Films: Inspiration or Entertainment?

Our second annual The Power of Film fundraiser event is tomorrow, June 2nd, celebrating what we value most: film’s unique power to unite the community and inspire social action.

“Liyana:” 2017 Festival Best in Show

As we prepare for this event highlighting the important work of the Bend Spay & Neuter Project, we’ve been asking ourselves if cinema can change the world (see our recent blog story where we showcased a short list of independent films that tackle real issues), and now, we are exploring the notion if filmmakers struggle to achieve a balance between engaging audiences with real-world problems while striving to also still entertain. And, if filmgoers want to just be entertained or be exposed to new ways of thinking while being entertained.

The 2018 Summer’s First Blockbuster

According to Bloomberg, movie theater attendance in the US in 2017 fell to its lowest point since 1992, and can partly be attributed to a very poor turnout during the summer blockbuster season. There are other factors at play with streaming services provided by Netflix, HBO Go and Amazon, but as producers of independent film screenings, we are questioning if blockbuster films are not cutting it at the box office or with moviegoers alike. Hollywood may push for more blockbuster films but real-world stories connect with and take audiences somewhere different and new.

Ok, we admit, it may be asking a little much to think that a film can change the world, but perhaps what it can do is open a viewer’s mind to an experience outside his or her own and set the viewer on a path toward a broader understanding.

We want to know what you think:

  1. I go to films mostly to be entertained?
  2. I go to films to be exposed to real-life issues? Or,
  3. Both: it’s a balance.

Can Cinema Change the World?

We think so. Each year, BendFilm rallies support to continue our mission of using film’s unique power to unite the community and inspire social action. This year, we are thrilled to be partnering with the Bend Spay & Neuter Project to produce a film showing the human side of their mission. Many people in Central Oregon cannot afford basic food or health services for their pets. These individuals rely on their pets for comfort, protection, mental health and companionship. BSNP understands the important social and healing roles our pets provide and it is their mission to ensure these pets are properly cared for in order to maintain these important relationships while controlling populations of domestic animals to manageable levels.

As we approach our second Power of Film event on June 2, we are reminded of all the independent films produced over the years that have had a positive impact on society and communities, trying to effect social change.

Here’s a short list of independent films that tackle real issues from LGBT, poverty, teenage pregnancy, drugs and climate change. What are some of some of your favorite social films?


Recent BendFilm Festival favorites:

  • Omo Child: The River and the Bush, 2015 Audience Award Winner. Omo Child:This documentary tells the amazing true story of one man’s journey to bring about a progressive cultural shift that will save children’s lives in Ethiopia.




  • The First Girl I Loved, 2016 Best Narrative Feature. Seventeen-year-old Anne just fell in love with Sasha, the most popular girl at her LA public high school. But when Anne tells her best friend Clifton – who has always harbored a secret crush – he does his best to get in the way.





  • No Man’s Land, 2017 Festival Spotlight. This documentary follows the Malheuroccupation from inception to its dramatic demise and tells the story of those on the inside of this movement – the ideologues, the disenfranchised, and the dangerously quixotic, attempting to uncover what draws Americans to the edge of revolution.




  • Druid Peak, 2014 Narrative Feature Competition. A troubled teen is sent to livewith his estranged father, a park ranger. During his time there, he develops an unusual affinity with and passion for the wolves in a local pack.




Other great, socially-relevant films:

  • Baka Bukas is about Alex, a lesbian who came out to her family and friends,except to her best friend. The saga begins with her best friend knowing the truth, and leads to a deeper understanding of their own relationship.




  • Pamilya Ordinaryo is a story about teenage couple who lives on the streets around and steals money for a living. Life gets even harder when their child is kidnapped. This film addresses poverty, security, and teenage pregnancy.




  • Ma’ Rosa tells of a small-scale illegal drug distribution on the dingy streets and back alleys of the urban jungle and addressing the unending war on drugs.





  • Moonlight  is an American coming-of-age story following three stages inthe life of the main character. The film explores the difficulties he faces with his sexuality identity and the physical and emotional abuse he endures growing up. (Side note: the $1.5 million indie film landed eight Oscar nominations and Best Picture and the 2017 Academy Awards).






Get your ticket to the Power of Film Fundraiser today and celebrate our community’s commitment to change!

In Cased You Missed It…THE SQUARE


A new art installation at a Swedish museum is a cobblestone square described as a “sanctuary of trust and caring.  Within it, we all share equal rights and obligations.”   THE SQUARE is a series of vignettes — ranging from hilarious to terrifying — related to questions raised by that concept, one of them being:  What does it take to make people care?

