Wetlands Centre hosts screenings of ‘Decoding the Driftless’

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George Howe, producer of “Decoding the Driftless,” spoke with audience members who attended screenings of the award-winning film at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, in Marquette, on March 30. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, in Marquette, hosted two packed screenings of the new award-winning film “Decoding the Driftless” on March 30, as part of a spring fundraiser to support programs at the site.

A follow-up to the documentary “Mysteries of the Driftless,” “Decoding the Driftless” captures unique footage of the Driftless Region and weaves it into a compelling story. It was recently honored for “Best Picture” and “Best Cinematography” at the Los Angeles International Film Festival.

“You hope and dream for these things,” said producer George Howe, who created the film with fellow founder of the non-profit organization Sustainable Driftless, Tim Jacobson; Rob Nelson and Jonas Stenstrom of Untamed Science; and cinematographer Neil Rettig. 

“But it’s about the land and the people of the Driftless, recognition of this beautiful and unique place in the world,” he added during a Q&A session with attendees on Saturday.

The film takes viewers on an adventure above, on and below the Driftless, from the tops of rugged bluffs to mysterious underground caves. Through amazing scenes and expert analysis, you learn about how the region was created, as well as the one-of-a-kind landforms, plants and animals that make it up today.

“Some of these things have never been filmed before,” Howe noted.

The Driftless Region—named for escaping glaciation during the last ice age—encompasses southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, southwest Wisconsin and a small portion of northwest Illinois. Howe estimated one-third of “Decoding the Driftless” was filmed within 50 miles of Marquette and McGregor. Effigy Mounds was discussed in the film, as was an underground river near Decorah. Across the Mississippi, in Grant County, they explored a rare ecosystem called an algific talus slope.

Nearly 20 terabytes of film were collected while shooting on and off for two years, Howe said. It was hard to whittle that down.

“There was a lot of thought behind every little thing,” he shared.

Now one hour in length, the documentary has received not only critical acclaim, but a massive response from audiences.

At least 1,700 people attended the premiere at Viterbo University in La Crosse this fall, and, at seven weeks, it was the longest-running film at the city’s Rivoli Theater. There have been four to five showings around the Driftless Region every week since, said Howe, and the filmmakers have been invited to participate in other events and festivals. They’re currently working on a PBS cut of “Decoding the Driftless” and also hope to make extended footage and information about the film available to viewers and lesson plans available to teachers.

“We want to get it out there, get it seen and interacting with people,” he said.

Having it shown at locations like the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre helps spread that message about the region.

“Years ago, we never thought there would be Driftless interpretive centers,” Howe said. “It was a dream.”

Through the film and the organization Sustainable Driftless, he hopes the Driftless Region and all it offers will become more a part of the culture.

“We want to inspire people, especially youth, to get more connected with nature,” Howe remarked. “That’s what we’re seeing the film does.”

To learn more about Sustainable Driftless, visit

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