By: Allison Flowers

Tin Pan Theater

In a narrow alley in downtown Bend, Oregon sits the Tin Pan Theater. A small hidden room with 28 seats and a screen where films come to life. Once a month, students in Bend who share a similar passion for the world of film gather for a movie showing. Students can watch the film together, then discuss their different perspectives or deeper thoughts about it. Behind this club is Manhattan Wood, a Senior Student at Bend High School. Manhattan found that there was a lack of community for Students in Bend who felt the same passion for film as her, so she decided to do something.


Todd Looby, the executive director of the Bend Film festival told us that he first met Manhattan in the summer of 2020 when she asked if there was any way she could get involved. She made her way into the film world by volunteering at the drive-in movies for the festival.Todd says as he got to spend more time with Manhattan he saw that she was “very talented and enthusiastic.” Manhattan made her first film debut for the BendFilm City of Bend TV Commercial contest where people who are wanting to share their progress submit a 30 second commercial for a chance to work with a profesional tv crew to reshoot the commercial to air on televisions across central Oregon.Manhattan won the grade 9 12 category with ad called “puppy pollution” about keeping our local parks clean. 

We talked to Manhattan as we wanted to learn more about her inspiration and when her film passion began. “I came from a line of fine artists,…a stem career wasn’t really an option for me” she said.In 8th grade Manhattan had 6 months to work on and independent study.She chose to do a film about the hardships of life.Manhattan said the film was “Supposed to symbolize how everyone is going through something and no one knows what others are experiencing.” Working on this project made Manhattan realize this is what she wanted to do with her life.If you have seen any films that have been submitted to the Bend Film Festival you would know that they usually evoke an inspiring feeling inside you.This is one of manhattans goals when it comes to her films. 

The BendFilm organization has also worked to give students a platform to share their film passion by starting the Future Filmmakers. From the website description; “The BendFilm Future Filmmakers program encourages youth to share their voices and talents through moving pictures.The program showcases films from one to five minutes made in the last year.” 


Bend Student Film Club

When working at the Bend Film Festival’s drive in movie theatre Manhattan mentioned her idea of a film club to Todd Looby, the director of the festival and the owner of Tin Pan Theatre. He wanted to support her so he allowed her to host the club at the Tin Pan in Downtown Bend. Manhattan’s Bend Student film club appeals to kids who maybe haven’t found a way into Bends film community because it usually organized by adults. The Student Club nights are a safe space for those who want to be around people their age who share their passion. The club meets once a month where they watch a movie, discuss and play trivia about the movie 

Manhattan plans on going to a school in Southern California to pursue film. Currently her top two choices are University of Southern California (USC) and Chapman University. She plans on focusing on outdoor/ nature documentaries and hopes to submit to the Sundance film festival in the near future. This year she is working on a film about diamond peak and Mt. Bachelor which she plans on submitting to the Bend Film Festival this fall. Manhattan previously worked with Reverb Films and currently has an internship with Bradley Lanphear Productions.


Find Some of Manhattans work here:


Q & A with Alberta Poon

Based in Portland, OR, Alberta Poon is a first-generation Chinese-American director and screenwriter known for her surreal-like imagery, lush soundscapes, and fondness for vibrant punches of color—creating bold worlds that embody beauty and humor in a fun and refreshing light. Alberta’s work explores the themes of the Asian-American diaspora experience using comedy to grab the attention of people that might otherwise tune out.


Q.  What inspired you to start making films?

A. As a kid my dad was super into photography and making home videos of the fam. I would always “steal” his cameras and make really ridiculous content to subject my friends and family to. This is back in the day when a camcorder was on VHS and you had to edit in camera. I guess that drive to make absurd content never left me and now as an adult I make a living in this line of work.


Q. What do you like best about Portland’s film scene?

A. I really love how supportive most people are of each other’s projects regardless of budget. I know that I have a great pool of talent that are always down-to-clown even if it’s just for the sake of an inside joke or a TikTok that only seven people will see.


Q.  It was so fun having your music video for ‘Worry With You’ by Sleater Kinney at our first Music Video Program at BFF21 last year – what did you learn as a director when making that video?

A. Making that music video taught me that I am unstoppable LOL. Carrie Brownstein reached out to me and told me Sleater Kinney needed a music video conceptualized, shot, edited, and delivered in three weeks. This is basically an impossible ask, but if Carrie Brownstein reaches out to you, you pop an Adderall or two and go to town!


Q. How does directing a music video differentiate from directing a narrative or documentary film? Or any other kind of film for that matter?

A. Music videos are a blast because you can get super experimental with everything. If you get too weird with narrative or commercial work everyone wants to reign you in because it might not work or they fear change. With music videos I think it’s encouraged to be as out there as possible. It’s a great medium to explore your wildest ideas and be put on a pedestal for doing so.


Q. If you could give any advice to future female filmmakers what would it be?

A. Don’t treat other women as competition, make them your allies and support each other.


Q. In your opinion, what stands out most to you about being a woman in the film industry? Do you find it to be more challenging or more empowering?

A. Definitely both. Being a WOC absolutely has its challenges. People don’t take you seriously, you get paid less, and if you’re confident people can read that as being a diva or a threat. I find being a WOC director empowering when I’m confident that my POV is unique in a sea of sameness.


Q. What are you currently working on?

A.The project I am focusing on the most right now is my pilot Cult-de-sac which is based on my experience growing up as the only Asian girl in Mormon Utah. I don’t plan on making this myself—the hope is to get a production company interested and see where that goes. Aiming for the stars here!


Q. What kind of topics or narratives do you hope film festivals bring forth in 2022?

A. It would be great to see more film festivals curate more diverse filmmakers without drawing attention to it and making a category specifically calling out the programming block “diverse filmmakers” or whatever. Just program more underrepresented filmmakers into your regular lineups until we are not underrepresented anymore. Boom, done—easy-peasy.