The acting is brilliant, the cinematography is gorgeous, and there is so much to wonder about,  gasp at, laugh with, listen to and hold your breath for.  High wire cinema!

Event Details

Where:  McMenamins Old St. Francis School

When: Monday, May 14th @5:30 pm (doors open 4:30 pm)

Tickets: $12 general admission.  Available online.


Musings from the 17th Annual Ashland Independent Film Festival

By Todd Looby

A week after the close of the  17th Ashland Film Fest, it is great to remember how essential Film Festivals are to maintaining all that is good in the world. Last weekend, the BendFilm crew was introduced to things we didn’t yet know, were reminded of things we shouldn’t forget and met incredible people (on screen, on stage and in the audience) who live to keep the light of hope alive. And, we had the chance to celebrate many BendFilm alums who screened their films in Ashland. Filmmaking is strong in Oregon!

Congratulations, Richard, Judy, Aura, Erica and the whole Ashland Independent Film Festival board, staff and volunteers for a wonderful weekend!

We saw 9 great films over 3 days, made connections and strengthened friendships. We are currently making our own exciting plans to do the same in October for our 15th Anniversary.

First of all, congratulations to all award winners, especially 2017 BendFilm alums, Liyana, So Much Yellow, The Last Honey Hunter and Game. So great to see these films still wowing audiences and juries 6 months later.

The program was full of enticing films, but here’s a short, 140(ish)-character rundown of what we were able to see:

Lean on PeteGreat performance by Steve Buscemi and a breakout-caliber performance for Charlie Plummer. Beautiful Oregon landscape cinematography and story of amazing perseverance. Can’t wait to see Andrew Haigh’s next. This one is in theaters (or will be soon) so be sure to check it out!

On Her Shoulders
Nadia is brave beyond words in advocating for Yazidis and bringing ISIS perpetrators to justice, but the main message of this film is that we all have the potential to care and act. Are we going to heed the call? Another great film from BendFilm alum, Alexandria Baumbach.

The King
A fascinating exploration of the Elvis legacy set among a deeper contemplation of the American commercialization of art, charisma and the commoditization of everything that is great. Overall an intriguing and music-filled story of capitalism run amok and the awful co-opting of great art.

Really engaging examination of GMOs and the legal fight to label food set against the personal story of a mom and her daughter doing all they can to retain the integrity of the food we eat and how we treat the land.

Outside In
2007 BendFilm Alum Lynn Shelton’s latest film about loss, redemption and the human need to connect deeply. Its take-home message is that we must pursue what makes us whole and pure even if it may disappoint loved ones who may want something different from you.

The Blessing
A very beautiful film about a Navajo miner and his daughter. Two characters who seem so typically American, yet their individual and collective introspection is incredibly moving and empathy-inducing. It is a rare treat to see character studies of people like these two individuals and if we are to understand each other, we need to see more like this. I really liked it. Executive Produced by Raoul Max Trujillo.

A Foreigner’s Home
Great doc reexamination of Toni Morrison’s 2006 Louvre show on migration and the power of artistic expression to understand the difficult and to create change. Incredibly beautiful and moving.  

Mr. Fish
A deep exploration of the very best political cartoonist you don’t know, but now will never forget. Mr. Fish takes up R. Crumb’s place as the perfect cynical artist of our current time.


Narrative Shorts

So Much Yellow – a beautiful contemplation on the dissolution of a struggling young family while they make a tragic choice. 2017 BendFilm Festival Award-winner.

Aria – This intense Sundance short followed a Chinese immigrant and the daughter of a would-be trafficker who bond while traversing a difficult ordeal.

Unnatural – a really interesting contemplation of a kid with a troubling sexual dysfunction. This stresses the importance of indie film in that stories like this must be told so we can understand the incomprehensible, yet this film is no uncommercial that only an indie director would it. We need to see more films like this!

First Date – Really funny simple short about two enlightened singles traversing the brave new world of Tinder dating. Great performances by Alex Beh and Sara Paxton.

Make sure you attend the nearest film festival to you. Take a weekend to understand what is happening in the world and to reaffirm your place in it!

See you all October 11 -14 for the 15th Annual BendFilm Festival.


Alumni News – Greta Gerwig

To celebrate our 15th Anniversary, BendFilm is reaching deep into the archives to catch up on the latest news and achievements of the many talented filmmakers who shared their earliest work with our community.

