Justin Zimmerman

Falling in love with movies and film festivals

Justin Zimmerman of the McMinnville Short Film Festival talks about his gateway films, the festival life, and this weekend's mini-fest fundraiser

The hottest movie ticket in Yamhill County this weekend isn’t at a theater. That distinction belongs to the Ice Auditorium on the Linfield College campus, where the McMinnville Short Film Festival will hold a sneak preview.

Eight films will be screened Saturday night (including one of last year’s crowd favorites, the hilarious I Will Not Write Unless I Am Swaddled in Furs). Afterward, audience members will meet some of the filmmakers and players behind the ninth annual event, scheduled for Feb. 21-23. Tickets are only $5, and Linfield students with ID get in free. The mini film fest runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Proceeds will be split between the  McMinnville Short Film Festival and scholarships for immigrant students in Yamhill County.

Justin Zimmerman was involved in the McMinnville Short Film Festival as a filmmaker and a judge before becoming executive director last spring. Photo by: David Bates
Justin Zimmerman was involved in the McMinnville Short Film Festival as an entrant and a judge before being named executive director last spring. Photo by: David Bates

One guy who will be in the audience and working the crowd afterward will be filmmaker Justin Zimmerman, who last spring was brought aboard as the festival’s executive director.

Zimmerman’s Portland-based Bricker-Down Productions has had films in more than 150 international festivals and won in dozens of them. Zimmerman also contributed a story to the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel Love Is Love. His connection with the McMinnville festival, founded by Dan and Nancy Morrow nearly a decade ago, goes back several years — first as an entrant and later as a judge.

I sat down a few weeks ago with Zimmerman during one of his visits to McMinnville, where he’s been discovering our restaurants and shops as he meets with the festival’s growing roster of partners (Linfield College among them) in preparation for February’s event. The festival has expanded to three days, entries are up, and it’s booked the largest auditorium at the local Coming Attractions multiplex for the entire weekend. “I have peers and friends in the world of film festivals, film programmers, executive directors, etc.,” he told me, “who, if they saw the budget of what we’re doing, they would be astounded.”

Zimmerman and I talked for about 90 minutes in a conversation that veered from his background and experiences and the festival to a few geek-out moments over movies we have both seen and loved. The following exchange has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your first movie memory growing up?

Zimmerman: I was fortunate enough to see Return of the Jedi, Gremlins, and Ghostbusters in a theater. Those really hit me. I remember those having a visceral effect. I remember seeing E.T. at a drive-in theater, that one blew me away. Movies really spoke to me. I was pretty young when I realized how powerful a movie could be. I didn’t have the training to contextualize it — the cinematography, the score, the acting, etc. — but it was very early on that I fell in love with movies.

What did you study in college?

Ohio State didn’t have a film production program, so I studied English and film criticism. I was fortunate to have a professor who taught the history of art named Ron Green, who was one of the most amazing film voices you could ever hope to find. I was studying Milton and Shakespeare and comparative world religions. I studied abroad in England and Ireland. Being in Scotland when Trainspotting hit was incredible. I took these courses in English where professors would teach what they were interested in: Feminism in horror movies; Orson Welles into Kubrick; and looking at the films of these wide-angle auteurs. It was remarkable.

Any particular film leap out, get inside your head?

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Lines everywhere on the Yamhill County arts horizon

You'll find them in exhibitions exploring horizon lines and ikebana, and the plucked strings of a guitar. Plus, McMinnville Short Film Festival has a new leader

It’s one of those weeks where there’s so much going on, we have just enough space to squeeze in enough about everything for you to click ahead and decide whether to investigate further. Let’s go.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER IN NEWBERG has rotated in a new exhibit worth checking out. Oregon City’s artistic duo Clairissa and Colby Stephens are Stratifying the Unknown with a collection of drawings, paintings and sculptures “that explore the ways horizon lines shape our understanding of place and space and one’s location in it.” According to the artists’ statement:

"Field of View | Black Rock Desert" is part of the “Stratifying the Unknown” show by Clairissa and Colby Stephens in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

“Field of View | Black Rock Desert” is part of the “Stratifying the Unknown” show by Clairissa and Colby Stephens in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

“We became captivated by horizon lines when we moved to Reno, NV, in 2011. Distinctly different from our Western Oregon stomping grounds, we were captivated by the desert and the 360-degree view of horizon lines that it offered. As avid backcountry explorers, we use a compass for navigation: a process that is heavily dependent on horizon lines. And so we began to consider the various ways that horizon lines impact our lives. But lines do not simply demarcate the boundaries of three dimensional space: They also trace the ways that humans, animals, plants, and water move through it.”

You’ll find it in the Parrish Gallery through June 28. And don’t miss the Art for All Youth project in the Community Gallery, the fruit of an artist-led partnership with Providence’s Outreach program to work with students on ceramics, paint-pouring and watercolor. Runs through June 1.

Portland filmmaker Justin Zimmerman is on board as executive director of the McMinnville Short Film Festival, which is accepting entries for the 2020 event.

Portland filmmaker Justin Zimmerman is on board as executive director of the McMinnville Short Film Festival, which is accepting entries for 2020.

THE NEXT McMINNVILLE SHORT FILM Festival is nearly a year off, but there’s news to report. Portland filmmaker Justin Zimmerman, whose work has appeared in more than a hundred festivals around the world, has been named executive director of the event. Festival co-founders Nancy and Dan Morrow, who operate The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville, will remain involved in the expanding, filmmaker-friendly enterprise as board members, but this will mark the first time a professional filmmaker (and Portlander) has been in charge of steering the ship.

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