Q & A with Dawn Jones-Redstone

Dawn Jones Redstone (she/her) is an award-winning queer, Mexican American writer/director whose short films have screened around the globe including the acclaimed Sista in the Brotherhood. Her work often features women of color (cast and crew) and explores themes of resistance, feminism and the internal machinations that help us transform into the people we want to become. She believes in using her hiring decisions to lift people up and help create an inclusive filmmaking community that reflects and brings needed perspective to the world we live in.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we interviewed Dawn to talk about her upcoming feature film and and experience as a female filmmaker:


Q. How did you get started in filmmaking?

A. I grew up with movies so when I had my chance to buy a camera, I did. It was only after doing so that I began to see how I could invite others to see what I see through use of its lens. What an intoxicating idea–especially if you have something to say. I took my first film class at what used to be the NW Film Center here in Portland and immediately got into my first festival. I was hooked.


Q. What do you enjoy most about being a filmmaker in Portland? Anything you would change?

A. I enjoy being amongst a community of artists after taking some time to find “my people.” While it might be a terribly dark time to be in the world right now, being amongst people who care and are processing it all through art is consoling. I do continuously want to see more women and people of color in the narrative film directing space! Part of that is having more spaces for us to connect and support each other as well.


Q. What has your experience of being a queer, POC filmmaker been like?

A. I seek out more people like me and be supportive to others coming up behind me. That’s one reason why I often make a point of announcing my identities because it may not be obvious that I am queer and Latinx. It’s my way of being visible and saying, “I’m here. We deserve to be here. It’s possible!”


Q. How do you use your experience to uplift other people within the filmmaking community?

A. First and foremost, I hire women and people of color. In my feature, Mother of Color, we posted the data on our website ( of who we hired and it was mostly women of color. In a lot of instances, this meant hiring people who were stepping into a larger role for the first time. This is really the key. We know that as the saying goes, “Like hires like,” which means that because the industry is predominantly made up of white men, they predominantly hire other white men. I do the same thing, but when I do it, I’m correcting this historical exclusion. And I have to think outside the box a bit to do that.

But outside of this, I also am in contact with other up and coming filmmakers who have reached out to me and I also try to show where I came from and how I got here. Showing the winding and unwieldy path to others embarking on it, is key.


Q. What are the most important messages you hope your audience receives when viewing your work?

A. Every film has its own messages, but there are clear threads running through my work around resistance, emotionality, self-care/healing and righteousness.


Q. If you could use one word that describes the kind of films you make, what would it be?

A. That’s tough to answer. My films have tended to be dramas with moments of humor and tenderness, but I’ve also made some comedies and am currently writing one.  I guess the thing they all have in common is women of color, striving for something better and whether they succeed the way they envisioned or somehow differently, there is hope.


Q. You are currently working on your first feature film, Mother of Color, can you tell us more about that?

A. It’s about a single mom who begins hearing messages from her ancestors as she sets out to try to get to a life changing job interview with a local commissioner. It stars Ana del Rocío, Patricia Alvitez, and two incredible kids Kasey Tinoco and Julian Hernandez. Portland  City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Luz Elena Mendoza (of the band Y La Bamba) are in it, too!


Q. What do you hope for future female, queer and POC filmmakers?

A. I hope that the world continues to make way for our voices and that we ourselves, maintain belief in ourselves when others might not so that our voices, too, can be heard.


Q. What is your favorite film you have seen recently?

A. I recently watched The Fallout. Loved it.


Q. Do you have a favorite film of all time? What is it?

A. My brain doesn’t work in absolutes, but random faves that popped into my head: A Fantastic Woman, Pariah, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Contact, The Rider, The Forty Year Old Version, Mosquita y Mari.




The 18th Annual Bend Film Festival Short and Feature Award Winners

Best in Show 
Youth V Gov
Directed by Christi Cooper 
Central Oregon Premiere

The story of America’s youth taking on the world’s most powerful government. Armed with a wealth of evidence, twenty-one courageous leaders file a ground-breaking lawsuit against the U.S. government, asserting it has willfully acted over six decades to create the climate crisis, thus endangering their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. If these young people are successful, they will not only make history, they will change the future.

Best Directing 
Kaveh Nabatian for Sin La Habana 
Oregon Premiere

Leonardo, a classical dancer, and Sara, a lawyer, are young, beautiful and in love. They’re also ambitious, but their dreams are thwarted by Cuba’s closed borders. Their ticket to a brighter future lies with Nasim, a tourist with a taste for the exotic. An Iranian-born Canadian, Nasim struggles with her own demons and finds an emotional outlet in Leonardo. Power, money, creativity and destiny intertwine in a passionate love triangle with a hint of magic, where cultures clash in a torrid dance between Quebec’s winter and Havana’s sultry Malecón.

Best Narrative Feature 
The Falconer
Directed by Seanne Winslow, Adam Sjoberg

Two best friends, one Middle Eastern and one Western, conspire to steal animals from the zoo and sell them on the black market to pay their sister’s divorce from an abusive marriage.


Best Documentary Feature 
Buried: The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche
Directed by Jared Drake & Steven Siig
Northwest Premiere

A motley crew of thrill-seeking ski patrollers living the outdoorsman’s dream faces a reckoning with mother nature when the Alpine Meadows avalanche of 1982 strikes, leaving eight people missing during a raging storm.

Best Cinematography
A Hard Problem
Cinematography by Brandon Alperin
Northwest Premiere

After the death of his mother, Ian must pack up the house where he cared for her in her waning years. A strained relationship between him and his sister leads Ian to discover there are complicated circumstances behind the life he didn’t realize he was living.

Special Jury Award for Exceptional Performances and Unique Storytelling
7 Days
West Coast Premiere
Directed by Roshan Sethi

Ravi and Rita are set up on a date arranged by their traditional Indian parents. When unforeseen circumstances force them to live together for a week, Ravi discovers that Rita is not quite the traditional girl of his dreams—but her “bad influence” might be just what he needs to expand his limited worldview. As irritation gives way to intimacy over the course of seven days, they are both forced to confront what they’ve been hiding from each other, from their families, and from themselves.

Best Editing
Buried: The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche
Edited by Matthew Mercer

A motley crew of thrill-seeking ski patrollers living the outdoorsman’s dream faces a reckoning with mother nature when the Alpine Meadows avalanche of 1982 strikes, leaving eight people missing during a raging storm.