BendFilm is proud to have supported these one-time emerging artists and is happy to witness their subsequent success!

This list will be updated monthly and members will receive exclusive links to the award-winning work they screened at our festival.

Greta Gerwig
Actress, Hannah Takes the Stairs | 2007 BendFilm Centerpiece Film

Where Are They Now?
Today we are celebrating Greta Gerwig, the star of several recent

Noah Bumbach films and, of course, director of the 99% Tomatometer-approved Oscar-nominated film Lady Bird. You all first met Greta as the title character in Joe Swanberg’s breakout film, Hannah Takes the Stairs–the centerpiece film of the 2007 BendFilm Festival. This film ushered in a new genre of DIY filmmaking and features other now prominent figures in the independent film scene, Actor, Director, Producer Mark Duplass (Room 104The League), Andrew Bujalski(2018’s SXSW hit Support the Girls). Swanberg has directed almost 20 feature length films (he’s 37 years old, btw) including 2013’s Drinking Buddies and Netflix’ Easy.

After this film, Greta became somewhat of an “indie darling,” starring in multiple indie features including the Duplass Brothers’ Baghead and Joe Swanberg’s Nights and Weekends–which both premiered at SXSW in 2008–before landing roles in films by bigger-budget auteurs, like Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg and Francis Ha, Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, Todd Solondz’ Weiner Dog and Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women.
As she played these memorable characters, she always wanted to tell the story of a young woman much like herself. She spent 10 years planning Lady Bird and finally made the decision to just go for it. The rest, as they say, is history.
As we celebrate the achievements of women everywhere for Bend Women’s March, we at BendFilm salute the bravery, tenacity and true independent spirit of Greta Gerwig. Lady Bird is her first solo-directed film and we can’t wait to see what’s next in what will be a long and successful career.
Hannah Takes the Stairs Trailer
Hannah Takes the Stairs Full Film

Support Women’s March…FINDING KUKAN

Join us for a night of great film and conversation with Robin Lung about FINDING KUKAN, her discovery of the pioneer Chinese- American filmmaker Li Ling-Ai, and where the film industry is headed.

Filmmaker Robin Lung investigates the case of Li Ling-Ai, the un-credited female producer of KUKAN (1942), a landmark color film that revealed the atrocities of World War II China to American audiences. KUKAN has the rare honor of being the first ever American feature documentary to receive an Academy Award.  It is also the only award-winning film that is mysteriously missing from the Academy’s archives.

After finding a badly damaged print of KUKAN, Lung pieces together an inspirational portrait of a female filmmaking pioneer that sheds light on the long history of racial and gender discrimination off-screen, which continues to reverberate in Hollywood today.

Robin Lung will attend the screening to answer questions and share behind-the-scenes moments from the making of her film. Doors open at 5 pm.



In Cased You Missed It…LIYANA

“In Case You Missed It…”  BendFilm will present LIYANA, the winner of both the Jury’s Best of Show and the Audience Award from last year’s festival.  In this genre-defying masterpiece,  five orphaned children in Swaziland collaborate to tell a deeply moving story of perseverance drawn from their darkest memories and brightest dreams. Their fictional character’s journey to rescue her young twin brothers is interwoven with painterly animation and documentary settings to create a spirited testament to the power of creativity. Doors open at 4:30 pm. TICKETS AVAILABLE ONLINE.



On Monday, February 5th, BendFilm and Central Oregon Community College’s Culinary Institute will partner to screen JAMES BEARD: AMERICA’S FIRST FOODIE.   The Culinary Institute will serve James Beard-inspired hors d’oeuvres at a pre-screening reception at COCC’s Elevation Restaurant from 4:00-5:30pm, followed by the film at McMenamins Old St. Francis School at 6:00pm. A Q&A with Director Elizabeth Federici and Culinary Institute Chef Instructor Thor Erickson will follow the screening.

Join us for a celebration — with food and film — of James Beard, the eccentric and brilliant Oregon native who recognized the importance of locally sourced food long before that concept was part of our culinary consciousness.  He also simply loved to eat and shared his passion by hosting the first television cooking show (1946), writing 22 cookbooks and countless magazine articles, and running an acclaimed cooking school in his townhouse in New York City.

Culinary Reception: Elevation Restaurant  at COCC | 4-5:30 pm

Film: McMenamins Old St. Francis School Theater | 6 pm (doors at 5 pm)  **Seats will be reserved for ticket holders attending the reception.



