Oregon filmmakers

‘Lilies’ Rising

How poet Joni Renee Whitworth transformed the pandemic experience into an award-winning experimental short film

“Of course, lesbians have dreamt of this for years: sleeping in late, reading to each other, fretting over the cat, cooking, stretching, listening to jazz in silks. No parties to attend.” Those are the first words in Lilies, an experimental short film written by poet Joni Renee Whitworth, who wanted it to communicate their passion for finding ecstasy in the midst of tragedy—even during a pandemic.

“I know a lot of people felt like joy and pleasure were not allowed last year, and they would feel kind of guilty or try to hide when something was going well,” Whitworth says. “And I’m so disheartened by that response. We can’t build a society where joy and pleasure are not allowed. Because the hard stuff will always be there, and last year was harder than most—harder than any I’ve known.”

“Lilies” in the field: Collaborators Hannah Piper Burns (left) and Joni Renee Whitworth.

Created in collaboration with Hannah Piper Burns, Lilies is a nine-minute kaleidoscope of sounds and images that coalesce into a rush of hope and anguish. It invokes Whitworth’s experience as a queer artist surviving the pandemic, while offering a sweeping meditation on post-COVID life (Whitworth’s characterization of the “choreographed veering” required to avoid other humans is one of many potent observations about current social protocols).

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Derek Sitter: Exploring the ties between privilege and trauma

The Bend filmmaker hopes his ‘Tutu Grande,’ in the upcoming McMinnville Short Film Festival, will spur discussions about power, greed, and consequences

Derek Sitter’s film Tutu Grande is little more than 12 minutes long, but it’s surely the most excruciating, difficult-to-watch of the 127 films the McMinnville Short Film Festival will screen later this month. It’s also one of the best. Given the #MeToo movement, it’s in sync with the cultural zeitgeist. The film has won a slew of awards on the festival circuit and is nominated for a Grand Jury Award at the McMinnville festival, which begins Feb. 18. Watching it is like pulling the pin from a hand grenade and waiting for the explosion.

I very nearly didn’t watch it, because even a glimpse of the poster or the trailer suggests that one will be subjected to torture porn. Indeed, the opening shots offer visual cues — a man bound to a wooden slab, a stash of surgical equipment on a nearby table, and the snapping of rubber gloves by the captor — that seem swiped from Hostel or Saw. The narrative (spoilers ahead) consists of little more than a darkly comic monologue masquerading as a conversation (and a mostly quiet one at that) delivered by a father to the young man who raped his daughter.

When the grenade does explode, it’s not as you expect. A surprise awaits the rapist, sitting in the shadows.

Derek Sitter, director of "Tutu Grande," has spent more than 30 years doing stage and film work and also owns the Volcanic Theatre Pub in Bend (currently closed because of COVID).
Derek Sitter, director of “Tutu Grande,” has spent more than 30 years doing stage and film work and also owns the Volcanic Theatre Pub in Bend (currently closed because of COVID).

Sitter wrote the story and directed it with cinematographer Taylor Morden behind a single camera. He also plays Jesse, the father, in an understated but pitch-perfect performance. His wife, Jeanne Sanders, plays the rapist’s mother. A few short shots hold her in the frame for less than 30 seconds, but that’s possibly the most agonizing and emotionally truthful segment of the film.

Jared, the young man who spends Tutu Grande prone at a roughly 45-degree angle, is played by Nathan Woodworth. He speaks few lines but with extraordinary subtlety and nuance conveys oceans of meaning, largely with his face. Woodworth has done film and theater work in Oregon and California, including the lead role in Johnny Got His Gun, a stage production a few years ago in Los Angeles by The Actors’ Gang and directed by Tim Robbins.

Sitter is something of a rock star in Bend’s cultural scene. Family connections brought him there a decade ago, and he spent a year and a half remodeling a concrete warehouse and wood mill into the 2,500-square-foot Volcanic Theatre Pub on the city’s west side. Bend Source Weekly’s reader poll has regularly named it the city’s favorite indoor venue since it opened in 2013, and the theater is a hotbed of creativity — live music, stand-up comedy, film screenings, and live theater — from The Blasters to David Mamet’s American Buffalo. It hosts, in a non-COVID year, some 225 events. Sitter also teaches acting classes there, and for several years, Woodworth was among his students.

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Finding a voice for black media

Open Signal's screening Friday at the Hollywood Theatre of work by six young black Portland filmmakers opens the door on a world of stories

Something’s happening. And you’d better know what it is.

On Friday, June 14, Open Signal Labs is giving six black filmmakers a chance to showcase their work and let the Portland media world know they’re here, they’re thriving, and they’re ready to enter the industry and take a commanding role. The screening, at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland, is the culmination of a year of work, learning and training for six young, black filmmakers: Kamryn Fall, Elijah Hasan, Tamera Lyn, Sika Stanton, Noah Thomas and Dustin Tolman.

Open Signal’s Ifanyi Bell and RaShaunda Brooks: making it happen. Photo: Sam Gehrke

This fellowship is the first of its kind in the state of Oregon. Over the course of the year, these artists were granted “a $2,000 stipend, training, access to industry-standard equipment, staff and actors from Artists Repertory Theatre, as well as mentorship with media professionals and connections to the field from the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television.” The idea, says Open Signal executive producer and industry veteran Ifanyi Bell, is to “provide our fellows the best possible resources — cutting-edge filmmaking equipment and experienced industry professionals — and then time will tell. We hope to create a safe space immune from outside influence that will inspire true innovation and authentic stories of black Americans.”

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Comment: Our Bodies Our Doctors

An Oregon-made film about abortion providers premieres at the Portland International Film Festival. Friderike Heuer looks at the issues.

Story and photographs by Friderike Heuer

The Portland International Film Festival, which opens Thursday, March 7, and continues through March 21, has a long (42 years and counting) and honorable tradition of focusing on controversial subjects. This year is no exception. On March 8, International Women’s Day no less, it features the world premiere of Our Bodies Our Doctorsa documentary film by Janice Haaken exploring the experiences of contemporary abortion providers.

The team: Director Jan Haaken front center; from left to right: Katrina Fairlee, Sound Recordist, Timothy Wildgoose, Photography, Caleb Heyman, Co-director of Photography, Samantha Prauss, Assistant Director. Not featured: David Cress, Producer.

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