Bend Film Festival 20th Anniversary Weekend & Virtual Film Fest
I watch more movies during Bend Film Festival than I do the rest of the year. Why? Because BendFilm’s artful program is curated by Bend-based screenwriter and BendFilm Program Director, Selin Sevinc. Who knows what weirdos are choosing the films for the commercial theaters?
Plus, the films feel engaging and larger than life in the festival setting. Filmmakers are present to tell you about their work, answer your questions, and to tell you how they made these big stories come to life (with often modest production budgets). You can straight-up ask the writer-director of a feature length movie what her motivation was, or how she got the guts to say that, or why her dad wore dresses in secret. The layers of glossy marketing typically associated with movies are sloughed off at the Bend Film Fest, and the artists are within reach of their audience. It's thrilling, truly.
The BendFilm events that I’ve attended this fall give me the distinct impression this is the most vibrant and avant-garde organization in Central Oregon. Any other non-profits featuring drag queens at their parties? Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of more organizations that are on-par with BendFilm's artistic lilt, but today my head is immersed in the fabulous festival BendFilm put on last weekend. If you missed it, not to fear, you can stream some of the films October 16-22.
If you'd like to skip ahead to any of the films, click their titles below.
Bend Film Festival: 20th Anniversary Weekend
Good grief, could there be a more exhilarating way for an art enthusiast to spend a weekend in Central Oregon? I spent three and half days at the festival and only came up for air to sleep, get some steps, and meet the filmmakers. Full saturation was fabulous, trying to fit in as many films as possible, and also exhausting. I forget how impactful a film can be, and the emotional pull of a well-executed film.
They rekindled my faith in humanity (“Bad Press,” “Range Rider,” “The Orchestra that Chuck Built,” ”Dusty and Stones”), challenged me to think differently (“Finding the Money,” “Anima,” “The Vacation”) and made me laugh out loud (“Knight of Fortune,” “Death and Ramen,” “Confessions”). There are plenty of films I did not get a chance to screen at the festival, and I’ve listed the ones I’d like to watch at the bottom of this article, after the synopsis of the movies I did watch at BendFilm Festival.
What was my role at Bend Film Festival 2023?
I like to say that I was an unofficial ambassador of BendFilm. I also like to say that I was playing the role of the ultimate BendFilm tourist, which helped me get into the vacation mindset.
I posted bushels of stories on Instagram as the weekend unfolded, images from filmmaker panels and selfies with friends, plus I did some video reportage from the theaters—it’s possible you unfriended me this weekend—I understand if you did. My own enthusiasm for BendFilm still surprises me.
More officially, Selin asked me to host a couple Q&A sessions with filmmakers at the festival for “Range Rider,” “The Orchestra that Chuck Built,” and “Dusty and Stones.”
Below are the films I screened at Bend Film Festival 2023, followed by a list of what I want to screen during the Bend Film Virtual Festival October 16-22.
EarthBound: Nzambi Matee
This short documentary focuses on an inspiring young Kenyan, Nzambi Matee, who saw an environmental and humanitarian crisis in her country, and developed a solution. Matee is so full of soul, unabashed dance moves and wisdom, the camera loves her, and shortly after she creates her plastic bricks, the audience does too. The only thing not addressed in the film, that nags me, is what about the processing of all that plastic waste—I don’t want our heroine or her coworkers getting the plastic equivalent of the black lung.
"EarthBound: Nzambi Matee" won Jury's Choice Award at Bend Film Festival '23.
Wolves, you know, are causing quite the stir in places like Eastern Washington where they are successfully repopulating in the wilderness. Unfortunately, the wolves share the wilderness with domestic cattle part of the year, and well, that can lead to a conflict of interests for both the wolves and the ranchers. Enter the Range Rider, Daniel Curry, an under-cover wolf-lover who rides the federal lands on horseback, where the cattle graze and the wolves run free. Curry skillfully keeps the wolves away from the cows, building trust amongst ranchers—but not all the ranchers.