Special Jury Award for Indomitable Spirit
Alaskan Nets
Directed by Jeff Harasimowicz
Oregon Premiere

Off the coast of Alaska lies a remote island that’s home to the Tsimshian Indians of Alaska’s last native reserve, Metlakatla. For more than a century, two sacred traditions have defined Metlakatla: fishing and basketball. In an improbable journey, two cousins lead their team and town in search of their first state championship in more than thirty years—the only thing that will bring life back to an island that has been rocked by tragedy.

Special Jury Award for Archival Editing
AIDS DIVA: The Legend of Connie Norman
Directed by Dante Alencastre

Seizing her power as she confronts her mortality, trailblazing trans activist Connie Norman evolves as an irrepressible, challenging, and soulful voice for the AIDS and queer communities of early 90’s Los Angeles.

Best Outdoor/Environmental Short
Understory: A Journey into the Tongass
Directed by Colin Arisman
Central Oregon Premiere

Three women set sail on a 350 mile expedition through Alaska’s vast Tongass National Forest to explore how clearcut logging in this coastal rainforest could affect wildlife, local communities, and our planet’s climate.

Best Outdoor/Environmental Feature
Youth V Gov
Directed by Christi Cooper 
Central Oregon Premiere

The story of America’s youth taking on the world’s most powerful government. Armed with a wealth of evidence, twenty-one courageous leaders file a ground-breaking lawsuit against the U.S. government, asserting it has willfully acted over six decades to create the climate crisis, thus endangering their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. If these young people are successful, they will not only make history, they will change the future.

Best Indigenous Short
Joe Buffalo
Directed by Amar Chebib
Oregon Premiere

Joe Buffalo is an Indigenous skateboard legend. He’s also a survivor of Canada’s notorious Indian Residential School system. Following a traumatic childhood and decades of addiction, Joe must face his inner demons to realize his dream of turning pro.

Indigenous Shorts Special Jury Award
Honor Thy Mother
Directed by Lucy Ostrander

The untold story of Aboriginal women and their Indipino children.



Best Narrative Short
Noor & Layla
Directed by Fawzia Mirza

Noor & Layla are breaking up. Is it the end of the road for these two Muslim women… or is it just the beginning?


Narrative Shorts Special Jury Award
The Binding of Itzik
Directed by Anika Benkov

In his online search for bookbinding materials, a middle aged Hasidic bookbinder stumbles across a craigslist ad offering ‘binding lessons for submissive women.’ He responds to it, becoming entangled in an emotionally intense BDSM relationship with a stranger on the internet.

Best Animated Short
Washing Machine
Directed by Alexandra Májová

Wash and love.




Best Documentary Short
Last Meal
Directed by Marcus McKenzie & Daniel Principe

The final feasts of death row inmates serve as the entrée to a salivating investigation of capital punishment.

Documentary Shorts Special Jury Award
The Roads Most Travelled
Directed by Bill Wisneski

People taking life-changing risks, coming to terms with the end of things, side-stepping imminent death or facing it head-on. A striking and at times humorous glimpse into our humanity through the lens of our ultimate vulnerability.

Best Northwest Short
Pho the People
Directed by Brady Holden & Dez Ramirez

Maryam Tu and her family launch a small batch food project at the beginning of the Covid Pandemic.

Best Student Short

Directed by Chad O’Brien

A young Indigenous girl must dig deep to own her performance of a Shakespearean sonnet for her high school drama class.



Q&A with Rex Carter

Rex Carter is a filmmaker and visual effects expert based in Portland, Oregon. After having multiple shorts of his own selected for the festival, Carter joined the BendFilm team as an Associate Programmer for Narrative Shorts in 2019. We spoke with Carter about what the programming team’s work, the upcoming festival, and his advice for up-and-coming filmmakers. 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You’re a shorts programmer for the festival. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means?

A: It started with me being on the screening committee. The previous programmer, Erik, noticed that I watched a ton of movies. He asked, and I said “sure!” I just love watching all the short films. I pound through them. I’m watching like 500 of them each year as part of the screening committee. It’s just so interesting to see how many different directions people can go with something that’s between 2 and 20 minutes long. There are just so many possibilities. 


Q: What do the best shorts have in common, knowing that there is such a range of possibilities?

A: It’s no different than a feature in which you want to get to a place of emotion or something that touches or impacts you in some way. The hard part about shorts is that you don’t have a lot of time to get there. You’re spending such a short amount of time with the characters that you have to create everything economically and quickly. The best shorts find a way to establish their premise, get you into the characters, and then provide you with the narrative arc all within an abbreviated timespan.


Q: You’ve been a programmer for 3 years, 2019-2021. What’s changed this year with regard to COVID and changes within our cultural landscape?

A: I knew going into this year that we’d probably have a lot of COVID-themed films, just because when you get a whole bunch of creative people out there in the world that are all of a sudden looking for something to do, and they have to stay inside, I knew that many would do ‘I’m stuck in my apartment’ COVID films. I wanted to set a really high bar there, and only choose the best one or two of those. I knew we would have too many to choose from. I also thought, coming out of this—and unfortunately we’re not yet out of it—that an audience might not have an appetite for COVID themes; they would want an escape from these last two years. We did get a lot of COVID-themed submissions. Unfortunately, like I said, a lot of them get washed out. I set my bar really high on those. You had to be really, really good. 

But the other thing I noticed was how much filmmakers were still getting done. There were still some films that felt like nothing had changed. I don’t know if they just got their friends together and took longer to do it, but they were still cranking out high-quality short films this year. I was impressed with that.


Q: So two things to be excited about: high-quality films about COVID, and a lot of non-COVID related work. 

A: Yeah. I really try to put myself as the viewer in a block of short films and think, ‘What would I enjoy sitting through with an audience for 90 minutes?’ I’m a big fan of comedies, because usually when I go to film festivals, comedy is one of the lesser-submitted genres, compared to say, drama or experimental. I try to find room for comedies, because when you’re in a block of films, you need to find that balance to counteract all of those dramas. You can’t just have 90 minutes of depressing stuff. So I’m always on the lookout for more comedies. But it’s a fine line, because peoples’ sense of humors can be so far apart: there are silly comedies, there are more meaningful comedies…I think what’s nice about Bend is that there’s room for both. We have the nice late-night block, Midnight Shorts. If someone’s humor is darker or more bizarre, we can find a place for it there.


