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A La Grande Time

Eastern Oregon Film Festival, showcasing Treasure Valley filmmakers, runs Thursday, Feb. 28-Saturday, March 2

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Typically, the marquee at the Granada Theatre casts its retro neon glow on La Grande, Ore.'s Adams Ave. advertising first-run blockbusters. But from Thursday, Feb. 28, through Saturday, March 2, those titles--which often don't make it to small towns like La Grande until long after their premieres--will be replaced with indie movies that almost no one has heard of. It's all part of the Eastern Oregon Film Festival.

"Almost everyone loves films. ... The problem with our community is that we don't have exposure to those films you might get in Portland, [Ore.] or Boise, which have independent films, too. We have theaters that show blockbuster stuff," said Chris Jennings, a native of Pendleton, Ore., who founded the film festival with Ian Clark in 2009.

While EOFF isn't on the regional festival radar--like the Sun Valley Film Festival or the Seattle International Film Festival--organizers say it's building up steam, growing attendance and attracting talent from around the Northwest.

This year's fest lineup includes Only the Young, directed by Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims, a documentary following three small-town teenagers; War Witch by writer-director Kim Nguyen, the Oscar-nominated tale of a child soldier in Africa; and Cinema Six, directed by Mark Potts and Cole Selix, an Office Space-esque look into the lives of slacker movie theater employees.

"It was a more difficult process this year; the fest is growing and getting more submissions. Some good stuff slips between the cracks because we only go for three days," said Clark. "I would say we're interested in both emerging and established artists, in really strong, challenging innovative work. Otherwise, that kind of stuff would never play in La Grande."

The festival has also branched out to the Treasure Valley, incorporating the Boise scene and recruiting its bands to play at the festival. Bands like Hillfolk Noir, Finn Riggins and Grandma Kelsey will all perform during the festival.

Travis Ward, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for Hillfolk Noir, has been involved with EOFF since its kickoff in 2009.

"They liked our music, so they invited us over," said Ward. "After we played, I stayed for the whole fest. I saw all but one film. I saw seven movies in one day. After, I couldn't find the place I was staying at, so I just wandered around until 4 a.m."

Most might not guess the eastern Oregon burg of La Grande produces much in the way of music and film. But while the scene isn't as developed as regional hubs like Boise and Spokane, those who are supportive are very supportive.

"La Grande has a lot to offer; people can see the value here," said Jennings. "Everything is within walking distance in the town. We're building up our downtown area, and we have this beautiful historic theater here."

One of Clark's films, Searching for Yellow, will be screened during the festival. The film is a fictional retelling of a landscape painter who ventures out into the suburbs to delicately spray paint the foliage, grasses or rocks while trying to figure out his failing relationship.

"He's not a graffiti artist at all, he's making marks and punctuating these really quiet moments," said Clark.

The screening of Clark's film will be followed by a Q and A, and an actor will also make an appearance. In fact, a number of films shown at the EOFF will include a Q and A, either in person or via Skype.

After the films show at the Granada Theatre and the Stage Door Theater, which is located at the back of the Liberty Theatre, attendees will congregate at the Art Center at the Old Library to partake in a beer garden. Afterparties will go down Thursday, Feb. 28, at Ten Depot Street, and Friday, March 1, at Mt. Emily Ale House, and there will also be a wrap-up Treefort Music Fest Showcase Saturday, March 2, featuring Boise's Lionsweb and The Dirty Moogs, along with Portland, Ore.'s AND AND AND.

"There will be beer gardens and perks for supporters and members of the festival," said Jennings. "It has a fun social environment; after screenings or concerts, people can go back to the Arts Center and have a beer and talk about film."

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