Timeline illuminating Oregon’s three NEA advocates for regional film: 1962-1977

by Anne Richardson

I recently drew up a timeline illuminating the minor cinemas of Oregon, 1910-1965 for Sheldon Renan. Before continuing the timeline in a second installment, I want to zoom in for a close up on a pivotal period in Oregon film history.

I italicize events which take place outside the state lines. Some people don’t consider these events part of Oregon film history. I do.

In 1962, Portlander James Blue makes his first feature, THE OLIVE TREES OF JUSTICE, in Algeria. It wins the Critics Prize at Cannes.

In 1967, Portlander Sheldon Renan publishes the instant classic, An Introduction to the American Underground Film.

In 1969, James Blue‘s A FEW NOTES ABOUT OUR FOOD PROBLEM is Oscar nominated for Best Documentary. He becomes Oregon’s first Oscar nominated film director.

In 1970, James Blue and Sheldon Renan are appointed to the NEA’s first media funding panel. At the time, Blue was the founding director of Rice Media Center in Houston, Renan the founding director of Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley.

From 1965 (the year of its founding) to 1970, the NEA directed all their film funding to AFI in Los Angeles. Once on the NEA media funding panel, Sheldon Renan immediately voices his objection to this. He proposes that the NEA support a network of regional film centers. Pacific Film Archives would be one. There would be three additional ones in Portland, Chicago, and Detroit.

James Blue, a member of the founding faculty of AFI, was expected to vote against this idea, as it would drastically cut AFI’s budget. Instead, Blue voted in favor. Renan’s initiative is approved.

In 1971, the NEA invites Portlander Brooke Jacobson, a leader of the Portland State Film Committee, to submit a grant accessing the funds set aside by Renan’s 1970 initiative. Jacobson and co-founder Bob Summers open the Northwest Film Study Center on Culpepper Terrace with a $15,000 NEA start up grant. Portland Art Museum is the fiscal sponsor.

In 1973, Sheldon Renan organizes a national conference of regional film advocates, partially funded by the NEA. James Blue and Brooke Jacobson are in a study group which travels to film centers across the country.

In 1974, Brooke Jacobson founds The Media Project in Portland, a non profit which acts as a resource for regional filmmakers. The Media Project distributes the films of Will Vinton, Gus Van Sant, Jim Blashfield, and others.

In 1977, James Blue founds SWAMP (Southwest Alternate Media Project),  a non profit which acts as a resource for regional filmmakers, in Houston.

In 1977, the names of Sheldon Renan, Brooke Jacobson (then known as “Denise”), and James Blue appear on the list of authors of a commissioned report on the status, nationwide, of regional support for independent film.


Three Portlanders, Sheldon Renan, Brooke Jacobson, and James Blue, worked together to advocate for regional, i.e. independent, film on a national level. Four regional film centers, proposed by Renan and supported by Blue, still exist today.

Northwest Film Center, co-founded by Jacobson, is one of them. Pacific Film Archive, founded by Sheldon Renan, is one of them. Later, a fifth regional film center was founded by James Blue in Houston. It too, still exists.


There is no scholarship about the behind the scenes work of James Blue, Sheldon Renan and Brooke Jacobson at the NEA. All information about this aspect of their intertwined careers came directly from conversations with Sheldon Renan, Gerald O’Grady (another member of the 1970 NEA media panel), and Brooke Jacobson.

Support for Oregon Cartoon Institute’s ongoing research has come from projects funded by Kinsman Foundation and Miller Foundation. Kinsman Foundation’s support began with the Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival at Marylhurst University in 2009. Miller Foundation’s support began with the Mel Blanc Project, a partnership with Oregon Jewish Museum, in 2011.