Sitting in Central Oregon Community College's Hitchcock Auditorium last Thursday night with a bevy of independent film fans watching Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono get his breasts removed on the big screen, I was struck by the idea that BendFilm is alive, well and active even though this year's festival is nearly nine months away.
Thanks to BendFilm's new documentary film series, fans of quality indie cinema won't be out in the cold this winter. Between January and April, BendFilm is hosting four documentary film screenings, each takes on a different topic. The films are showing at either COCC's Hitchcock Auditorium, Sisters Movie House or the Tower Theatre.
In addition to the films, BendFilm has arranged for filmmakers to attend the events. In some cases, filmmakers will join the discussion via Skype, allowing filmgoers to interact directly with the filmmakers, one of the highlights of the annual fall festival. With movies like Becoming Chaz, BendFilm hopes to create a local dialogue about a variety of issues.
"[The series] sort of continues our 2011 festival. That's kind of a nice perk that the filmmakers are allowing us to show their films one additional time," said Orit Schwartz, BendFilm's artistic director. "Also, with Becoming Chaz, which was not in the BendFilm Festival, it's a great way for us to get together with COCC and The Human Dignity Coalition to bring sort of a specific movie that you'll definitely not see at the local cinema."
The documentary Becoming Chaz follows the gender transition of Chastity Bono and includes interviews with friends, family and his celebrity mother, Cher. At last week's screening, BendFilm teamed up with COCC and the Human Dignity Coalition to create a panel of local guests. COCC integrated Becoming Chaz into its Season of Nonviolence, a 64-day collaborative program with the Center for Compassionate Living that celebrates the work of human rights advocates locally and globally.
"I feel that in a small town to have the opportunity for this sort of dialog, and because of being able to screen a film likeBecoming Chaz - the strength it gives people to open up after seeing Cher up on screen coming to terms with her own child - that's pretty powerful," said Schwartz. "These sorts of events make me proud to be part of BendFilm, and I hope we can organize events with other nonprofits in town that will have similar effects."
Next in the documentary series came My So Called Enemy, which screened on Sunday night at the Sisters Movie House. The story follows six Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls who attended a women's leadership program in the United States called Building Bridges for Peace. The girls experience getting to know their "enemies" as human beings. Those attending the film were then able to Skype with director Lisa Gossels.
Of Skype, Schwartz said, "I think it's a really cool way to bring the director in, the producers in; obviously a much more economical way. People really dig it. With This Way of Life, which is playing in February at the Tower, the filmmakers are Skyped all the way from New Zealand."
The series concludes with BendFilm's 2011 Best Conservation Film award winner The Clean Bin Project, showing at the Tower Theatre. For those lucky enough to attend the screening of The Clean Bin Project, they'll be treated to a live presentation and Q&A with the filmmakers who will be in attendance.
"We do this festival for the community. I think that's sort of a big thing," Schwartz said. "I really hope that people come out for BendFilm because we really can't do it without the community support."