Under resident director Joanne Feinberg, the small eastern Oregon festival has been picking up steam, visitors and authority over the past three years. Based in the same bucolic boomer-friendly town as Ashland's venerable Shakespeare Festival (I saw excellent productions of Measure for Measure and Julius Caesar), the film fest offered strong selections of short and feature docs (I was on the feature doc jury) and indie narrative films. This year's two Rogue-Award winners (named after a local cheesery), Harry Shearer and Morgan Spurlock, brought their new docs, The Big Uneasy, about the Army Corps of Engineers' mismanagement of New Orleans' flood control, and product placement expose The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, respectively. "The best part about this award is that I was in a category of one, no competition," said Spurlock. "All I wanted to do was tell stories... Film festivals like this change people's lives."
Many of the best films, per usual, were other fest circuit holdovers, including the doc jury award-winner, heart-tugging suicide film How to Die in Oregon (best doc, pictured). Director Peter Richardson focused his film on dying cancer patient Cody Curtis, who insisted on giving him intimate access to her dying, which lasted ten months, outliving her diagnosis, against the wishes of her husband and family, he said on a panel moderated by my fellow juror AJ Schnack. Richardson constantly questioned whether the filming would be damaging to the family, who eventually became supportive of what was "free therapy" and a "healing process," he said. "I was always weighing that, should I turn the camera off or on? I hope people have their eyes opened to the actual personal implications and greater context of death and dying." The film will air soon on HBO.
Best narrative went to This Narrow Place, a tough Arab story which was filmed in Lebanon and Detroit, while Bronx father-transgender-son drama Gun Hill Road, starring Esai Morales, Judy Reyes and powerful newcomer Harmony Santana, took home a well-deserved acting ensemble prize. The special jury mention went to Kinyarwanda, a portrait of healing shot in Rwanda, still recovering from 1994's 100-day genocide, which killed 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu.
The short jury awarded the best live-action short out of seven to Pioneer director David Lowery, whose wife was home planning his honeymoon, he explained as he accepted his award, which "hopefully lives up to this." The best of ten animated shorts was The Wonder Hospital, with a special mention to Prayers for Peace. The best of ten doc shorts went to The Barber of Birmingham, whose co-director Gail Dolgin died in October after a decade-long bout with cancer; her daughter accepted the award. A special jury mention went to Tuned In, by Kevin Gordon.
The audience award for narrative short went to A Wink of the Eye, and short doc was Save Pelican 895. The audience award for doc feature went to local film The Welcome, about healing veterans. The audience voted its narrative feature award to Hello Lonesome.