BendFilm Festival 2022 Review

I Go Hard at BendFilm Festival

It’s seventy-six degrees this weekend in my hometown of Bend, Oregon, which is prime outdoor café weather, if you ask me. But to the average Bendite, days like this are better spent wheeling a paddle-board trailer to Mirror Pond. So be it that this is the most unseasonably-warm and serotonin-inducing outdoor weekend of the year— it’s BENDFILM 2022 Y’ALL and MOMMA’S GOT A PASS!

BendFilm Festival Awards
Who else is tired of stodgy conference rooms for banner events? BendFilm brilliantly hosted their party at the Boys and Girls Club. Keeping it real around here!​​

So Much to Love About BendFilm Festival

I haven’t gone hard at BendFilm since 2017— B.C. (before child)—and in recent years had forgotten how exhilarating it was to dive in the current of the film festival and get swept up in its momentum for days at a time.

This year I was reminded that there’s so much to love about BendFilm:

  • Transportation is a breeze. It’s walkable and there’s ample bike parking near each venue.
  • This festival has soul. Each film opens with a nod to the original human inhabitants in Central Oregon: the Northern Paiute, Wasco, and Warm Springs tribes. They lived here long before the lumberjacks came a’calling. 
  • Warm, welcoming vibes. The staff and volunteers are consistently friendly. Thank God. Nothing zaps my interest in an event quicker than rampant discontent.
  • Mind-expanding movies. Learn about far corners of the world. Get inspired by larger-than-life characters in real-life documentaries. Hear marvelous narratives, that kind of thing. 
  • Easy, breezy festival experience. It’s easy to navigate the schedule (despite my pre-festival anxieties, which I explore below), and best of all, it operates like a well-oiled machine. There aren’t long lines and yet the theaters have crowds in them. It has the affect of an effortless production, which you know means there was a shit-ton of effort that went into it. 

Get Involved at BendFilm

So this year, when I got an email from writing buddy and BendFilm Programming Director, Selin Sevinc, inviting me (among a lot of other folks) to moderate a Q&A with a filmmaker, I was stoked! I had seen Selin in our September writing group and I shared a scene from a novel I’m drafting about the conservation of wild Florida—think less Florida Man and more Florida Panthers.

After I read my piece, Selin mentioned that she’d never been to Florida, to which I responded, “And now you don’t need to go,” and then she countered, “I did however, select a film about Florida for the festival this year.” When she dropped the title on me, Path of the Panther, it was like that scene in E.T. where Drew Barrymore (wait, was it Drew??) and E.T. touch fingertips — my mind began to glow. The next day Selin confirmed I could moderate one of the Q&As for Path of the Panther and I about jumped across my living room, I was so pumped!

Check Yo Attitude! It's BendFilm Fest Time!

Even though I had the most wonderful BendFilm appointment ever, with the Path of the Panther Q&A, Friday morning I was still reticent to go all out at the festival. Looking back on that state of mind, I see the faultiness of my logic, which went something like this:

But I don’t do the theater.

Motherhood has conditioned me to not reach for indulgences I had before children, such as matinees. 

Who will spray stain remover and then wait fifteen minutes, or get a head start on the overnight oats if I go to the theater? 

However, this particular weekend was different, my husband and child were off to a pumpkin patch for two nights, to be with friends, braid corn, and sort gourds while I was left to my own glorious devices.

But how will I ever decide upon a movie? 

BendFilm Festival 2022 is comprised of nine theaters, more than forty curated films, and four days of showings. Pulling a good film from that stack felt like drawing a tarot card; and I really didn’t want to draw the one with swords. On the other hand, they’re all selected films, so the odds of a film not being fantastic are low.

Dear BendFilm, a request from the anxiety suffers of America. Please create a few avatars on the 2023 schedule for us to pick from, and then as if through a cattle chute, we will plod our path for the rest of the festival. But also remember we are not actual cattle and give us the flexibility to change direction once we’re in the cattle yard. Thank you. (Please text us when you get this message so we know it landed safely.)

But I am so busy.

Given the abundance of movie options and my daily doings, I was too scattered to plan my own festival experience in advance. As an aside, I am running a small business, drafting a novel, doing The Forge workshop, and curating this blog article. 

Fortunately, I have capable friends, with impeccable taste, that were more than willing to share their pre-planned BendFilm Festival schedule with me, as a google calendar that synced right up with my phone and told me where to be and when. YAS, SISTERS. THANK YOU!

