OREGON

Nine short takes on 85 short films

With subjects ranging from Indian relay horse-racing to Newberg's own 99W drive-in, there's a lot to like in this weekend's McMinnville Short Film Festival

The McMinnville Short Film Festival will unveil more than 80 films this weekend, beginning Friday night, and even the very limited sneak preview I got — “only” a couple dozen films — was enough to leave a variety of impressions along with a few thoughts about the state of cinema as an art form and the cultural health of Yamhill County.

In the spirit of the event, I’ll present these random thoughts, observations, and impressions in a series of easily digestible short takes.

“Eat the Rainbow,” in the Experimental/A Bit Strange block Sunday, is a musical fable about an odd-yet-kind man who becomes a disruptive force when he moves into a conservative suburban neighborhood.

THE FESTIVAL IS A SIGNIFICANT YAMHILL COUNTY EVENT. Just shy of a decade old, it has emerged as one of the more ambitious cultural undertakings in the area, arguably in the same league with infrastructure projects such as Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center as well as the more recently launched Aquilon Music Festival, which runs several weeks. The film festival started small and rather anonymously with a few screenings and has  blossomed into a three-day extravaganza that fills McMinnville Cinema 10’s largest auditorium with often-breathtaking work from around Oregon, the United States, and the world. Founders Dan and Nancy Morrow set out to make it a filmmaker-friendly event. If the testimonials of film artists (many of whom come to talk about their work) are any indication, it is indeed that. But it’s also something that ought to have mass appeal to mainstream audiences (not just cinephiles) and those who perhaps don’t get to the theater as much as they used to. Bottom line, locals haven’t really discovered this thing yet in large numbers. They need to.

“Word on the Street” is a one-joke comedy in the style of film noir that dazzles with a clever, rhyming, linguistic hook. One might say it’s an interesting presentation of cinematic experimentation that’s likely to win your admiration.

THERE’S NOTHING NEW HERE. By that I mean: Cinema started as a short-format medium. When the National Film Preservation Foundation released the first of its many American Treasures collections in 1997, the package squeezed 50 films from the earliest days of filmmaking onto four DVDs. Most ran 10 minutes or less and some ran little more than a minute or two. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded its first film-short Oscar in 1932 — to The Music Box, a Laurel and Hardy flick about the pair trying to move a piano up a flight of stairs. Under one name or another, live-action short films have had their own category at the Oscars since 1957. Thanks to a variety of streaming services, it’s never been easier to see them.

SO MANY CHOICES, BUT SO EASY TO CHOOSE. The single best thing about this year’s festival is that it’s easy to see precisely what you want. For three days starting Friday at Linfield College, 85 films will be shown in nine screening blocks organized by theme. Documentary-lovers need not be subjected to horror films; animation fans will find their thing in a Saturday afternoon block; those with an interest in the environment or Indigenous stories and issues will find most of those films in separate screening blocks.

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Fishers of poetry

Nearly 100 commercial fishermen and women will share poems, stories, and songs during the 23rd annual FisherPoets Gathering next week in Astoria

I had been on the Oregon Coast just shy of five months when I learned of the FisherPoets Gathering. I’d never heard of fisher poets, much less a gathering for them. But I must have been intrigued all those 19 years ago, because I drove the 130-odd miles up U.S. 101 to Astoria, a place I’d never seen.

That was the fourth year of the gathering, which celebrates the commercial fishing industry in poetry, prose and music. Even then, the Wet Dog Café venue was filled to overflowing. I returned several years for more, and nearly two decades later, the poems — though not necessarily the poets’ names — stay with me.

There was the young guy who hired on with a fishing vessel only to show up at the dock on the appointed day to find the skipper had headed out a day early. Not long after, he learned the entire crew perished when the vessel capsized. One woman talked of the time her boat burned on Thanksgiving, destroying everything, which wasn’t much in the first place. I made friends with Dave Densmore, who read Skeeter’s Song, the story of the day he lost his son and his father when they took Skeeter’s boat out for a quick cruise on the bay and never returned. It was Skeeter’s 14th birthday.

Besides writing poetry, FisherPoets founder Jon Broderick plays guitar, banjo, and occasional tin whistle. Photo by Patrick Dixon, courtesy FisherPoets Gathering

This year marks the 23rd FisherPoets Gathering, which takes place the last weekend of February at multiple venues around Astoria. Nearly 100 poets, storytellers and songwriters will share tales beginning Feb. 28. Event buttons, good for all weekend, are $20 and available at the door.

The gathering was fisherman Jon Broderick’s idea, earning him the title of “founder,” but only, he says, because he made the first phone call. That was to John van Amerongen, then-editor of Alaska Fisherman’s Journal, who frequently published the work of fisher poets in the magazine.

“I called to see if he had addresses for me,” Broderick recalled. “He did. Forty addresses. I contacted all of them. Thirty-nine said yes. Everybody I called said, ‘Let me talk to someone else.’ One person called another. We never talked to anybody who didn’t think it was a great idea. By word of mouth it spread. We never had to twist anyone’s arm.”