In Case You Missed It | Big Sonia

“In Case You Missed It…”, a staple of BendFilm’s Year-Round Programming, is presenting Award Winning documentary BIG SONIA. An astonishing story of a 91-yr-old seamstress who is determined to share the horrific experiences of her internment in concentration camps in order to inspire compassion in her community. Her spirit is indomitable as she commutes daily to her tailor’s shop wearing bright red lipstick in a leopard print lined car. This is a Holocaust survivor film unlike any you’ve seen, told with love by a filmmaker who does not hesitate to include the quirky and humorous sides of her grandmother. The film has been a hit around the country and gets an Audience Score of 99% on the Tomato Meter.

Event Details

Where:  McMenamins Old St. Francis School

When: Monday, January 11th @5:30 pm (doors open 4:30 pm)

Tickets: $12 general admission.  Available online.

Trailer:  Big Sonia


BendFilm Announces Short and Feature Film Awards for the 2017 BendFilm Festival


14 Films Received Awards including Liyana which won $5,000 for Best of Show and also won the Audience Award


Bend, Oregon –  BendFilm announced today the 14 films and filmmakers awarded the jury-recognized and the audience-voted prizes at the 2017 BendFilm Festival. Awards were selected by a jury of industry professionals as well as the 8,000 attendees of the BendFilm Festival.


Todd Looby, Director of BendFilm said, “I want to thank everyone who came to contribute to the creative culture of the 14th annual BendFilm Festival. The filmmakers, jurors, panelists, bands, volunteers, technical producers and of course the audiences, everyone added a special mark to an incredible event. I know the conversations sparked by these films will live on well past these 4 days.”


Erik Jambor, Festival Programmer for BendFilm said, “This year’s Festival was one of BendFilm’s funniest, deepest, most adventurous and most heartfelt programs to date. Though the awards could only go to a few, we are honored to have been able to screen and share all 105 with the our festival audience. Through dialogue and sharing stories together we strengthen our sense of community locally and around the world.”


Jurors for the Festival include: Danielle DiGiacomo, Vice President of Acquisitions at The Orchard; Don Lewis, Editor of Hammer to Nail, Erin Maddox, producer (Neptune) and festival programmer; Peter Gilbert, producer/cinematographer (Hoop Dreams, Prefontaine); Ian McCluskey, director (Voyagers without Trace); Amy Nicholson, director (Muskrat Lovely); Selin Sevinc, scriptwriter (; Ted Speaker, producer (Humpday); and Paul Sturtz, Co-Founder/Co-Director of the True/False Festival.


The 2017 BendFilm Festival Jury Award recipients are:








Best of Show ($5,000) – (Presented by Brooks Resources since 2004)


Liyana – directed by Amanda Kopp and Aaron Kopp
Five orphaned children in Swaziland collaborate to tell a breath-takingly beautiful story of perseverance drawn from their darkest memories and brightest dreams. Their fictional character’s journey to rescue her young twin brothers is interwoven with poetic and observational documentary scenes to create a genre-defying celebration of collective storytelling.









Best Director ($500) – (Made possible by Independent WOMEN for Independent Film)

Bomb City – directed by Jamie Brooks

Based on the true story of Brian Deneke, Bomb City is an intense and illuminating crime-drama about the cultural aversion of teenage punks and artists in a conservative Texas town. Their ongoing battle with a rival, more-affluent group of jocks leads to a controversial hate crime that questions the morality of American justice–especially relevant today.

Remark from the Jury:

“While it could have easily won in several categories – with gorgeous cinematography, amazing pacing and wonderful casting – all roads lead to its Director.”








Best Cinematography

Relationtrip – directed by Renée Felice Smith and C.A. Gabriel

At an age when everyone around them is settling down and finding love, Beck and Liam are self-proclaimed loners. After bonding over their mutual disinterest in relationships, they decide to go away together on a ‘friend’ trip. And that’s when things get weird. Really, surreally weird.







Best Narrative Feature ($1,000) – (Made Possible by Jay and Sheila Luber)

Mr. Roosevelt – directed by Noël Wells

After an auspicious death in her family, struggling LA-based comedian Emily Martin (Noel Wells, Master of None and SNL) returns to Austin. There she finds herself in the awkward position of staying with her ex and his new girlfriend until the funeral while trying to close old doors from her past.