Q: What are you most looking forward to about this year’s festival?

A: Well the thing I look forward to the most actually is something that can’t happen in Covid times: there’s always opportunities for meet and greets with other filmmakers. There’s opportunities to bump into your fellow filmmakers, fellow staff from the festival, to talk about films and exchange phone numbers. You put everybody in the room together, put a drink in them, and get people talking. It’s the part that I enjoy the most about going to festivals.


Q: And you aren’t just a filmmaker, you’re also a visual effects expert. What came first for you, filmmaking or VFX?

A: It all happened at the same time. I’m old enough that I was a young kid when the very first Star Wars came out. I was 8 years old. When I got into high school, I started to see behind-the-scenes kind of things for special effects movies. I realized, these people are building little spaceships and putting them against blue screens and photographing them. I was seeing how these things were achieved and I was like ‘You can do that? And make a living? This can be somebody’s job? That sounds cool!’ And then, coincidentally, I was in the first generation of students to have computers in the classrooms. Our school district invested in these Apple computers, before computers even had mouses or anything like that. They were teaching computer programming in my advanced math class. So I was the very first generation of computer students when I was in junior high. I had this love of movies and spaceships flying around on blue screens, and then I had this love of these new computers that were in the classroom. And it was serendipity that those two things eventually combined. When the computer world and the filmmaking world came together in the late 80s, early 90s, I was right there. 


Q: I’m curious how your expertise as a visual effects designer informs your perspective on shorts programming, and the selection process.

A: I actually have a weird backlash against special effects. It’s weird. I don’t like superhero movies. I don’t like comic book movies. I hardly ever watch them. I don’t actually care for all the fancy spinning cameras and visual effects. I’d much rather the filmmaker just leave the camera alone and shoot a great actor with a great script and a simple camera. I don’t need special effects in my movies. It’s sort of weird that what I do for a living is not what I want to see in a film.


Q: I imagine, like we talked about earlier with COVID-related films, your standard would be much higher.

A: There are still special effects movies that still grab me and wow me, but unfortunately, too many of them just don’t. I know just recently, there’s that Jungle Cruise movie with The Rock and Emily Blunt. I looked at it, and I thought ‘That’s a CGI snake. I don’t believe that one bit.’  I’m not drawn into it. I would much rather have a great script and good actors. I do like lighting, I like good lighting. But I don’t need the camera to be flying around all the time.It goes back to good writing. I love a well written screenplay the most, and unfortunately, I feel like that’s the talent that gets overlooked the most in filmmaking. Even on a short film level. When I’m reviewing, the first thing I’ll criticize is when the dialogue is just too on the nose, when people are speaking their inner monologue out loud. Good writing is peeling the onion of the character. 


Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring filmmaker looking to follow your line of work? Or, more accurately, your multiple lines of work?

A: When I was growing up, there were price barriers to film. Film was expensive. The price barriers are hardly there anymore. If you want to make a film, just go out and do it! If you’re just starting out, find an idea that’s short, sweet, and simple; that you can shoot in a few days with minimal characters. Get your toe wet and get into it. I think too many people try to think big and get bogged down in the logistics. Filmmaking is just logistics. It’s like, ‘I need to get this many people gathered on this day in this location with craft services coming at this time, and I’ve got to feed people lunch….’ The more things you add to that, the harder it gets, quickly. That’s why there’s usually a producer and director—because you don’t want the director to get bogged down by the logistics. I happen to do both.


Q: Do you have a preference for being on one side or the other?

A: Oh, absolutely—I hate the logistics! I’d rather just be free to be creative and let somebody else figure out everything. But unfortunately, if I want to get it done I’ve got to do it myself. The biggest thing I ever did had, I think, 12 people involved, and I thought, ‘if one person out of 12 doesn’t show up, I’m screwed!’ So if you want to start, keep something short and sweet. And focus on the writing. 

2021 Festival Schedule Update

Dear BendFilm Family –

We are thrilled to release our full in-person and virtual Festival schedule for the 18th annual BendFilm Festival. This is truly one of the strongest programs I have seen in my eight years at BendFilm and we cannot wait to begin sharing these 40 features and 70 short films with you. These films will include the Fall’s hottest indie releases and Oscar®-contending documentaries.  This celebration of independent film arrives at a time when the world feels complex and complicated and we know that art can be the antidote to help us heal, process, and recharge.


Given our current circumstances, I would like to reinforce the safety measures we are putting in place with a few new additions. For your and our staff’s safety, and with our healthcare community in mind, guests will be required to:

  • Show digital or hardcopy proof of vaccination OR show proof of a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before the festival

  • Wear masks in Festival venues regardless of vaccination status

  • For more information on how to show your vaccine card or negative test please see our website.

After careful thought and consideration, concerns for safety and respect for our health care community, BendFilm has made the important decision to scale back our in-person events significantly:

  • Capacity at in-person screenings will be decreased to 65%.

  • Events will only be hosted in our largest venues (The Tower Theatre and Regal Cinemas) to allow guests to spread out.

  • We are also planning three locally-focused special events at Open Space Studios as well.

  • BendFilm is scaling back in-person events from 4 days to 2 days.

  • Outside concessions will not be available in theaters unless current COVID numbers and projections change significantly.

  • If you have an in-person pass and have questions about these changes please email

Tickets for the limited in-person events are now available. We hope many of you still choose to join us virtually, support these brave filmmakers, and see a film that provides you a much needed creative inspiration. Here is our ticket availability rollout schedule:

  • Members and Sponsors available now

  • All Access Passholders will receive access on Wednesday, September 22, 2021

  • Full Festival Passholders will receive access on September 23, 2021

  • Tickets will be open to all on September 24, 2021

Instructions to BendFilm Members and Sponsors have been sent via the Ticketing system that includes instructions on ordering your tickets. All non-member passholders will also receive instructions to reserve tickets right before tickets go live.

