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|5/17/2017 ||Email this article Print this article |
Filmmaker returns for graduation
|Graduation Day Sunday|
Time: 2 p.m. May 21
Location: Activities Center
Number of graduates: 42
Speakers: Four valedictorians: Hannah Garland, Sabrina Benedict, Noah Gronewold, Amanda Gorzney; two salutatorians: Kia Sosa, Emma Olson
Time: 3 p.m. May 21
Location: Central DeWitt High School Competition Gym
Number of grads: 119 as of Monday morning (subject to change)
Alumni speaker: Documentary filmmaker James Ruttenbeck, class of 1970
Student speakers: Student Council President Mili Saliu, Class President Jack Mason
Valedictorian: Announced May 18
Time: 2 p.m. May 21
Location: Northeast High School Gym
Number of graduates: 78 graduates
Student speakers: Sarah Richards, Jamey Treanton, Chandler Sterk, Cassidy Turkle
High Honors: Ana Bravo, Megan Crockett, Kyle Dell, Jayna Farrell, Sara Hartung, Nicolle Hughes, Madlin Kaczinski, Sydney Kucera, Ben Lange, Nathan Lueders, Matt Matous, Shauna McAleer, Whitney Petersen, Amanda Porras, Jayden Rathje, Sarah Richards, Abi Roling, Ethan Ruchotzke, Brenna Seeser, Cassidy Turkle
Honors: Marissa Borman, Michael Dodge, Matt Eickert, Keegan Eyer, Madison Geronzin, Shelby Hanrahan, Hannah Junge, Montanna Krogman, Amberlyn Kruse, Clint Lamar, Jenna Lauritzen, Jacob Madsen, Candace Middendorf, Caragan Murphy, Zach Parson, Rebecca Rose, Eden Schroeder, Maria Schultheis, Dawson Schultz, Kaylee Stevenson, Tyson Sullivan, Jamey Treanton, Alysse Trenkamp, Kyle Unke
Documentarian chosen to speak at ceremony of DeWitt alma mater
Being tapped as the graduation speaker for this year at Central DeWitt High School has caused some introspection for alumnus James Rutenbeck.
"When I graduated from high school, I was not really a particularly distinguished graduate of the school," said Rutenbeck, 65, now a documentary filmmaker in Newton, Massachusetts.
"In some ways I didn't fit in. There was no one I knew who did the kind of work I do now. I was sort of struggling to figure out what I was going to do, and I didn't have an outlet for it, in a way."
But growing up in small-town Iowa proved to be an advantage for his career.
"My childhood had been a lot of unpressured time in the woods and out exploring," he explained. "I feel like there was a lot of space to develop my imagination. I think that's something that came from my experience in DeWitt."
The fruits of that imagination will be on display here during his visit.
Rutenbeck will speak at May 21 graduation ceremonies at Central DeWitt. The next day at 5:45 p.m., the Operahouse Theatre will host a meet-and-greet with Rutenbeck, followed by a 7 p.m. showing of his short film "Class of 2027."
As one segment of a three-part, hour-long film shown on PBS last year, "Class of 2027" is a subtle, layered look at the lives of small children growing up in Kentucky. Rutenbeck was executive producer for all three films, but the two others were made by other directors; those examine the lives of Native American children growing up on the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota and the children of migrant workers in the Southwest.
Rutenbeck's documentaries have been screened at museums and film festivals throughout the country, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Encouraged by teachers
Born in Clinton, he was raised in DeWitt, the son of William and Ruth Rutenbeck. His company is called Lost Nation Pictures, after his father's birthplace. He is a 1970 graduate of Central Community High School.
A theater kid in high school, he credits the faculty with spurring his creativity.
"There were some really, really good teachers there who couldn't solve my problem for me, but could open me up to think about the world in ways that were beyond our small town," he said.
He named faculty members Larry Cederoth and Jim Hetrick as particular influences.
After high school, Rutenbeck attended the University of Iowa for a couple of years before he transferred to Macalester College in Minnesota, where he studied child development. After graduation, he was a teacher in Appalachia, but "I realized I was temperamentally unsuited to that work."
He worked for small documentary companies in New York and Boston before he became a film editor in 1984 at WGBH, a public television station. He kept that job until seven or eight years ago, he said. During that time, he entered a graduate film program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he further honed his skills and commitment to documentary filmmaking.
Exploring lives of people
He sees documentaries as a way to create empathy in a viewer.
"I think it's really just where my talent lies," he said. "My talent seems to be going out and collecting things and bringing them back.
"Rather than sort of me writing something and creating something new, it's going out with a very open mind trying to explore the lives of people. Partly too, there's a social justice piece, giving voice to people who are undervalued in our society."
His return here will be something of a sentimental journey. The last time he was here was four years ago, for a memorial service for his mother, and he no longer has relatives in town.
"One of the really nice things about coming back next week, after my Mom's memorial, I had this feeling of loss that I may not come back to DeWitt," he said.
He said he was surprised and flattered to be asked to speak at graduation.
"I was, a little bit," he said, adding with a chuckle, "and some of my friends were surprised too. It's a real honor.
"It's got me in this frame of mind where I've been thinking a lot about growing up in DeWitt and what it's meant to me. I can think of a dozen people who are more accomplished than I am."