International film fest wanders to the Coast

The Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival's short films explore gender and equality, overcoming obstacles, and little moments that make life whole

Oregonian Michael Harrington tells people he grew up with the ocean as his front yard and the forest as his back, which, if you know Oregon, must mean he grew up on the Coast. Depoe Bay and Lincoln City, to be specific.

“They are small town communities, you know everybody,” said Harrington, co-founder of the Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival. “I think I’ve always had a deep appreciation for nature and for that small-town hospitality. Authenticity. People are themselves. There’s a real peace in that.”

A middle-class woman without a husband encounters problems renting a house in Mumbai in “Counterfeit Kunkoo,” one of the short films in this year’s Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival.

That small-town upbringing also led to an understanding of what is sometimes lacking in those out-of-the-way places — in this case, film festivals.

With Wandering Reel, now in its fourth year and coming to the Coast this week, Harrington is trying to do something about that. He left Oregon to study film at Marlboro College in Vermont, then worked in the film industry in L.A., at one point running a short-film series in Big Sur, Calif. When he moved to Portland, he wanted to continue showing international films, but Portland already had plenty of those.

“I realized short films don’t really have much of an audience, and they deserve to,” Harrington said. “They are human stories that could really have an impact on people’s lives. I thought about smaller towns that don’t have a film festival. A lot of them don’t even have a theater, and if they do, it’s a chain theater showing blockbusters. I thought that people would really like seeing something different, and I wanted to create discussion around important issues, not just coming to the theater and watch and leave, but to put programs together thematically and then hold a discussion after the screening.”

In the animated short “Intimity,” a woman bares her soul as she showers, dresses and puts on her make-up. Most of the films in this year’s festival are directed by women.

This year’s film festival features films broken into themed programs exploring topics ranging from gender and equality, to overcoming obstacles, to remembering the little moments that make a life whole. This is the first year the majority of the films are directed by women, which Harrington describes as “not intentional but a wonderful surprise once the final films were chosen.” The films generally run from 5 to 28 minutes for a showing time of about 85 minutes.

While some of the themes may suggest an agenda, Harrington makes a point of keeping the festival from becoming political.

“The Beep Test” is in the thematic group “Gender Blender,” which explores the juxtaposition and interplay between toxic masculinity and the struggles of feminism in the modern world.

“That’s not our intention,” he said. “A Trump voter is just as welcome as a Bernie Sanders enthusiast. The conversation afterwards tends to be about how the film is made, the content of the film, what the films are trying to say and a little bit about the festival as a whole. It’s this idea of bringing people together. It seems in the Netflix and Internet age that is really lacking. The Internet tends to isolate people.”

Some tense moments, however, do come up, such as during the first year of the festival when a woman spoke out against Islamic people.

“You could feel the theater tense up,” Harrington said. “She was speaking about her family in the military and her fear for their lives. She was tearing up and was she given a hug by a very liberal person. They saw through the politics and ignorance of what she said. She was having a reaction to something that touched her very personally.”

That personal connection is also what sets the experience apart from the more common experience of watching a film alone, said Niki Price, director of the Lincoln City Cultural Center.

“Michael takes the time to set up the room in the right way,” she said. “He’s very methodical and thoughtful about how he arranges everything. I think the people who come to these films find themselves not rushing to leave. They find themselves really thinking about some of the people they’ve met on the screen.

“Coffee Time” is one of the films on the theme of “Our Basic Assumptions” that challenge stereotypes, including those about age.

“It’s a nice antidote to the experience of watching a film on your phone or laptop, which is how many of us experience films these days. I’ve seen important movies on my tablet before, and when it’s done I wish I had someone to share and discuss it with, and this is what the Wandering Reel can do.”

Where to catch the series on the Oregon Coast:

Newport 60+ Activity Center
2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25
Program: Sneak Preview
A sneak peek at some of the films showing across Lincoln County throughout the weekend.
Films: To Be Announced
Tickets: Free, donations at the door welcomed

Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26
Program: Moments In Time
Take a peek at portraits of the seemingly mundane moments, memories, and dreams that play meaningful parts in our lives through the unique styles of six visionary storytellers.
Films: Bonobo, Into the Blue, Three Red Sweaters, The End of Time, The Boatman, End of the Rainbow
Tickets: $5

The Bijou Theatre in Lincoln City
11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27
Program: Gender Blender
Encounter stories of people who disrupt (or uphold) traditional gender roles and who represent the juxtaposition and sometimes everyday interplay between toxic masculinity and the struggles of feminism in the modern world.
Films: Game, The Beep Test, I Think I Have a Crush on You, The Gunfighter, Cheese, Vs, Counterfeit Kunkoo
Tickets: $10

Newport Visual Arts Center
7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27
Program: Moments In Time
Take a peek at portraits of the seemingly mundane moments, memories, and dreams that play meaningful parts in our lives through the unique styles of six visionary storytellers.
Films: Bonobo, Into the Blue, Three Red Sweaters, The End of Time, The Boatman, End of the Rainbow
Tickets: $10

Lincoln City Cultural Center
5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28
Program: Our Basic Assumptions
What happens when we leave our assumptions at the door? These seven shorts challenge stereotypes around poverty, race, integrity, sexuality, gender, age, and more.
Films: Caroline, Emergency, Sacrilege, Dik, For Nonna Anna, Intimity, Coffee
Tickets: $10

City Lights Cinemas in Florence
2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4
Program: Our Basic Assumptions
What happens when we leave our assumptions at the door? These seven shorts challenge stereotypes around poverty, race, integrity, sexuality, gender, age, and more.
Films: Caroline, Emergency, Sacrilege, Dik, For Nonna Anna, Intimity, Coffee
Tickets: $9.50 general; $8.50 senior/student/military; $7.50 12 and under; $6.50 City Lights members

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