Here are five films Des Moines missed because the Varsity was closed

As of Spring 2020, Des Moines has been aiming for an art house theater.

With the Fleur Cafe & Cinema still finding a way forward and work on the Varsity Cinema until it reopens December 15, some smaller films of recent years have been difficult for Iowa residents to see on the big screen .

While it’s difficult to say for certain that some of these films have never been shown in local cinemas in recent years, they represent moviegoers who have been missed in large part for lack of an operating theater like the Fleur or Varsity.

The Des Moines Register sat down with Ben Godar — the director of the Des Moines Film Society, the nonprofit organization behind the university’s restoration — to talk about what movies he’s missed seeing in Des Moines, and some of the types of films that do this will be on the university’s radar in the future.

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‘Storm Lake’

This documentary is unique in that not only did it have a local, in-person screening, which we know was during the period when the university was still being renovated, but also because this screening was courtesy of the university.

“Storm Lake” follows Art Cullen and the staff of the Storm Lake Times, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in northwest Iowa, as the 2020 Iowa caucuses progress.

As Godar recalls, the distributor called him and was interested in the Des Moines Film Society hosting the filmmakers behind Storm Lake. The stars aligned and this event ultimately took place via an outdoor cinema near the theater, but it was something that was more difficult to pull off before the varsity was completed.

“It’s hard to say ‘yes’ (when you have to) to finding a venue,” Godar said. “Now we can certainly say ‘yes’ to many more things like that.”

This in-person screening was more than sold out. When the dedicated seating area was filled to capacity, Godar recalled people giving him money to set up lawn chairs outside the fence to watch the film and the Q&A that followed. The documentary also did well for the virtual cinema that the university was running at the height of the pandemic.

More:Documentary “Storm Lake” on Pulitzer-winning Iowa Paper in Des Moines’ Varsity Cinema pop-up

“decision to go”

A 2022 South Korean Movie “Decision to Leave” is the latest from Park Chan-Wook (“Oldboy”, “The Handmaiden”) and blends crime fiction with romance and thrills. It’s the only film on this list that we can definitely say the uni would have hosted when no one else in the area would have, because that’s what happens when the uni opens on December 15th.

“It’s a writer, an international director who actually won rave reviews and festival awards and just didn’t get booked in Des Moines,” Godar said. “That played at FilmScene (in Iowa City) in early November… which played pretty much everywhere else in early November. Honestly, it’s going to hit PVOD (Premium Video on Demand) before we launch it, but we’re going to open with it anyway because you have to see it on the big screen.”

Although the film was released in US theaters on October 15, Godar told The Register that the film was exclusive to the Des Moines subway campus.

More:What’s new in the university cinema? Here are six things to look out for when you visit


Tilda Swinton starred in “Memoria,” a drama directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives”) about a Scottish woman in Colombia who is sent on a journey of sound and history.

“‘Memoria’ was – and perhaps still is – an experience that you only get in the theater,” said Godar. “It played in most of the cities that I think people in Des Moines would consider our peer cities because they had an institution like[the varsity]to get it there.”

Godar went on to explain that one of the selling points for seeing “Memoria” in theaters is the sound design, which tends to be more noticeable in a dedicated theater than on a typical home TV.

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‘Another Round’

Mads Mikkelsen stars in this Oscar-winning film from Denmark, which took home the 2021 Oscar for Best International Feature Film. It tells the comedic story of four high school teachers who decide to test their ability to maintain a blood alcohol level of 0.05 per mil throughout the day to improve their personal and professional quality of life.

The film received a limited US airing in December 2020, by which time the film was already on the Des Moines Film Society’s radar.

“We had shown this film months before (the Oscars) in our virtual theater,” Godar said. “I think when it was nominated for the awards, maybe it got played at a few places around town… But even when we were just virtual… we set our sights on that movie and we were like, ‘This is a good quality movie . That’s of interest.'”

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This 2021 Kosovo drama based on a true story follows Fahrije, a woman who tries to keep her family afloat while dealing with a missing husband, financial woes and community hostilities.

The film was part of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival virtual season, where it won multiple awards including the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Choice Award for Drama.

“We were able to access it as a virtual booking and presented it along with (the Iowa Sister States Organization and the Consulate of Kosovo in Iowa) and they also promoted it in their communities,” Godar said. “It’s a good example of what we hope to do a lot in person.”

Once college opens on Thursday, Iowans can find tickets and movie screening times at

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture in the Des Moines Register. Reach him at [email protected] or 319-600-2124, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.

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