For one week in 2020, an independent film from Southern Oregon became the No. 1 box-office hit in America.
That film was Phoenix, Oregon, and it was filmed in Klamath Falls, about 80 miles away from the town of the title. While movie theaters were shut down across the world, Phoenix, Oregon, sprang forward with a soon-to-be-familiar idea: streaming. According to Box Office Mojo, it won the weekend with a take of $4,000. Yes, this reflects pandemic times, but still was a charming moment, one now marked by a plaque on the Oregon Film Trail.
Oregon Film Trail plaque in Klamath Falls (Photo courtesy of Klamath Film)
The film came about because of connections formed by director Gary Lundgren at the Klamath Film Festival, explains Klamath Film’s former director Kurt Liedtke. Now the Klamath Film Festival, which features Oregon films and filmmakers in all genres, is gearing up for its 10th year, in person in September. Liedtke made the decision to livestream everything in 2020, from films to director panels, and now the festival has a wider, even international audience.
But Klamath Falls is well worth the visit, both for its natural beauty and for the festival’s cultural offerings. Executive director Court Cannick says he’s excited about September’s opening night at the big, 1940 art deco-style Ross Ragland Theater in downtown Klamath Falls, when the festival sponsors “a big street party for the entire community, with food trucks and tents.”
Cannick, who moved to Klamath Falls from L.A., appreciates the way that the community of Klamath Falls responds to having a film festival in a town that’s known much more for its natural beauty.
(Courtesy of the Ragland Theater)
The festival’s parent, Klamath Film, also teaches kids K-12 how to make films and loans out professional film equipment. The payoff comes when local youth get to watch their movies premiere on the big screen, with other Oregon filmmakers and producers in the audience. In 2021, Cannick remembers, watching an 11-year-old win the youth award was especially moving. “Ten years from now, when he’s making his first big Hollywood film, I can say I was there.”
For those who want to be there in mid-September, the Klamath Film Festival site recommends staying at the Running Y Ranch Resort – where, between films, visitors can play on Oregon’s only Arnold Palmer-designed golf course – or in town, two blocks from the theater at the Maverick Motel.
Downtown Ashland (Courtesy of Travel Oregon)
To the west of Klamath Falls, Ashland is already a cultural destination, with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a destination travel site for theater fans from all over the world. Those experienced in running from a backstage tour to a matinee at the Thomas to an evening show at the Bowmer might have the chops to weather the Ashland Independent Film Festival as well.
The AIFF began in 2001, and in non-COVID times, each festival transforms the theater town into a cinema town, with more than 7,000 audience members speeding (on foot) from the gorgeous old Varsity Theatre on Main Street to the Historic Ashland Armory down the hill and back.
This year’s festival debuts a new artistic director, Roberta Munroe, who has led programming for the Sundance Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival and The Gotham (as the Independent Film Project). The festival will be all online this year – thanks to omicron – starting April 1 and running through April 10, but Munroe says they hope to run an in-person event in June and, if all goes well, an in-person festival in the fall.
“I love Ashland,” Munroe adds. “You can’t have a bad meal in Ashland, there are exceptional wineries that surround us and everybody says ‘Good morning’ on the streets.”
For those planning for June, for the fall or for general travel to Ashland, Southern Oregon is a hotbed of stunning scenery, with places to stay and eat ranging from the classic Ashland Springs Hotel a few steps from the Varsity to the Peerless Hotel a few blocks away; Munroe also personally recommends Oak Hill Bed & Breakfast. Festival sponsor Rogue Creamery, with its World Cheese Award-winning Rogue River Blue, is just up the road, as are multiple wineries, hiking, rafting and skiing destinations; the historical gold-mining town of Jacksonville; and, of course, Klamath Falls.
With these two film festivals, Southern Oregon has added filmmaker skills, access, and tools to the area’s natural allure and cultural delights. Don’t miss out! Submit films or book tickets online today.
Story by Suzi Steffen