Broderick, whose family has fished for salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska, for three decades, was already writing poetry, but his motive in putting together the gathering was not so much to foster literary pursuits, but friendship.

“Commercial fishermen are tightly knit, but far flung,” Broderick said. “You lose track of people. These are people … they’ve sunk boats, gone aground. They’ve had to deal with hardship and figure ways to carry on. That kind of resiliency is typical of commercial fishermen. Of course, this was all in the days before social media, and if you wanted to get together, you needed an occasion. I invited my friends to get together and read poems. Everybody came and they brought friends.”

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Falling for flamenco

Laura Onizuka first encountered the art form in a video in Spanish class. Now she teaches the dance, including at an upcoming Lincoln City retreat

People come to the Oregon Coast for all sorts of reasons – the beach, the views, the seafood, the sea life. At the end of the month, they’ll come for a reason that may seem as foreign as the country that inspired it: to dance the flamenco. Portland dancer and instructor Laura Onizuka will share her talent and knowledge during the Flamenco Retreat at the Oregon Coast, Feb. 28 through March 1 in Lincoln City. We talked with Onizuka about the art form – a combination of dance, song, and instrumental music from southern Spain. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Flamenco instructor Laura Onizuka describes flamenco as “celebratory, passionate, melancholy.” Photo by: Chris Leck

What is flamenco?

Onizuka: It’s an art form and it’s music, dance, rhythm, language, communication. There are different facets: singing, guitar, dancing. It’s categorized by singing styles, based on the regions they come from and the influences from other parts of the world. For flamenco as we know it today, the place you want to go is Andalucía, Spain. That’s where great flamenco is being born. Madrid would be the hub. A lot of people go there to collaborate and just grow.

What can you tell us about its history?

It’s so complex. Some people say it comes from Gypsies in India originally. Some say that’s not true. It has influence from the Gypsies, Spanish folklore, musical influences from South America and Africa. So much of it was in the oral tradition, so there are not necessarily records of this art form until more recently. There’s a lot of romanticizing the Gypsy culture, but it’s about a lot more than that. People are still arguing about it and figuring it out. Where did it become the flamenco art form? In southern Spain. That’s not disputed.

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Coming attractions: McMinnville Short Film Festival

The Yamhill County calendar also includes three new gallery shows and a jazz performance by the Christopher Brown Quartet

We begin this week’s column with a quick run through the essential news-you-can-use for the McMinnville Short Film Festival, set for Feb. 21-23. In recent years, it’s emerged as yet another tent-pole cultural event in Yamhill County. Next week I’ll have a deep dive into some of the films that will be screened.

Filmmaker Scott Ballard will be keynote speaker at the McMinnville Short Film Festival.

By every measure, the event — founded by Dan and Nancy Morrow of McMinnville in 2011 — has grown considerably from very humble beginnings. The festival next week expands to three days to accommodate a whopping 85 films from the United States, Canada, and the international film community. A second venue has been added: Along with booking the largest auditorium at McMinnville Cinema 10, organizers have arranged for an opening-night screening in Linfield College’s Ice Auditorium.

The festival is for everybody, even those who don’t think of themselves as cinephiles or who watch movies infrequently. Nine categories are arranged by genre and include two narrative viewing blocks. Besides offering documentaries and environmental films, horror and “experimental” works, the festival has two new categories this year. It is partnering with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde on a Native American block, and with McMinnville Kiwanis and Sunrise Rotary on a Student Showcase block that will feature work by students in grades 6-12 and college.

The awards dinner is Feb. 23 on the Chemeketa Community College campus in McMinnville, next to the theater. Portland filmmaker Scott Ballard is the keynote speaker.

Check out the website, peruse the titles and screening blocks, and plan on a weekend of interesting, thoughtful work that’s as good as or better than anything Hollywood spits up these days. Purchase tickets here for as few or as many screenings as you like.

Kathleen Buck’s abstract paintings are among the works in a new show in McMinnville’s Currents Gallery.

YAMHILL COUNTY’S GALLERY scene has three new shows open or coming up fast. Two are in McMinnville: Currents Gallery downtown offers More Glorious Gourds and Powerful Paintings, by local artists Claudia Herber and Kathleen Buck. Both artists are award-winners in their fields. Herber has won in the annual Wertz Gourd Festival; Buck has long been active with the Watercolor Society of Oregon and has won her share of awards. Both will present abstract work in the show, which runs Feb. 17 through March 15. An opening reception will be held Friday, Feb. 21, during the 3rd Friday on 3rd Street Art & Wine Walk.

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Coast calendar: Telling stories and singing songs

Pacific Story Slam continues on the North Coast, chanteuse Lady Rizo visits Newport, and a couple of theatrical comedies offer Elvis and old folks

Fancy yourself a good storyteller? If so, the North Coast is where you want to be. The Pacific Story Slam takes place in three locales and continues through April, when a grand champ is crowned.

