it seemed as if the report was made confusing on purpose and that it almost looked like the goal of the report could have been not to find anything.

At the same time, he said he wasn’t particularly concerned about the levels of radiation by the dog park at the top of the hill. But he also thought that people shouldn’t be walking around in that area, because it’s still more radiation exposure than you would want. That would be gamma radiation (which is essentially what X-rays are) that he was talking about from just walking through the area. Simply walking through a site is also not the same as children playing soccer in the field right next to the dog park who might be actually face-planting into the dirt or lying down in it or digging and playing in it. The difference there is also that they might be taking the dirt home with them in their clothes. The field is directly downhill from the dog park where the sewage plant used to be, in an area with frequent flooding. Also, it was likely a place where thorium-contaminated sewage sludge from the plant was spread out to dry.

The Department of Natural Resources — which at that time was working in tandem with the Environmental Protection Agency — did not sign off on the field because the person delegated to sign off on it (Johanshir Golchin) did not feel satisfied that it was, in fact, safe. Shortly thereafter, the Iowa Department of Public Health agreed to sign off on it. They essentially checked the field with Geiger counters and proclaimed it safe. Once the public and city officials had an okay from the Iowa Department of Public Health, which sounds very official and comforting, people felt it was safe to continue planning a sports complex at that location despite the fact that it had never been properly tested.

Uranium Derby investigates the city of Ames’ official position that the Hunziker Youth Sports Complex is safe for use.

In essence, the main thing that has to be understood about that, is that Geiger counters are not as accurate a method for testing for radiation as the general public believes. One of the interviewees in the film said using a Geiger counter to test a field is like “using a thermometer instead of an MRI.” Anything not directly on the surface of the grass would not likely be picked up by a Geiger meter, which is really more for pure materials in a laboratory.

Ames Lab did have access at that time to a portable atomic emission spectrometer that they themselves developed. This would have been ideal for testing the site. It was the only one of its kind in the country that was retrofitted into a trailer to make a mobile laboratory. The mobile lab was supposed to be really revolutionary and cost-saving for the Department of Energy.

However, it was never used to test the sports field. That was certainly someone’s decision high up. Marv Anderson, who was central to that project, said it was forbidden to use that equipment to test the field, which seemed very strange. Unfortunately, the mobile laboratory was also dismantled eventually. Anderson said the complaint was that it would actually save too much money. The private contracting companies hired by DOE to do the work of evaluating sites and mapping plumes of waste did not want a mobile lab in existence that could make many of the other services they provided more efficient and cost-effective.

The mobile lab would have saved DOE a minimum of $2,000 per sample. At large contaminated sites, these companies would be taking hundreds of samples and shipping them to facilities using a handbook with the history of the site for reference as to which coordinates samples should be collected from. The person sent to collect a sample at a particular coordinate might not necessarily have information about the geology of the site — which areas were rocky or marshy, or any number of other factors. A trailer with equipment for testing samples directly on a site would be a much more time- and cost-efficient system. So it’s really a shame that never happened. It would be interesting to find out if this system of plume mapping of contaminated sites has ever changed. But because there is really no financial incentive to do anything faster — in fact it’s the opposite, at least at the time I finished the film — I wouldn’t imagine this has improved at all.

I prefer, myself, to focus on the lax regulatory culture — as you so aptly put it — than to focus on presuming what was going on with particular officials or individuals. I do think this culture is one that will necessarily have to shift. I had originally hoped (as one optimistically does) that the film could have some impact on the Environmental Protection Agency, which has not been given the power to be a really effective organization. Of course, I didn’t anticipate a president (even a Republican) who would put a fox in every henhouse to the degree that he [Trump] has.

The funny thing is, Uranium Derby is really an Obama-era film. In fact, while I was home shooting, he was running for re-election. I almost included a scene of his talk in Ames in the movie but it didn’t really fit. At that time in the US, it seemed to me that there was still this idea (whether true or not) that the government would do a certain amount of listening to the public. To state the (thunk-you-on-the-head) obvious, right now it feels like our head is ignoring the pain in its own nervous system. The finger says, “Ouch,” and the brain doesn’t recognize it. (Of course, “brain” isn’t the best metaphor for our government right now, but it should be!) But the point is the psychological shift. Back when I was making the film, people tended to be skeptical that there could be any problem at all, whereas now, people, in essence, expect there to be a problem at pretty much every level of everything.

Environmental engineer Johanshir Golchin and Prater in a scene from Uranium Derby.

But the film, I think, shows that regulatory problems surrounding the containment and cleanup of nuclear waste have been massive since day one, and have only really compounded since. July 16 of this year marked 75 years since the Trinity test and August 6 marked 75 years since the bombing of Hiroshima. That’s a really long time for waste to get shuffled around without a really actionable plan for where to put it, how to deal with it, and without a priority of best practices to put public health and safety first. But then, to be blunt, the technology was designed for mass exterminations of innocent people, so it makes sense that health and safety of workers, not to mention ordinary citizens, would be an afterthought at best.

It would be great if we could change that. It would be great if we could stop making weapons of mass destruction. It would be great if we don’t reopen the uranium mine by the Grand Canyon, so that visitors can continue to safely come there for centuries to come. Also, I would love it if we could shift the culture of our government generally towards policies that are more environmental and more humane. Perhaps if we also weren’t such a litigious society, there would be more openness about mistakes in the past, [and] more money put toward correcting them instead of covering them up.

The truth about anything nuclear — from weapons to power, which is advertised as clean — is that even taking low carbon emissions into account, the costs far outweigh the benefits. Companies that mine or generate waste know that they could never afford to properly clean up a site, and so the locations are abandoned once the money has been made, to the detriment of anyone living near them. Mining was largely done on or near Native American land. Wealthy white Americans also unknowingly live near nuclear waste, in places like Long Island and New Jersey, for example.

