When most people think about filmmaking in Oregon, they'll think of star directors Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes. Dig a little deeper and maybe Oregonians of a certain age will recall the kids' film, The Goonies, made in Astoria or the fact that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was based on the Ken Kesey novel.
But there is a thriving independent film scene in the state, and the recent award of the 2010 Oregon Media Arts Fellowships says much about the state's commitment to independent filmmakers, the fertile ground it provides to filmmakers, and the ways these non-Hollywood directors make it work in the Northwest. At the opening night screening of the NW Film Center's Northwest Film and Video Festival in November, the Fellowships—cash awards along with in-kind services—were awarded to Matt McCormick, Nick Peterson, and Elijah Hasan. Supported by the Oregon Arts Commission, the Gordon D. Sondland and Katherine J. Durant Foundation, and Oregon Public Broadcasting as well as the Oregon Governor's Office of Film & Television and Chambers Communications, the awards were made by a jury including Bernadette Spear, Producer at Wieden + Kennedy; Dr. Mark L. Berrettini, Assistant Professor of Film Studies at the School of Fine and Performing Arts; and past Fellow, filmmaker Sue Arbuthnot.
When we look for reasons that independent film thrives here, especially in Portland, we can look to the support of the above organizations, but also to those who foster community, DIY-style, like McCormick, whose feature-length film Some Days Are Better Than Others starring the Shins' James Mercer and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney premiered at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival, screened at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and will be released in theaters this year. In 1996 McCormick founded Peripheral Produce, modeled after independent record labels, to distribute experimental film and video. And in 2001, he founded the Portland Documentary and eXperimental (PDX) Film Festival for non-narrative/experimental film which has provided audience, platform, encouragement, and fellowship for dozens of filmmakers in Portland and beyond.
We can look to the way that Peterson makes films, like his most recent Field Guide to November Days (which unfolds slowly with almost no dialogue), working with long-time collaborator Mary Defreese and drawing a community of co-creators around him, as well as the fact that many of his thoughtful films are visual love letters to off-the-beaten path Portland, to see that something is different about making films here, and not just because Peterson shot Field Guide entirely by bike. Because the pace, the price, and the payoff are different here than they are in Los Angeles, there is a different way of making films that both relies on and fosters community.
Like many of his peers, Elijah Hasan, whose stop-motion Coined that screened at this year's Northwest Film and Video Festival and Is That Me that won Audience and Judges' Choice Awards for Best Experimental at last year's fest, has combined teaching video, animation, and photography to the next generation of filmmakers with making films of his own. Hasan taught for many years with the Media Arts & Technology Institute, McCormick teaches at the NW Film Center, both building the future of the filmmaking community. And that is what the Oregon Media Arts Fellowships are all about, building that community by supporting independent filmmakers in Oregon, helping artists like Peterson, Hasan, and McCormick to continue to make great work in Oregon.