Each week offers a new theme — see below — shared by the venues, giving storytellers multiple audiences for their stories and audiences more opportunities to hear tales from different coastal communities.

Workers Tavern in Astoria holds weekly slams from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

Maggie’s on the Prom in Seaside hosts slams from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays. Because Maggie’s is a full-service restaurant, it’s the only venue where people under 21 are welcome to spin a tale.

The third venue is just across the border in Washington at the North Beach Tavern in Long Beach. Slams take place there from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays.

Here are the rules: Each story must be true and the storyteller’s own story. The story must be told in the first-person narrative without notes or props. The story should be to theme and told within five minutes. Members of the audience will receive ballots to vote for the winner of the night, based on the guidelines of the competition.

The winners from the nine weeks of competition (sorry, we missed the start in January) will be invited back for the semi-finals at each venue to tell a story on their chosen theme. The top four semi-finalists move on to the Grand Slam, competing for a cash prize, “more bragging rights and a slightly bigger trophy,” according to organizers. That takes place April 10 in the Fort George Brewery in Astoria.

Why, you might ask, a story slam? We’ll let organizers answer:

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‘Tightrope’: A working class in tatters

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn will make a series of local appearances to talk about their book, "Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope"

Many Yamhill County residents will recognize the street scene on the cover of Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope as downtown Yamhill. New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof grew up in the 1970s on a farm outside the tiny town and rode the bus to school with people whose stories are told in the book written by Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.

The couple, the first husband and wife to share a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, will visit McMinnville on Friday to talk about the book, which, despite its title, largely focuses on Americans who have lost hope after decades of vanishing blue-collar jobs.

Tightrope is the latest in a growing body of journalistic work examining what George Packer in 2013 called The Unwinding in his book of that name: The seismic economic shifts that have left the working class in tatters, trying to find a way in an economic world very different from the one their parents grew up in.

Yamhill County native Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, are authors of “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope,” which chronicles the epidemic of loneliness that has overtaken the American working class. Photo by: Michael Lionstar, courtesy Penguin Random House

What distinguishes Tightrope, however, is its deeply personal nature. Kristof is writing — with great respect and obvious affection — for many of his former classmates. He estimates that about one-fourth of those kids he grew up with died in adulthood from drugs and alcohol, suicide or reckless accidents — “deaths of despair,” as they have come to be called. One official quoted in the book talks about the epidemic of loneliness, a social phenomenon that’s hardly surprising in a society coming apart at the seams.

A few weeks ago, piles of Tightrope appeared at Third Street Books in downtown McMinnville and also at the McMinnville Public Library, in anticipation of the latest MacReads, a community-wide book discussion series that traditionally culminates with an appearance by the author.

Kristof and WuDunn will appear at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, in the McMinnville Community Center. Additional discussions will be held at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 19 in Linfield College’s Nicholson Library and at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 in McMinnville Public Library’s Carnegie Room. All those events are free. In addition, the couple will appear at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, in Portland’s Newmark Theatre in a ticketed event.

I caught up with Kristof by email, and he was gracious enough to respond to a few questions. Our exchange appears below:

Not that it’s important to fit Tightrope into a neatly defined genre, but given that you’ve known some of these folks for most of your life, it occurs to me that it has elements of memoir or autobiography. Maybe that’s a stretch, but beyond the straightforward work of reporting, did you ever think of it in those terms?

Yes, we did. Tara Westover, author of Educated, is a friend, and I hugely admire not only her journey but also her book. I also knew that a personal story would be more accessible than an analysis from 30,000 feet about Americans left behind. But Sheryl and I were also clear that we didn’t just want to write a memoir, and we wanted the focus to be on the issues and solutions, and not on my journey. One of my frustrations with Hillbilly Elegy was that it didn’t offer enough in the way of solutions.

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A tree grows in Eugene

Eugene Ballet showcases a revival of "Alice in Wonderland" and the premiere of "The Large Rock and The Little Yew" at the Hult Center


By GARY FERRINGTON


The Eugene Ballet Company continues its 41st season on February 8 and 9 with a revival of Alice In Wonderland, last performed in 2010, and the introduction of an exciting new work, The Large Rock and The Little Yew

The new ballet “The Large Rock and the Little Yew” tells astory of life’s challenges and perseverance. Photo courtesy of Eugene Ballet Company

World Premiere

The world premiere of The Large Rock and The Little Yew  is based on a children’s book written by Oregon author and  arboriculturist Gregory Ahlijian and choreographed by Eugene Ballet’s resident choreographer Suzanne Haag

Ahlijian’s book tells a heartwarming story of a yew seed that falls into the crevice of a large rock. The rock awakes and, angered at the yew’s presence, tells the young seed that it will never grow into a tree. Though discouraged at first, through courage and perseverance the seed takes root and seemingly, against all the constraints and challenges the rock presents, grows into an amazingly strong yew tree full of hope and self-respect. The message of overcoming hostile environments and obstacles through determination and willpower is one not only for children, but adults as well.

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