The problems that Ames has with nuclear waste could be less obviously dramatic than other sites in the country, but Ames is interesting because of its central role in the history of nuclear weapons development and because it is a microcosm of this very, very large problem. If you looked at any of the sites that have a history of nuclear research or manufacturing in this country, you would find again and again a largely similar story, which is one of larger and larger numbers of cancer cases and other autoimmune disorders that might mysteriously grow in a community. Ames was no exception to that.

What are some notable screenings you’ve done with Uranium Derby?

Well, it screened at the Planetarium in Berlin, which was really cool. But I think my favorite screening was the one even before it was finished at the Ames Public Library. Though there was also one in Brooklyn at the gallery I worked at that was really special to me, because so many of my friends were there and I felt so supported.

The Iowa Independent Film Festival was the first time I saw it screened in a real movie theater — in Clear Lake with a great sound system — and that was really awesome to see, though the crowd was small. This film was really meant for Iowans and I think Iowans respond to it the most. Iowa audiences tend to get all the jokes and also are, of course, the most deeply concerned and engaged. Uranium Derby is a movie about Ames and the US government for Iowa. The next one (about the caucuses) is about Iowa and the US government for people who aren’t Iowans. Because Iowans already know about the caucuses, it’s the rest of the world that is (understandably) confused by them.

Each screening has been good in a different way and I’ve tried to make it to most of them. The most recent one was at the Iowa State Historical Museum in Des Moines. I should have advertised that one more; it was right before the pandemic hit NYC. Then there was a great one at Filmscene in Iowa City.

Window Rock [in Arizona] was special because I learned so much and had never really been to that part of the Southwest or to a reservation. There was also a screening in DC that was particularly exciting to me because the man who did the Q and A afterwards was Robert Alvarez, whose book I read early on when I was researching. It was such an awesome surprise to meet him in person. I had contacted his assistant once about a possible interview before I decided to concretely keep the film confined to Ames. The film also won best documentary at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, which was a lovely thing, and won some awards in Fairfield and also at the Iowa Independent Film Festival. It was supposed to screen in Rio a few months back but that was naturally cancelled because of COVID.

What makes you want to tell Iowa stories?

I don’t know that I ever set out specifically to make projects about Iowa but it has just kind of happened that way. There are a lot of things I really love about Iowa, and since I grew up there, I feel like I really understand the culture. Iowa is understated and far more interesting than it gives itself credit for sometimes — which I can relate to. Although admitting that goes and negates it again, so I don’t know.

I actually have written a feature script that’s about the nanny world in New York, so my projects aren’t ALL Iowa. I’ve been working on a script, also, about a young girl and an old woman that is set in Iowa. The premise of that, which I started a few years back, is that there is a cataclysmic event that predates the book after which a group of wealthy mothers — The Greenwich Mothering Board — move to Iowa and set up an enclave there with expensive homesteads, though there are still native Iowans living nearby, too. That’s sort of the backstory. The two cultures clash in interesting ways, but the main character is a little girl who doesn’t know any of this history. She gets lost in a cornfield and meets an old woman who (unbeknownst to her) is trying to build a time machine. There are very few insects left and she is obsessed with bees.

Prater interviewed local residents to reveal the human impact of uranium enrichment in Ames. Pictured here is Elizabeth Smith, widow of the late Lael Smith, who worked as a machine shop technician at the Ames Lab.

My eventual plan is for the young girl go into the past and bring bees back to the present. But I’ve also been getting enjoyably lost in her daydreaming and in her family dynamics. Her mother is wealthy with very high anxiety, and her lifelong nanny leaves toward the beginning of the book, and I’ve been working to figure out what her journey will be, as well.

I worked as a nanny in New York for many years. Maybe it has been a way to resolve these two parts of life that were so formative to me — and also to make sense of the often quite extreme classism of New York City and resolve it with the way things are in Iowa, which I find to be pretty different. I’m not saying one place is better than another. I love them both, but they both have their flaws and also things I love about them.

But I’ve totally digressed. Iowa is part of who I am, so it shows up in my work often. No one would ask a filmmaker, “Why do you set your films in New York or LA?” But I think people should be asking that question. Why not find a specific place and take inspiration from it? Not that that specific place can’t be New York or LA — the Coen Brothers, for example, have shown us how specific dialogue and setting can be in a place like LA — but it is often a default location and I don’t think locations should ever be default. There should be no generic default location, because each place is different and shapes the characters or subjects in that place.

What are your goals for Cornfield Productions?

Cornfield Productions is an LLC I set up specifically for Uranium Derby. In the end, I was wishing I had named it Compass Plant Productions, because a week or two after I formed it, I learned about compass plants, which are actually native to Iowa. But by then, it was already set up, and I’m a rather impulsive person when it comes to forming permanent things like that. Anyway, it has come to encompass other creative projects of mine, too. I suppose the main goal (as for any business) would be to someday earn a profit.

But that goal is separate from the goal of the projects themselves, which is really to tell interesting stories that I think are important or could add to some better understanding of history, culture, science, the way people think — and to do it in a way that combines a grounded understanding of systems and problems interspersed with touches of levity and beauty and an appreciation for good things that manage to somehow continue on despite the odds. Those things in my projects tend to be some form of resistant wildlife. Invasive species — deer, rabbits, I should really find a way to make a movie about dandelions. There is nothing as comforting as a dandelion.

Images courtesy of Brittany Prater

Nate Logsdon is a writer, editor, and indexer from Ames. He was a founding editor of the Ames Progressive and contributing editor at the Iowa Informer.