I Go Hard at BendFilm Festival

It was my first film that snapped me out of my loop of excuses and got me cannon-balling into the BendFilm Festival’s full experience. I felt like Beyoncé in her "Formation" video, and just kept hearing “I go hard,” as I went from theater to theater, like a child at Disney World, with a wide-eyed grin. 

I had the most fantastic weekend, I didn’t even want to write. And ask my husband, I always want to write. I saw six full-length films; a handful of shorts; went to a screenwriter panel featuring the Indiewoman of the Year, Tamara Jenkins (and hubby); and attended the awards party Saturday night—did they resurrect Joolz for this magical night?!—MERCY! It was all top notch. 

I paused to reflect Sunday morning on my BendFilm Festival experience and jotted down a few notes about the films I screened, just for you.

Path of the Panther

Path of the Panther follows renowned Florida wildlife photographer Carlton Ward as he painstakingly captures images of the critically endangered Florida panther in its natural habitat. 

I was so moved by the footage, by the compelling storyline, by the cooperation between the ranchers and the conservationist, and finally by the payoff photos at the end. Nat geo! Babs had kittens! Tres took down a deer again! My friend Anastasia came with me to this one and we both were wiping tears from our eyes throughout the movie. It was so well done.

I am now filled with promise of what this kind of a story could do to preserve the panther habitat and wild Florida for generations to come. My father is a wildlife photographer based in Florida, and his passion for panthers has clearly worn off on me.

Path of the Panther at BendFilm
Path of the Panther's First Screening​​ at BendFilm

After the Friday showing, I hosted a Q&A with the film’s executive field producer, Malia Byrtus. When she took the mic, I knew we were in the presence of greatness. She spoke eloquently about how Hurricane Ian had impacted the Florida panthers (unknown—the trails are currently underwater), how there are parallels between the conservation efforts in Oregon and Florida (ranchers + wildlife lovers), why trail cams need to be close to the ground (to catch the eyes of the animals) and she even shared her personal panther encounter (her dad, a ladder, and a huffing deer). Thank you, Malia! 

Sweet Disaster

An imaginative, forty-year-old woman has a short-lived relationship with a pilot, gets pregnant, is shamed and loses her job. As much as that sucks, the film has levity and celebrates female relationships and women supporting women. I did love the moments of the heroine’s reality breaks–the suspended backfall and the pilot’s song and dance.

Sam Now

Two brothers rake through twenty-five years of home-filmmaking footage to weave together a family documentary that explores a mother’s decision to abandon her young children, and the affects of that decision over time.

Sam Now won best documentary, and I will say me and my ladies had to pause afterwards for a round of Pilsners and to decompress. It stirred up a lot of emotions for all of us. I can’t get past seeing Jois as a scab, but maybe I’m being too harsh.

With This Breath I Fly

This documentary was very heavy. It follows the stories of two Afghani women who are imprisoned for daring to speak or act out against abusive men. I can’t even write about it. Once they are released from prison, one woman’s family sells her into another unwanted marriage, and the other main character is coerced into marrying her rapist. 

As a film it was deeply moving, but as a representation of the cultural oppression of women in Afghanistan it is both horrifying and heart wrenching.

My bike ride from the Old Mill to the Tower Theater after With this Breath, help me spin the horror out of my body — the shared CBD gummy also helped.

Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Charlie Trotter

Eccentric Midwestern man makes revolutionary food in Chicago but loses his sense of self and burns personal bridges along the way. 

I knew nothing of Charlie “Chuck” Trotter before watching this documentary and while it was entertaining, after the film I felt like I didn't need to know any more. I was ready for my next course.


Unlike Love Charlie, I had heard of Alexi Navalny before watching his documentary — and after watching this movie, I caught myself googling terms late into the night, like “Navalny news” or “Navalny update” to no avail. He’s still in the Russian gulag, though now I follow him on all his social platforms, nibbling my nails until his anticipated prison release.

The Virtual BendFilm Festival Runs October 10-23

If you’re a far-flung cinephile or simply want to catch the festival lineup at home, it’s possible! On my list of films to stream:  Au Revoir, Further in  and Sweetheart Deal.

Check out the Virtual BendFilm options.

Close and Catherine Called Birdie (Lena Dunham!) are also on my must-see list, but won't be available during the virtual festival.

Did you attend BendFilm? Please share more movies recommendations for the Virtual Festival.

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