Rio Theatre to host first Sweet Home film festival

Scott Swanson

Hankering for some film fare that’s off the beaten track? 

Sweet Home might have just what you’re looking for: family-friendly, but not the usual Hollywood media. 

SHOCASE, the local organization that aims to bring the arts to the community, will hold its inaugural Sweet Home Film Festival this Saturday, Feb. 12, at the Rio Theatre downtown.  

Admission for the festival – which lasts about 90 minutes and features two showings, at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. – is free. 

Themed “Reel Oregon,” the event features 10 short films – all under 20 minutes – that “capture what Oregon is” to the filmmakers, said organizer Chris Chapman.

He recalled that members of the Art Committee, a subcommittee of the SHOCASE membership, were “just popping ideas back and forth” when he suggested holding a film festival.

“I love the Rio, with its nostalgic presence,” Chapman said. 

He said the “stars aligned, essentially” and the proposal found legs.

“I’m pretty excited about it. We’ve had two major hurdles,” Chapman said. “One, getting people to submit films. Second, getting people to show up to watch them.”

Chapman and Art Committee Chair Diane Gerson said organizers used a social media site called FilmFreeway, which lists festivals and film submission opportunities, to get the word out. 

They received 1,300 films from, literally, “around the world.” 

“That blew me out of the water,” Chapman said. “I was totally shocked.” 

According to Gerson, many entries didn’t really hit the mark in terms of focus on Oregon, which was understandable. 

“We wanted to stay with the theme, ‘Reel Oregon,’ but of course, people from Turkey don’t know about real Oregon,” she said.

“It’s how people see Oregon, so of course, it’s subjective,” Chapman said. “A lot of the films didn’t really meet the criteria. One of the big things we wanted was to have Oregon filmmakers participate. We were able to cut the list down quite a bit.” 

All but one of the accepted submissions are from Oregon, Gerson said. The other is from Washington. 

At least two of the moviemakers, one from Medford and another from Eugene, have said they plan to attend. 

Oregon has a strong “film presence,” particularly in Portland, southern Oregon and Eugene, and the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, and Southern Oregon University, all offer film studies programs. Astoria’s Oregon Film Museum gives home to the state’s abundant cinematic legacy, going all the way back to Francis Boggs’ “The Fisherman’s Bride” in 1909 and covering such subsequent classics as “The Goonies” (1985), “Stand by Me” (1986), “Kindergarten Cop” (1990) and “Free Willy” (1993).

Film festivals are not unpopular in Oregon. A count of those with Oregon locations on the FilmFreeway website resulted in some 60 results, led by the Portland Film Festival, the fourth most popular of the 4,368 listed festivals. That city alone boasts 30, ranging from the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival, now in its 46th year, to the Filmed by Bike Festival (bike movies), the Portland Scream Week Horror Film Festival, Portland Unknown Film Festival, SSTIKS Traditional Kayak-ing Film Festival and the Fungi Film Fest.

Others around the state are held in Bend (three), Eugene (five, including the inaugural  “60-second Cellphone Screendance Challenge”). Southern Oregon (five), and Cottage Grove, which is launching two brand new events this year, the Bohemian Film Festival and School Daze Movie Festival. 

La Grande and Baker each have one and McMinnville has two, including the McMinnville Short Film Festival held this weekend, Feb. 10-13.

Sweet Home’s is one of a dozen new festivals being launched across the state this year, according to FilmFreeway. 

For this festival, three judges, including an OSU professor, will decide on an overall winner during the early showing. The winning film will receive an award produced by a local artist. High school art students have made posters announcing the festival; all are currently on display in the hallway gallery at City Hall. 

Gerson encouraged residents to check out one of the two showings on Saturday. 

“These films are very well done,” she said. “The program is very, very eclectic. They range from a comedy entitled “Sasquatch!” about two hunters who come upon a Bigfoot and think it’s a chance to score some fame and fortune – except their quarry doesn’t cooperate. 

“That’s one the kids will enjoy,” Gerson said.

Another,  “The Energy of Water” –  “an ethereal kind of thing,” as Gerson put it, dips into how important water is to us and contributes to what producers Jennifer Jordan and Sean Sullivan describe as “our inner harmony.” 

 “Maybe some kids would find them a little hard to follow, but most are family-friendly. I would not say they are totally humorous,” Gerson said. “Some of it is pretty heady in terms of things going on in the community. One from OSU’s Oregon Media Network is about how they were able to manage a year of COVID as students. It is very well done.”

Another is an episode of “Manley Jobs,” a series created by Sweet Home High School natural resources teacher Blake Manley to introduce young people to trade careers. 

Others include: a western “true story” about a generational wealth that began with the theft of gold dust, entitled “Crooked River;” “Dear Future Self,” in which a woman discovers a time capsule she created more than 50 years previously; a superhero parody film entitled “Mystic Onions;””Amidst the Stars,” the story of an astronaut stranded in space; and a short documentary on how old-growth trees contribute to the cycle of the Sal-mon-Huckleberry Wilderness forest.

Gerson said the only real cost in putting the event on has been “a lot of professional time.”

“We tried to involve as many people as possible, but Chris has been the moving force on this,” Gerson said. “Without him, we couldn’t have done it. He’s really done the bulk of the work.” 

She said organizers selected February because of the weather and the need for indoor activities. 

“People need some pick-me-up,” she said. 


WHAT: 10 short Oregon-themed films (all under 20 minutes in length) in two screenings

WHEN: Two showings, at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12

WHERE: Rio Theatre, 1439 Main St.