At a recent conference in New York, I sat on a panel with Chris Eyre. We were talking to a group of high school filmmakers.
Eyre grew up in the Klamath Falls area and broke into the business with the runaway success of the first film he directed, Smoke Signals, widely heralded as the best movie about Native Americans, a poignantly funny, coming-of-age story written by Sherman Alexie.
Eyre is an easy-going 40-somethinger, and he told the audience a story about his dream to become a filmmaker. He had grown up in Klamath Falls and when he was first flying to Los Angeles, the woman sitting next to him asked what he did. "I'm a filmmaker," he announced. When she asked the logical follow-up question, "Well, have I seen anything you've made," he had to explain to her that he had yet to actually produce a film. But, he pointed out to the audience, it is the attitude of knowing and claiming what you want to be.
In that regard, LaRonn Katchia is far ahead of the game. A 22-year-old student graduating from the Art Institute of Portland, Katchia's first short film screens this week in Madras. It is only 12 minutes long, but it is a full announcement that this kid's got talent, and he has the faith and confidence to be a filmmaker. From Central Oregon, Katchia sets the film on the Warm Springs Indian reservation, and the storyline is a fairly common tale about generational tensions.
What stands out in Awakenings, though, are some brilliant moments of skill and style. The opening scene rides along with a grandmother and a broodish teenage Native American. Nothing is spoken between the two, but, cleverly, the radio is prattling on with a call-in radio show talking about Native American films; "You never really see a Native American action hero," the voice crackles in the pickup's speakers. It is a subtle touch.
Throughout the short film, sound is keenly conveyed, which is especially promising because that is an element often overlooked, but often the element that best gives true texture to a film. (Proof? Watch Reservoir Dogs again, and see how rookie filmmaker Tarantino conveys the dimensions of space in and outside a warehouse.) In Awakens, there are similar touches, as pebbles in a driveway crunching under feet lend a sense of rural outdoors and stillness. Also, Katchia is well-suited with his pacing, moving from jagged, quick cuts during a chase scene, that alternate with long, slow shots.
It is especially impressive that Katchia has rolled out publicity to showcase his first short film with more aplomb and poise than many professional publicists. As independent filmmakers often must rely on their own wit and ways to fulfill their dreams, Katchia seems to be on his way.
Dir. LaRoon Katchia
Saturday, March 1
Madras 5, 10:30 pm