Thank you as always for your support as we navigate planning a festival under complicated circumstances. I want to thank our staff for remaining responsive, aware and nimble. I also want to thank the filmmakers, board members, and community leaders who have provided invaluable guidance. Overall, we want to especially thank our local health care community who have been keeping us safe under the most extraordinary and stressful conditions these past 18 months.

Please let us know if you have any questions.


Todd Looby

Q+A with Jiayan “Jenny” Shi

Portrait of filmmaker Jiayan Jenny Shi

Jiayan “Jenny” Shi is a Chicago-based documentary filmmaker and multimedia journalist. Last year, Shi won BendFilm Festival’s special jury award with your first feature-length documentary, Finding Yingying. We spoke with Shi about the process of creating Finding Yingying, the challenges of balancing objectivity and human interest in documentary work, as well as Shi’s inspirations and upcoming work. 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: When you began filming Finding Yingying, you were a graduate student studying journalism in Chicago. Did you always know you wanted to become a documentary filmmaker?

A: No, not at all. So it’s an interesting story. I started my journalism school in 2016, and that was the year that I arrived in the US. Also, that year was the election year. I was born and raised in China. I’ve never seen any protests in China. So, when I first arrived in the US in 2016, there were a lot of protests, and I got a chance to learn stories about different communities. Then, in journalism school, I got into visual storytelling. I took a video journalism class, and in the last quarter of my program in 2017, I took a documentary journalism class. That was my first formal introduction to documentary filmmaking. Even at that time when I was about to graduate, I never really thought I was going to do documentary filmmaking after graduation. Then, Yingying disappeared. I heard about her disappearance through alumni group chats on WeChat. That’s how I learned about her disappearance, and I started following the story.

 Q: Did you attend any protests in 2016?

A: A lot of protests. The Medill School of Journalism has a newsroom in downtown Chicago, right by the Chicago River. Trump tower is right on the river, so in that area, there were a lot of protests. Specifically, there were a lot of protests organized by immigrants, by the Latino community, and by women. So I attended many protests. Also, as a student, I covered many protests for stories about immigration in Chicago. 

Q: What made you decide to travel to Champaign to film Yingying’s case? 

A: At first, I was someone who cared about her, like any other Chinese international student. We were sharing her information on social media, and everyone was hoping we would find her soon. Her family came to the US about a week after her disappearance, and I read a lot of stories about her family’s arrival. At the time, there were already volunteers in the Urbana-Champaign area who were helping the family. I made my trip down to Champaign for multiple reasons. For one, as a journalism student, I was curious about what was going on. On the other hand, I was just thinking about how I could help the family. I knew volunteers were visiting the family daily, just to spend time with them. Also, I was in the documentary class, working on my final project. So, I was thinking that potentially, I could tell my story about Chinese international students. These were some initial thoughts when I made my way down to Urbana-Champaign, but at that point, I didn’t think it would be a feature-length film and didn’t think I would get access to the family. But that’s how everything started.

Q: Something striking about Finding Yingying was how intimately involved you became in the Zhang family. What did you learn from your experience not just telling, but living in, their story?

A: I think there were multiple layers. One is really about storytelling and the filmmaker-subject relationship. For me, it was very important to make sure that the family was comfortable with me being there filming them. Documentary ethics were a big thing in the entire filmmaking process. One of the biggest things I learned from this experience was never to take anything for granted, and always appreciate the opportunities your subjects give you. I think that while we were filming, the priority was always the family. That wasn’t something I learned during journalism school, but something I learned during filming Finding Yingying.

Another thing was learning about my role in the whole process. When I was in school, I learned that a journalist needs to be objective. You don’t get involved too much with your interviewees. But for documentary filmmaking, I spent much more time with my subjects compared to other stories I did. I got to know Yingying’s family, and we developed a relationship beyond the filmmaker-subject. I think this is something that makes the film unique and gave me more creative choices in post-production to tell the story. I got involved more with the family, and in the final product, I was part of the film as well. For a long time, I was struggling with my role because, talking about documentary ethics again, sometimes I want to capture a great moment, from a filmmaking perspective. Those moments would include raw emotion. From the perspective of someone who cared about the family’s feelings, I thought, I should probably stop recording. I was constantly debating with myself to make ethical decisions: when to keep filming, and when to stop.  

Also, one note is about the mental health of filmmakers. In staying with the family—and I lived with them when I was in Champaign—it was very difficult to process the emotions, even though it was the family who lost their daughter. I was someone who had nothing to do with the case, but being with them, you could feel the sorrow and grief every day. Sometimes, I tried to comfort the family, but I didn’t know what to say. That was something I was struggling with, but on the other hand, I tried to keep moving the project forward and see things as a filmmaker. 

Q: What makes an excellent documentary?

A: You need to be honest, genuine, and transparent. I feel like a good documentary is always about humans, and I love documentaries with human interest. When I first started Finding Yingying, I didn’t really have a goal or a clear idea of what the final project would look like. I didn’t plan out the storyline. I just let the footage tell the story. 

Q: What is a piece of creative work that has inspired you this year? 

A: I always want to talk about one film that was created a decade ago, but I got inspiration from it: The Last Train Home. In China, there are a lot of people from rural areas, the countryside, but they work in big cities. In the springtime, for the Chinese new year, they travel back to their hometown. Last Train Home is about a migrant worker couple. The story follows the couple for several years, for several trips back to their hometown. It also follows their children, who were left behind in the countryside. It gives you an inside look into China’s economy as China is becoming a global superpower. The inspiration I got from this film is using lyrical, thematic language to tell a story. For Finding Yingying, at first, I was trying to make a film like Last Train Home. Because in the middle of the film, I went back to China to film with the family in their hometown. I was trying to make it look like Last Train Home. It was one of the films that I started the idea for the visual style of Finding Yingying. It was one of the documentaries that first introduced me to documentary filmmaking.

Q: What new projects of yours can we look forward to?

A: One project is in the development stage, a feature-length documentary about the Chinese-American experience. I’ve already started capturing initial footage of the main subjects. Other than that, I field-produced two documentary projects last year and this year. I worked on a COVID documentary about the global effort to combat the pandemic. It’s actually directed by the director of Last Train Home. 

