Marshall just stared at me, mouth agape, his pieced chin nearly touching his chest. “What do you mean you’ve never seen The Devil’s Rejects? What is WRONG with you?”
I’d received a similar response from my friend Hillary, who practically had a seizure when I said that I have not yet seen Firefly. My mother audibly gasped when I confessed that I have never seen Sex and the City 2. The favorite genres and directors may differ from person to person, but the fact remains the same: Oregon is a state of movie buffs.
It makes sense upon reflection, since film has been a key part of Oregon culture for decades. The 1978 cult movie National Lampoon’s Animal House was filmed at various sites at the University of Oregon. This same school recently created an entire Cinema Studies department (my friend Marshall was awarded the department’s first Bachelor’s Degree).
Most people grow up watching filmed-in-Oregon movies like The Goonies, but the inhabitants of the state seem to be particularly obsessed with them. After all, there’s something inherently cool about watching a film that takes place where you live. Especially if it’s not a stereotypically “American” location like Los Angeles or New York City.
One theatre that embraces this unique source of regional pride is the Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene. This quirky theatre (equipped with two projection screens, only one at the standard theatre size) plays independent films that one usually doesn’t see at a typical movie theatre. It also plays a lot of foreign works— I have fond memories of seeing Paris 36 and Lorna’s Silence within Screening Room #2. After a film ends, patrons sometimes throw a penny in the small inner courtyard’s fountain before going their separate ways.
The theatre itself was constructed from the inside of a church, which also served as a funeral home at one point. Local brands of popcorn flavoring (you sprinkle it inside the bag, then shake) are sold alongside the chocolate bars at the front register. Forbidden Fruit, Eugene’s Rocky Horror Picture Show performance troupe, performs in the larger screening room at least once a month. The Bijou shares the building with other local businesses, such as the Chiropractic Healing Center. This community-focused attitude serves as an example of how the local movie theatre Factors into Oregonian regional identity.
But the movie culture in Oregon doesn’t end with the theatre itself— films continue to be made within the state to this day. 531 productions, The filmmaking company based in Eugene, 531 Productions, has won many awards for its entirely Oregon-based body of films. Henry Weintraub, a producer, editor, and writer for 531, remarks that he enjoys making films in Oregon due to the variety of “natural sets” available. Indeed, a filmmaker has access to high deserts, ocean beaches, dense forests, small towns, and urban settings all within the same state.
But even more than the land itself, Weintraub says, a better reason for filming in Oregon is its people. “People seem to be very cooperative in Oregon.” He goes on to talk about how he has filmed in Portland and Eugene (his current project also includes Salem, the state’s capital) and his positive experiences in each city. “People in Oregon are so friendly, [and] just seem a lot calmer.”
Last year, I attended the premiere of 531 Production’s latest horror, The Darkest Corner of Paradise. Even more memorable than the film itself was the crowd of people that surrounded the cast after the screening ended. Hordes of locals came up to the star, Patrick O’Driscoll, just to shake his hand. That, to me, was the perfect picture of film’s role in Oregon culture. All these people had all just watched a film in a theatre. And we all felt the need to thank its creators for the experience.