Best Documentary Feature ($1,000) – (Made Possible by JL Ward Co. and Business for BendFilm)

Forever ‘B’ – directed by Skye Borgman

In 1974, in the quiet town of Pocatello, Idaho, 12-year-old Jan Broberg was kidnapped by her family’s best friend and neighbor. 18 months later, out on bail and awaiting trial for kidnapping, Robert Berchtold abducted Jan a second time, triggering a nationwide FBI manhunt.








Special Documentary Jury Award for Most Lovable Character

Big Sonia – Directed by Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday

When Sonia Warshawski (90) is served an eviction noticefor her iconic tailor shop (in a dead Seattle mall), she’s confronted with an agonizing decision: either open up a new shop or retire. For a woman who admits she stays busy “to keep the dark parts away,” facing retirement dredges up fears she’d long forgot she had, and her horrific past resurfaces.

Special Short Film Jury Award

A Shepherd – directed by Vern Moen

A young shepherd in Oregon’s Willamette Valley struggles with the life and death circle of his ancient job in a modern era.

Remarks from the Jury:

“For its ability to reveal the hardships and beauty of a way of life through a meaningful and heartfelt portrait, we would like to present a Special Jury Award to A Shepherd by Vern Moen.”

Special Short Film Jury Award

Homegrown – directed by Quentin Hamberham

Francis learns that what is right for himself may not be best for his son.




Special Short Film Jury Award

Mixtape Marauders – directed by Peter Edlund

Two young burnouts live in a world of mindless day jobs, petty drug deals, and wildly unconventional musical tastes.









Best Student Short ($500) – (Made possible since 2005 by Dan Wieden and Priscilla Bernard Wieden on behalf of Caldera Arts)

How Far She Went – directed by Ugla Hauksdóttir

Adapted from the Flannery O’Connor Award-winning short story by Mary Hood, How Far She Went takes an unflinching look at family, personal sacrifice, and the lengths we will go for those we love.







Best Documentary Short ($500) – (Made possible by Independent WOMEN for Independent Film)

The Last Honey Hunter – directed by Ben Knight
Maule Dhan Rai is the last man in the remote Nepal village of Saadi who has been visited in a dream by a spirit called Rongkemi. If no one else in the village has the dream, a generations-old tradition may die.








Best Animated Short ($500) – (Made possible by Independent WOMEN for Independent Film)

Pittari – directed by Patrick Smith
A horned creature’s destructive rampage is halted by a stubborn adversary.

Remarks from the Jury:

“For its creatively rich depiction of a unique character, the Best Animated Short Film award goes to Pittari by Patrick Smith.”







Best Narrative Short ($500) – (Made possible by Independent WOMEN for Independent Film)

Emergency – directed by Carey Williams

Faced with an emergency, a group of young Black and Latino friends carefully weigh the pros and cons of calling the police.

Remarks from the Jury:

“For its ability to portray a powerful conflict through a tense, comic and cinematically flawless narrative, the Best Narrative Short Film award goes to Emergency directed by Carey Williams.”







Best of the Northwest Short ($500) – (Made possible by Business for BendFilm)

Running Eagle – directed by Konrad Tho Fiedler
An American Indian girl escapes from captivity in the oil fields of North Dakota and hitchhikes back to her home in Blackfeet country, Montana.







The 2017 BendFilm Katie Merritt Audience Award winner is:

Liyana – directed by Amanda Kopp and Aaron Kopp
Five orphaned children in Swaziland collaborate to tell a breath-takingly beautiful story of perseverance drawn from their darkest memories and brightest dreams. Their fictional character’s journey to rescue her young twin brothers is interwoven with poetic and observational documentary scenes to create a genre-defying celebration of collective storytelling.




The Bend Film Festival is supported in part by a grant from the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund, Oregon Arts Commission, the Roundhouse Foundation, and the Oregon Cultural Trust


About BendFilm:
BendFilm hosts an annual independent film festival as well as year-round film exhibitions and programs. 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 14th year, BendFilm is proud to bring diverse voices and visions to the Bend community. The BendFilm Festival runs every October in downtown Bend, Oregon, at The Oxford, McMenamins – Old St. Francis, Regal Cinemas, Tin Pan Theater, The Volcanic Theater, The Old Stone Performing Arts Center and the historic Tower Theatre. Make plans now to attend October 12-15, 2017, for four days of inspiring independent cinema, panels and parties, in beautiful Bend, a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, foodies, beer lovers and stunning natural scenery. BendFilm is made possible by a dedicated crew of volunteers and generous sponsors. For more information, call (541) 388-3378 or visit Connect with BendFilm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.