I also worked on a docuseries as a field producer for Discovery Channel about the pandemic. I don’t know the full scope of the docuseries, but it’s more about the scientific side of the pandemic. The story I worked on in Chicago is about COVID long-haulers: the people who got COVID and recovered, but still experience several symptoms.

To take a closer look at Jenny Shi’s upcoming and past projects, head to her portfolio site. Then, don’t forget to purchase your passes to the upcoming 18th Annual BendFilm Festival, where Shi will serve as a juror on the Documentary Shorts panel!

The 21 Feature Films In Competition for 2021 BendFilm Festival

selin sevinc quote reads "film is a unifying force, and this year's lineup is full of uplifting and powerful themes to connect audiences."

Bend, OR – BendFilm announced today the 21 feature films in competition categories from the 18th annual BendFilm Festival running October 7 – 17, 2021. New this year, BendFilm Festival is now recognized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® as one of 64 film festivals in the world (27 festivals in the USA) that is Oscar® qualifying for short films. This acknowledgment from The Academy comes after the recent recognition from Movie Maker Magazine that BendFilm is among the Top 25 Coolest Festivals in the World and Top Festivals Worth The Entry Fee.

BendFilm will continue its filmmaker-focused efforts to award over $11,500 in prizes directly to independent filmmakers in these competition categories including $5,000 for Best Of Show. Passes are on sale now for the in-person festival events October 7 – 11 and the streaming events October 11- 17 and the schedule is live. Additional safety measures for in-person screenings will be shared soon.

Todd Looby, Director of BendFilm, said, “We are honored to kick off the festival season with new recognition from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® that our curation is deemed among the most cutting-edge in the industry. I’m also incredibly impressed at the quality of filmmaking represented this year. I know many of these films were made under extraordinary circumstances and to have them be as good as they are is really remarkable. I’m humbled each year by the artists we showcase. Selin and her team had a very tough job and they put together what is potentially our best lineup yet.” 

Selin Sevinc, BendFilm Head Programmer, said, “Film is a unifying force and this year’s line up is full of uplifting and powerful themes to connect audiences. From films that showcase youth taking a courageous stand, to political movements with heart, and movies that shine a light on the importance of mental health, there are countless stories that will inspire, delight and get people talking.”

Upcoming BendFilm Festival announcements include Oscar® qualifying short films, Spotlight feature films, the 2021 First Features honoree and (Indie) Woman of the Year honoree.  Submissions are now open for a grant offering $10,000 to a BIPOC filmmaker which will be given out after a live pitch at the Festival. 



7 Days (USA) | directed by Roshan Sethi

West Coast Premiere

Ravi and Rita meet on a date arranged by their traditional Indian parents that turns both awkward and enlightening when they find themselves trapped inside together for a week.


Cinema of Sleep (Canada) | directed by Jeffrey St Jules

Northwest Premiere

A refugee’s plans for a new life in the US are threatened when he finds a dead body in his motel room.


Everything in The End (Iceland/USA) | directed by Mylissa Fitzsimmons

Central Oregon Premiere

Stranded in an Icelandic village during Earth’s final days, a man seeks solace in the brief human connections he encounters.


The Falconer (USA / Oman) | directed by Seanne Winslow & Adam Sjoberg

West Coast Premiere

Inspired by true events, two best friends, Tariq, an Omani boy and Cai, a privileged Westerner, conspire to steal animals from the zoo and sell them on the black market to raise money for Tariq’s sister’s divorce from an abusive marriage. They are forced to wrestle with morally complex choices that reveal the vast distance between their worlds.


Grasshoppers (USA) | directed by Brad Bischoff

​​World Premiere

​​Star-crossed immigrant lovers roam their gated community drink-by-drink in search of the perfect house.


A Hard Problem (USA) | directed by hazart

Northwest Premiere

After the death of his mother, Ian must pack up the house where he cared for her in her waning years. A strained relationship between him and his sister leads Ian to discover there are complicated circumstances behind the life he didn’t realize he was living.


Neolovismo (Italy) | directed by Susanna della Sala & Mike Bruce 

​​US Premiere

​​Isolated in a house on an Italian island, a couple struggles to find the bond that once united them. As they attempt to reconnect with each other, they decide to stage their relationship dynamics in front of the camera as a way to dispel their fears and insecurities.


Sin La Habana (Canada) | directed by Nabatian

Oregon Premiere

​​When an Afro-Cuban couple whose dreams are not satisfied in Havana cross paths with an Iranian born Canadian woman, the passionate love triangle that ensues between them gives way to a complex dance of desire and need.



Alaskan Nets (USA) | directed by Jeff Harasimowicz

​​Oregon Premiere

​​Off the coast of Alaska lies a remote island that’s home to the Tsimshian Indians of Alaska’s last native reserve, Metlakatla. For more than a century, two sacred traditions have defined Metlakatla: fishing and basketball. In an improbable journey, two cousins lead their team and town in search of their first state championship in more than thirty years—the only thing that will bring life back to an island that has been rocked by tragedy.


American Gadfly (USA) | directed by ​​Skye Wallin

Central Oregon Premiere

Teenagers run a presidential campaign for a former U.S. Senator in the 2020 election.


AIDS DIVA: The Legend of Connie Norman (USA) | directed by Dante Alencastre

Northwest Premiere

Seizing her power as she confronts her mortality, trailblazing trans activist Connie Norman evolves as an irrepressible, challenging, and soulful voice for the AIDS and queer communities of early 90’s Los Angeles.


Buried: The 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche (USA) | directed by Jared Drake & Steven Siig

Northwest Premiere

A motley crew of thrill seeking ski patrollers living the outdoorsman’s dream face a reckoning with mother nature when the Alpine Meadows avalanche of 1982 strikes, leaving eight people missing during a raging storm.


Chasing Childhood (USA) | directed by Eden Wurmfeld and Margaret Munzer Loeb

​​Education professionals and reformed helicopter parents offer solutions to combat unprecedented childhood anxiety and depression in today’s world. What can parents, societies and even governments do to restore confidence and joy in childhood?


