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Documentary film crew comes to All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club

Press photo by John Burbridge A film crew from New York City sets up a shot while making a documentary about the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club located just north of Charles City.
Press photo by John Burbridge
A film crew from New York City sets up a shot while making a documentary about the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club located just south of Charles City.
By John Burbridge

CHARLES CITY — At the northern edge of the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club’s world-renowned grass court recently christened the “Alex J. Kuhn Court of Dreams”, there was a moment of silence.

Actually, there were several moments of silence.

“We’re trying to capture the still ambience of the place,” said Denzil Xavier, the soundman for the seven-person film crew from New York City who visited homestead of Mark and Denise Kuhn several days last week to make a short documentary about the AILTC.

“This picks up a lot of stuff most people don’t hear,” Xavier said of his boom microphone, which he used to record three-minute increments of near silence at ground level and at about 10 feet above.

“You can hear the birds in the background … you can even hear the snow melting with the dripping of the water.”

Though the snow was melting during last Saturday’s sunny production day, there was still a half-inch base covering the court. Thus, there was not going to be any footage shot — or sound recordings — of tennis being played like there would be during the summer when the AILTC plays host to grass-court tennis enthusiasts coming in from all over the world as well as the Alex J. Kuhn Invitational that features some of the top youth tennis players from Iowa and Minnesota.

But for the documentary’s director, Darius Clark Monroe, filming during the club’s inactive period caters to the narrative they are striving for.

“Like the roots of the special grass used for the court, there is a lot of things underneath the surface when it comes to telling a story like this,” Monroe said. “There is more here than just tennis. There’s family … there’s history … there’s community”

Monroe’s production crew is tentatively called “Grass” and they are working for Topic Studios to produce one of four eight-minute documentaries that will accompany four articles written by former New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati. The articles are due to appear in Racquet Magazine.

The documentary about the AILTC is due to debut at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC in May of next year. Then it will be streamed online.

“Though it may not seem that much, there’s a lot you can tell in eight minutes,” said Monroe, who is originally from Houston, Tex. before relocating to New York City to pursue a career as a filmmaker.

“I was always into creative writing … writing short stories while I was growing up,” Monroe said. “I haven’t made any films of my short stories, but I have written treatments for other films.”

Though this is the first “film” documentary featuring the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club, there have been several televised video segments aired in the past about one of the few well-maintained grass tennis courts in the United States.

Former Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim did a feature that ran during the 2011 Wimbledon Championships.

“They had a cameraman sitting on the floor board on the passenger side,” Mark Kuhn said of a scene in Wertheim’s piece where Kuhn was driving his old pickup truck along the gravel road parallel to a row of wind turbines near Kuhn’s farm. “They wanted me to drive around downtown in Charles City, but I told them that wouldn’t be a good idea because my truck didn’t have any brakes.”

With help and support from his family, Kuhn built the grass court in 2003 after following through on a dream that was inspited during his childhood when he listened to International Tennis Hall of Famer Jack Kramer call of Wimbledon matches on his father’s short-wave radio.

Aside from the current documentary project, the AILTC was most recently nationally featured in an “On the Road with Steve Hartman” segment on CBS when the club held its first Alex J. Kuhn Invitational in 2017 in memory of Mark and Denise’s son who died the year before.