I hosted a Q&A with the range rider himself, Daniel Curry, after the EarthBound shorts block at the Tin Pan Theater. It was the first time I’ve attended a movie with three affectionate doberman pinschers at my heels, and Curry brought them onstage for the Q&A. He explained that since the film, he started a nonprofit, GRIPH (Guarding the respective interests of predators and humans) which he hopes, through fundraising, will raise funds for forty Range Riders in Eastern Washington. I watched people who were so moved by the film, and by Curry’s mission of human predator conflict mitigation, that they walked up to him with handfuls of cash after the film. If you feel the same call to support Curry and the wolves of Eastern Washington, visit Griphs.com
“Range Rider” won best Northwest Short and is available for streaming as a Stand Alone Short during Bend Film Virtual Fest.
Matters of Life & Death
A narrative shorts block aptly titled, Matters of Life & Death, was the opening night screening at Bend Film 23, and it was quite unique in that shorts are not usually the meat and potatoes of film festivals, so to debut the whole event with a block of six narrative shorts—it caused quite the stir amongst cinephiles. And I've got to say, the shorts block was marvelous. Matters of Life & Death included “Knight of Fortune,” “On Duty,” “Help Me Understand,” “Confessions,” "The Vacation," and “Death & Ramen”
Stream Matters of Life & Death via Bend Film Virtual Festival through Sunday.
Knight of Fortune
How do I put this into synopsis? I'll try: A one-location (the morgue), short narrative film explores the hilarity and tragedy of death. You’ll laugh and want to weep. It’s heartwarming then creepy, awkward then endearing. Must see.
Two elderly nuns, ready for the afterlife, make mischief with beer and fantasies of dying early. A darling, warming, and humorous narrative short.
Black man in a parked car on a busy urban street sets out for a road trip—only his car won’t start. Windows are rolled down, carpets are clean, and friends stop by, serving up a slice of their diverse lives. In this rich, short narrative—less than 11 minutes—characters are more full-bodied and dynamic than we typically see in feature length films, and a portrait of a supportive community is unveiled through a windshield.
Death & Ramen
Death personified walks the streets of LA, coming for a suicidal man, and when the grim reaper carries off the carrion, the man suddenly comes back to life. What happens when the grim reaper is confronted with a survivor, who still wants to die? Death, of course, but first, ramen. This short was so fantasically shot and written, with surprises at every turn. I was left wondering, is heaven an ecstatic dance party? I sure hope so.
Everyone loves a David versus Goliath story. This one is akin to the Star Wars rivalry, Jedis versus the Empire, except it takes place in present-day Earth, amongst the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and it's reporters vs politicians. At the onset of the film, we are presented with a tribal leadership that has fallen into corrupt hands. Reporter Angel Ellis of Muscogee Media exposes their dirty deeds but the tribal council censors her and Muscogee Media’s team of truth speakers. Muscogee Media’s noble pursuit of free press sets a precedent for all tribal nations, most of whom do not have free press, unlike their American counterparts.
“Bad Press” won Best Indigenous Feature at the BendFilm Awards
Anima: My Father’s Dresses (Award Winner)
The courageous real-life tale of how Uli Decker discovered her father was a transvestite, only upon his deathbed. The film has Monty Python-style animation of family photos, which I loved, and feels like the intimate memoir of someone exploring their sexual identity with newly discovered secrets from the previous generation. I will say, family memoir-esque films such as Sam Now and now Anima make me uncomfortable, which I realize is probably the point. However, I do respect Uli’s point of view and see the value in learning about differing perspectives. Also, it could just be that my blood sugar was off after eating white bread and potato chips for lunch directly before the film (my apologies to Uli! I should have packed almonds).
Decker spoke at the Q&A after the film and eloquently represented the vulnerability of the film and story. I’m giving her a fist pump for airing her family's secrets and (as mentioned in the film) not dooming them to repeat in future generations—that’s powerful.