From Here (Germany/USA) | directed by Christina Antonakos-Wallace

Oregon Premiere

​​A decade-long portrait of four artists and activists from immigrant families coming of age in an era of rising nationalism.


My So Called Selfish Life (USA) | directed byTherese Shechter

Motherhood: a subject so deeply ingrained in the fabric of our society we take it for granted as part of the natural order. It’s assumed that all women want children–that motherhood is not only a biological imperative but the defining measure of womanhood. Titled after one of the myths it challenges, this entertaining, inspiring and thought-provoking film draws upon a heady mix of culture, science, and history to reveal the rich lives of a diverse group of people saying no to having children–and the forces that have marginalized them in society.


The Oxy Kingpins (USA) | directed by Brendan FitzGerald and Nick August-Perna

​​Oregon Premiere

The untold story of how a network of pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and retailers worked together to orchestrate and perpetuate the opioid crisis that has killed over half a million people in America.




Almost an Island (USA) | directed by Jonathan VanBallenberghe

Oregon Premiere 

ALMOST AN ISLAND is a cinematic portrait of the Goodwins, an Inupiaq family living above the Arctic Circle in Kotzebue, Alaska. Through observing three generations of one family over the course of four years, ALMOST AN ISLAND explores what it means to be indigenous in the dramatically changing Arctic.


Havana Libre (Cuba/USA) | directed by Corey McLean

Central Oregon Premiere

After years of surfing being illegal, a diehard group of Cuban surfers rises up against their government to legitimize their biggest passion. Havana Libré chronicles their fight in the face of political oppression, confronting borders and outdated ideologies along the way.


Operation Wolf Patrol (USA) | directed by Joe Brown

Central Oregon Premiere

Witness an eco-activist Rod Coronado’s attempt to end wolf hunting in the United States. Over the course of three years, we watch Rod work to redefine his activism in an era– post 9/11, where some have called him an “eco-terrorist.” The film comes to a climax when Coronado’s “Wolf Patrol” is met with a tightening of “hunter harassment” laws that prohibit photography on public lands. 


The River Runner (USA) | directed by Rush Sturges

Northwest Premiere

Legendary kayaker Scott Lindgren attempts to complete an extreme, unprecedented whitewater expedition 20-years-in-the-making. 


Youth v. Gov (USA) | directed by Christi Cooper

Central Oregon Premiere

YOUTH v GOV is the story of America’s youth taking on the world’s most powerful government. Armed with a wealth of evidence, twenty-one courageous leaders file a ground-breaking lawsuit against the U.S. government, asserting it has willfully acted over six decades to create the climate crisis, thus endangering their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. If these young people are successful, they will not only make history, they will change the future.



About BendFilm:

BendFilm hosts an annual independent film festival, year-round film exhibitions and programs, and is the proud owner of the Tin Pan Theater – a boutique arthouse cinema located in downtown Bend’s Tin Pan Alley. The organization is designed to support and nourish filmmakers and enrich the cultural life of Central Oregon while also providing an economic benefit to the region. Celebrating its 18th year, BendFilm is proud to bring diverse voices and visions to the Bend community. The BendFilm Festival runs every October in Bend, Oregon. Make plans to join us October 7-17, 2021 for in-person and virtual cinema plus filmmaker workshops, panels and more. Bend is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, foodies, beer lovers and stunning natural scenery. BendFilm is made possible by a dedicated crew of volunteers and generous donors, members and sponsors. For more information, call (541) 388-3378 or visit Connect with BendFilm on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

2021 Outdoor Films in the Park

BendFilm, Bend Parks and Lay it Out Events are partnering to bring family-friendly outdoor films to parks throughout Bend!

COCO – 8/12 in Orchard Park – More info

LAIKA’S MISSING LINK – 8/19 in Al Moody Park – Info coming soon

ZOOTOPIA – 8/26 in Kiwanis Park – Info coming soon

ONWARD – 9/2 in Ponderosa Park  – Info coming soon

This program is supported in part by Travel Oregon.

Q&A with Zeke Kamm

Zeke Kamm at the 2021 Award This! Awards
Image via Zimbio

Zeke Kamm is a writer, filmmaker, and local celebrity in Bend for his role in producing The Last Blockbuster, the 2020 Netflix documentary that put Bend on the map for home movie lovers around the world. Our very own Doone Williams, filmmaker and Tin Pan Marketing and Programming coordinator, spoke with Zeke about his early career, the inspirations that made him pivot, and his goals for developing the comedy scene in town. 

Doone Williams: How are you doing? What are you up to?

Zeke Kamm: Nothing that new. The movie just premiered in Spain a couple of weeks ago, which is cool. We got a lot of good press. It made it to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in Spain. And then I think it’s going to be on in France as well, but I don’t have a date on that yet. 

DW: How are you feeling about the difference between partnering with TCM versus Netflix? They’re two very different entities.

ZK: I mean, honestly, I just want people to see it, and I want to make the most money possible. So it doesn’t really matter to me. You know, as long as they’re nice to me, and they promote it, and they pay and people get to see it, then I’m stoked. I’ve been in the business too long to be snobby about it, you know? I mean, it’s not like Netflix is known for horrible things—most of the people who work there that I know, love working there. It’s supposed to be a pretty great place to work. 

DW: Oh, really? 

ZK: Yeah. Especially creatively. All my friends that have had stuff produced by Netflix are like, ‘We almost have too much freedom.’ 

DW: Interesting. Is that a kind of position that inspires you?

ZK: I mean, it would be pretty awesome to be in that situation where you have a built-in audience and you’re not worrying about ratings. I think that’s why Netflix isn’t heavy handed. Because they don’t care about the ratings. And they want this stuff to get watched a lot, but they’ve got all of the computer algorithms and things. So as long as your stuff doesn’t make people stop watching Netflix, then they’re happy.

DW: What’s different about Netflix compared to your time working at Cartoon Network? Were you able to get that same creative freedom?

