Dan and Nancy Morrow

McMinnville Short Film Festival marches on — pandemic or no

Organizers are coming up with two scenarios for February's 10th annual event, and a virtual fundraiser this weekend will showcase greatest hits from the past

Having spent most of 2020 reporting on Yamhill County events large and small that have been canceled due to COVID-19, I find it a relief to reveal an ambitious cultural project that is marching onward.

The McMinnville Short Film Festival was one of a few major events this year that managed to slide under the wire in February before the pandemic shut everything down. The festival takes over the largest auditorium at McMinnville Cinema 10 for a busy weekend, showcasing excellent films from the Pacific Northwest and around the world. Audiences get to meet the filmmakers amid discussion, networking, and, of course, wine. February 2021 will mark the 10th year, and the festival will be held (Feb. 19-21), pledge founders and organizers Dan and Nancy Morrow, one way or another.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

This weekend is the festival’s mid-year fundraiser, which isn’t so much a sneak preview as a greatest hits party. And of course, it’s virtual. Starting at 3 p.m. Friday and running till 11 p.m. Sunday, a sliding-scale donation is all you need to treat yourself — at home, on your TV, tablet, phone, etc. —  to a nearly two-hour smorgasbord of award-winning short films in a variety of genres spanning the festival’s nine years. That’s the window during which you must start watching — and you can watch any number of them, in any order, at your convenience. Multiple viewings are allowed. Once you begin, you’ve got 24 hours during which the eight-film program will be available. The longest film is 20 minutes; most run 10 to 12 minutes. Most are introduced by the filmmakers. In lieu of the meet-and-greet, a 45-minute webinar featuring most of the filmmakers is also available.  

Elnaz Resaei plays Nahal, recipient of a surprise birthday party, in “We Were There,” a film by Saeed Vahidi and a 2020 award-winner at the McMinnville Short Film Festival. Photo courtesy: McMinnville Short Film Festival
Elnaz Resaei plays Nahal, recipient of a surprise birthday party, in “We Were There,” a film by Saeed Vahidi and a 2020 award-winner at the McMinnville Short Film Festival. Photo courtesy: McMinnville Short Film Festival

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McMinnville Short Film Festival is long on innovation

This weekend's eighth annual event includes 50 films from around the world

On any given day, Coming Attractions Theatres’ multiplex in McMinnville screens 10 films. But this Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 9 and 10, in the theater’s 208-seat auditorium, you can see 50 – and you don’t have to sit for 18 hours straight to do it.

This weekend’s 8th Annual McMinnville Short Film Festival is a considerably larger and more polished affair than when it began with a single screening that included “movies” clearly shot on iPhones. This year’s crop comprises high-quality shorts shot by professionals on high-end equipment with full production crews. Portland is represented well, obviously, but an impressive international showing includes movies from Israel, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, and Germany. Each of the four screenings runs from 80 to 110 minutes, no film runs more than 20, and you can talk to many of the filmmakers at the end of each show.

A common thread that emerges from talking with both filmmakers and festival attendees is that once they go, they’re likely to return. “I have been to the McMinnville festival, and I’m a fan,” said Tim Williams, who heads the state agency Oregon Film. “I love that they get so many filmmakers there, I very much enjoy their keynote speakers, and I love that it is in the middle of wine country, which means there’s good food and drink in your free time.”

Nancy and Dan Morrow spent years running a successful and eclectic video store in McMinnville. Today, they’re helping keep film alive by hosting the McMinnville Short Film Festival.

How did this happen? Why did it happen here?

The festival is the brainchild of Dan and Nancy Morrow, who until a few years ago owned the coolest video store in Oregon outside Movie Madness in Portland. Operating out of a house built in 1908 across Oregon 99W from Linfield College, the Morrows over 15 years built Movietime Video into an essential resource for hard-core film buffs. Sure, they had the latest Hollywood blockbusters and mainstream fare, but they also packed the shelves with foreign and art films, cult classics, Americana gems from the TCM Vault, and manga.

The TV wall alone was astonishing and offered the same breadth and variety available in every other section. Not only could you get Game of Thrones or The Sopranos, but you also could find throwbacks like Adam-12, Perry Mason, or even Tenspeed and Brownshoe. (Full disclosure: For a couple of years, I did some freelance writing for the store.) When Movietime shut its doors in April 2016, joining the nationwide wave of locally owned indie video-store closures, it felt like a funeral. (They have since converted the building into The Gallery at Ten Oaks, which features work by Oregon artists.)

The Morrows started the festival in 2011, building on the experience of a film competition they’d sponsored earlier that year for McMinnville’s UFO Festival. One screening was held in the local community center. Year by year, the event grew. Submissions started to climb and the films kept getting better. They partnered with Coming Attractions so audiences could see the work on a big screen. Screenings were added. The festival also booked speakers; in 2015, filmmaker Will Vinton gave the keynote address.

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