“Anima: My Father's Dresses” won Best Documentary Feature and is available to stream as part of the Virtual Bend Film Festival through October 22.
A transman, Leo, and a best friend from college, Eleanor, reconnect on a weekend trip. What unfolds is an exploration of sexual identity and friendship and everything in between. The acting and cinematography was fantastic. The storyline had twists and turns and a predictable note or two, but I was content with the resolution.
The Orchestra that Chuck Built
This was one of those films that swallows you with story. Chuck Dickerson, an accomplished, black instrumentalist from LA, is asked by neighborhood children to teach them orchestra music one summer. This idea blossomed into Inner City Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, the largest black and minority orchestra in the United States. The audience swoons as intimate and esteemed portraits of these student appear, playing their cello, violins and double bass in their living rooms.
Dusty and Stones
Proceeding “The Orchestra that Chuck Built,” “Dusty and Stones” was another documentary that swallowed me whole. This pairing was the unofficial music block, and if you like hero stories, these films delivered.
Dusty and Stones are two songwriters and musician from the Kingdom of Swaziland, and if you’re wondering why two guys in a small African Kingdom are playing country music, it’s because they love it, and because they listened to an American Country radio program that was broadcast in their small cowboy town. Follow their journey from sparsely attended shows in Swaziland to a roadtrip from Nashville, TN to Jefferson, TX. This film will nurture your big ambitions, remind you that sometimes people are A-holes, and leave you humming a song about a River in Swaziland.
“Dusty and Stones” with “The Orchestra Chuck Built” is available to stream via Bend Film Virtual Festival through October 22.
Indie Filmmaking Panel
Moderated by Indie Filmmaker of the Year, Nicole Holofcener, this panel felt casual and enriching with an easy flow between Holofcener, Benjamin Howard, (Riley, Writer-Director), Tiger Ji (Death & Ramen, Writer-Director), Christian Norlyk (Knight of Fortune, Producer). Noteworthy location: Bend indoor plant shoppe, Somewhere That's Green.
Finding the Money
I felt like I was being plunged in the deep end of academia trying to grasp this concept of the Modern Money Theory, and I desperately wanted to understand. The documentary follows Professor Stephanie Kelton as she spreads the word of the MMT and how America’s national debt is a fear-based fallacy—how can a country that prints money go broke?—and what we should be focused on is managing our resources. To be honest, I still don’t grasp MMT, but I want to and I plan to watch the movie a second time because I think the subject is that important, especially with a looming perception that our children will end up in international debtors prison if we don’t create a budget surplus and pronto.
What to Stream after BendFilm Festival?
If you missed the in-person festivities or you can't get enough of the festival, you can stream some of these through Bend Film's Festival website, but only through Sunday, October 22.
My list is based on films I wish I'd seen at the festival, award winners, and those recommend to me afterwards. Plenty of the films I did watch and review (scroll up) are also available to stream through Sunday.
“You Hurt My Feelings” by BendFilm Indie Filmmaker of the Year, Nicole Holofcener (AppleTV or Amazon Prime Video)
“Friends with Money”by BendFilm Indie Filmmaker of the Year, Nicole Holofcener (iTunes, Google Play)
“Story with Pictures” (Virtual Bend Film)
"The Grab" Award Winner: Best Outdoor/Environmental Feature (Coming to Hulu)
“(Please don’t) Leave Me Now” Award Winner: Best Music Video (Virtual Bend Film)
“Patria y Vida: The Power of Music” Award winner: Special Jury Award (?)
"Kite Zo" (Virtual Bend Film)
“Anatomy of a Fall” (Theaters soon)
“Killers of a Flower Moon” —Not screened at BendFilm but actress Cara Jade Myers did attend and that's got me interested. (Theaters soon, AppleTV)
“King Coal” (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video)
“Patrol” w/"Keepers of the Land" (Virtual Bend Film)
“Exposure” (Amazon Prime Video)