ZK: Netflix is definitely an anomaly. [At Sony], everything was about ad dollars. So decisions were made. There was a transition from when I first started, where the creative executives made the decision about what shows got made. And then the marketing departments had to figure out how to market that to get the most ad dollars. And then, it switched over to where they put the marketing department in charge above the creative department. So the marketing department decided what shows would be easy to market. And that’s how things got bought. And that was when I really saw the writing on the wall. And I was like, I don’t think this is gonna work out for me. 

I don’t have a problem with making something commercial. I’m quite good at it. I like for lots of people to get my message, whatever the story is I’m trying to tell. I’m really good at threading meaningful things into commercial problems. But I don’t want to have to do the marketing department’s job for them. And if you only buy things that you don’t have to work hard to market, then it’s just all garbage.

DW: Do you think that media corporations are turning the landscape to garbage?

ZK: I think it’s a complicated answer when you throw the word corporations in because when I step back and look at the landscape, maybe 10% is high quality. There’s just so much more being made, but all I know is when I look at what’s getting made, I think we have some of the best music, some of the best television and some of the best movies being made in history. Like, I know that’s not a cool thing. The cool thing is to pick a time period and say that’s when all the best stuff was being made. There’s great stuff in every time period, but I’m consistently blown away with what people are doing right now. 

DW: Like what?

ZK: I think all the most interesting things are in television. But there’s still lots of great movies out there. Around 15-20 years ago, I think what happened is a lot of the great independent filmmakers went into television. And I think that’s why there’s so much good television. I could be wrong. But that’s my impression of the situation. Right? All the big studios bought all the independent film studios, so now there’s no independent film studios… Now, if you’re at a party and someone says they own an independent record label, you’re like, what? What do you do to earn money?

DW: Is that what it means now? If you’re indie just means you’re broke?

ZK: If you own an independent film studio, most likely you’re broke. 

DW: Interesting.

ZK: If you’re an independent producer, you can make a living if you work hard. Indie filmmakers? That’s another thing. So, you know, there’s no money in this business anymore. For the indie. It’s like, the top 1% make enough money to survive. In the independent film, documentary space. I mean, if you knew what people were offering us for this movie, you’d be horrified.

DW: Was that insulting to you? Or are those just the times we’re in?

ZK: Well, both. Yeah. You know it’s people, I think the people with the money are greedier and more aggressive than ever. And, you know, if you do something on your own, and you finish it, and it’s watchable, you should be able to make enough money to have it be worth your time. Just if it’s watchable. But it’s not the case. You’ve got to get real lucky, too.

DW: So it really does have to do with luck.

ZK: So, I’m not a sports guy. I’m going to use a sports analogy, but I’ll probably get it wrong. In basketball, you have to be a certain amount tall. Right? But then after that, you have to be talented. And then after that, you have to be lucky. So I think it’s like that, right? To be successful in the industry. You have to be able to craft a story, at least a tolerable story. If you can’t even do that, then you’re already out. But let’s say you can create an excellent story, like an incredible story, way better than average. You still have to have luck.

DW: Do you have other film connections in Bend?

ZK: There’s a producer here in town who’s produced like eight or 10 feature films. I don’t see him very often. But he does a storytelling / comedy show every once in a while, and I did a set for him once. 

DW: Do you do stand up? 

ZK: I do. I haven’t done it since the pandemic. I didn’t actually start doing it until I was living in Bend. I wish I had started doing it when I was in LA—I would have had a lot of opportunities to go up more often. But yeah, I wrote comedy, mostly for TV, for forever. And then I was reading a book of interviews with stand up comedians put together by Judd Apatow. He’s been interviewing stand up comedians since he was in high school, and he saved all the recordings. And then now that he’s this mega-huge famous guy, he put together this book. I was reading it, and every time one of the stand-ups described going up on stage, I started feeling sick to my stomach with anxiety at the thought of me going up….  I thought, This is no good. This is something I have to fix. So I decided I would start doing stand up.

DW: Wow. That’s such an interesting way to look at it. 

ZK: If I’m scared of skydiving, that makes sense. If something goes wrong, I could die. It’s fair to be nervous about that. But going up on stage in front of people? Maybe someone can throw a beer bottle at you. But that’s unlikely. 

DW: That’s so cool, though. You’ve got a great presence. And what you say is very funny. You’re just a funny guy. So you should definitely keep doing standup.

ZK: I’m sure I’ll do it for the rest of my life. It’s just too fun not to do it. When you write TV or movies or whatever, you don’t get to have that instant feedback or adoration. You know, I don’t think anyone’s an artist without having an ego. And I only say that as an excuse for why I have such a big ego.

DW: What I’m hearing is we should start a comedy group.

ZK: Actually that’s something I’ve been working on for a while now. I would love to have a whole group of new people and start writing sketches. And we could do a weekly or bi weekly sketch show in town, live… I used to write radio plays that were performed live in front of an audience. And it was every week, so I got to do one or two every week. And they weren’t just comedy. Some were comedy, some were horror, science fiction, all that stuff. And it’s great because you spend one week max writing it, then they have like three days to rehearse it. Then the actors perform it live in front of an audience. So less than two weeks after you wrote it, you’re experiencing it being performed, and audiences reacting to it. People laughing in parts that you didn’t plan on people laughing at; people gasping at other things that you hoped they would gasp at. It’s pretty awesome.

DW: Alright, last question. What are you most looking forward to working on and seeing in film, or just in any creative direction?

ZK: I would like to do a live sketch comedy troupe in Bend. That would be a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work. And there’s certainly no financial reward for it. I would say to the people that are reading this, if they are funny and like a little pain mixed in with their humor, and they want to act in it, they should reach out. 

What Zeke is watching right now: 

  • The Last Man on Earth on Hulu
    • “Watch at least three episodes, it changes every episode and it progresses a ton. So if you hate it at first, watch three and then if you hate it, then keep it to yourself.”
  • Loki on Disney+
    • “It would definitely be on my top five list for Greatest TV show pilots of all time.”
  • WandaVision on Disney+
    • “It would never even make my top 1000 list of favorite TV shows, but it’s one of the boldest.”

For more about The Last Blockbuster, check out Doone’s interview with Taylor Morden and Zeke Kamm on Youtube.