James Westby

Watching (and talking) movies in McMinnville

Local filmmakers involved with the McMinnville Short Film Festival discuss the role of video stores, film festivals, and "This Is Spinal Tap" in their work

The 8th Annual McMinnville Short Film Festival was too big a meal to consume entirely last weekend, but I did get to a screening in the largest auditorium at Coming Attractions’ multiplex, which was pretty full Sunday afternoon. Between that and watching a few online, I caught about 15 of the record 50 films shown over two days. Only a few left me cold; most films — none longer than 20 minutes and many no more than 10 — were very good, and a few were excellent.

A complete list of this year’s films, nominations and winners can be found
here.

Festival organizers Dan and Nancy Morrow are friends, but I feel like I’m on solid ground in saying that the McMinnville Short Film Festival is a polished affair, organized by serious film-lovers who know what they’re doing. I hadn’t attended a film festival before (having a kid puts a damper on extracurricular stuff like that), but I was impressed with both the quality of the work on the screen and the informal, yet professional presentation. It is also encouraging to see a mainstream movie theater chain (Southern Oregon-based Coming Attractions, which runs many small-town theaters in Oregon and several other states) work with locals like this, handing over its largest screen for two days for a homegrown show. I hope to scoop up a bigger helping in 2020.

One of the weekend’s big crowd-pleasers was Sac de Merde. A barely 14-minute comedy about a young New York woman’s dating woes, it includes what is possibly the funniest and most outrageous sex scene I’ve ever seen in a film. Sac de Merde came from California, directed by Greg Chwerchak of Los Angeles. The film was nominated in five categories and received the festival’s top honor, the Grand Jury award, along with awards for directing and original short story, which was written by the trio of Chwerchak, Arielle Haller-Silverstone (who was also nominated for her acting in the film), and Gabrielle Berberich.

Arielle Haller-Silverstone was nominated for a Best Actress award for her work in the McMinnville audience favorite, “Sac de Merde,” which she also co-wrote.

He Calls Them All By Name, directed by Chad Sogas (who splits his time between Portland and Brooklyn, N.Y.) also impressed this year’s judges, garnering six nominations and winning in four categories, including: Best Actor (Ted Rooney), Best Sound Mixing (Noah Woodburn) and Best Editing (Katie Turinski). (The festival named two Best Actors; the second was Moussa Sylla in La Rage.)

Sogas’ film is an eerie piece centered on an intense confrontation between a tenant farmer and his drunk, gun-toting neighbor. Shot entirely outdoors at night, it was inspired in part by Flannery O’Connor’s Southern gothic short stories and films such as In Cold Blood and A Face in the Crowd. The story is pretty thin gruel that falls just short of being a complete enigma, but it clearly spoke to the political unease of the times. The technical skill on display, direction, and acting were outstanding. Greg Schmitt’s cinematography was extraordinary, and the film deservedly won for that as well.

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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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