Timeline of independent feature film in Oregon, 1966-1990

by Anne Richardson

The less expensive a film is, the more ambitious the ideas and themes can be. And the converse is true – the more a film costs, the more salary everyone makes, the more limited the subject-matter has to be. Francis Ford Coppola

Oregon independent filmmaking falls into three camps: independents from outside the state who arrive to use Oregon as a location; Oregon independents active within the state; Oregon independents active outside the state.

This list focuses solely on feature length films made by independent filmmakers who were living in Oregon at the time they made their films.

To get the best sense of this period, combine this list with the previous post, about the emergence of Oregon animation.

THE CIRCLE (1972) A lost film. Tom Moyers Jr, writer-director-producer. The first sound era theatrically released independent feature by an Oregon director was John Parker Jr.’s DEMENTIA (1953), made in LA. The second is THE CIRCLE, made by Tom Moyers Jr. in Portland. Tom Moyers Jr. and John Parker Jr. were sons of Portland movie theater chain tycoons. In fact, Tom Moyers Sr. bought his movie theater chain from John Parker Sr. From what I understand, THE CIRCLE seems to have been about 1970s counterculture. Will Vinton, DP.

ROCKADAY RICHIE AND THE QUEEN OF THE HOP (1973) George Hood, director. Just as Tom Moyers Jr. was the son of the owner of a chain of Portland movie theaters, George Hood was the son of Frank Hood, the founder of Teknifilm Lab, on NW 19th. Released as STARK RAVING MAD in 1981. Don Gronquist, writer-producer.

DEAFULA (1975) Peter Wechsberg, writer-director-producer-star. The first, perhaps only, horror film shot using American Sign Language. Peter Wechsberg, DP.

PROPERTY (1977)  Penny Allen, writer-director-producer. Funded by a CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) grant, fiscally sponsored by The Northwest Media Project. Cast includes Corky Hubbert, who went on to a Hollywood career, and poet Walt Curtis, playing himself. Henk Pander, production design. Eric Edwards, DP. Gus Van Sant, sound.  Selected as an exemplary American independent film for the first year of Robert Redford’s U. S. Film Festival, soon to be renamed Sundance.

FAST BREAK (1977) Don Zavin, writer-director-producer. Free form feature length documentary of the Trailblazers’ championship season. Zavin already was a regional Emmy award winner when he made this. Score by the jazz group Oregon.

PAYDIRT (1981) Penny Allen, writer-director-producer. Set and shot in Oregon’s wine country. Famed real life vintner David Lett appears in a cameo. Tom Shaw provided the 35mm camera package. Eric Edwards, DP.

UNHINGED (1982) Don Gronquistwriter-director-producer. Slasher film set in Pittock Mansion. Richard Blakeslee, DP. Harry DawsonEric Edwards, assistant camera. Dan Biggs, associate producer.

TAMANAWIS ILLAHEE: RITUALS AND ACTS IN A LANDSCAPE (1983) Ron Finnewriter-director-producer. Feature length documentary funded by Oregon Council for the Humanities. Features poet George Venn.

THE COURIER OF DEATH (1984) Tom Shaw, writer-director-producer. Portland’s porn king goes low budget legit. John H. Schmeer, DP.

THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN (1985) Will Vinton, director-producer. Ten years and three additional Oscar nominations after making an Oscar winning short with Bob Gardiner in his Portland basement, Will Vinton makes a feature length film at Will Vinton Studios, his own Portland company. Susan Shadburne, writer. Voice artists included Dallas MacKennon, Will Vinton, Billy Scream, Craig Bartlett, Mark Gustafson. Crew included Kelley Baker, Joan Gratz, Marilyn Zornado, Jan Baross, Barry Bruce, Douglas Aberle, Mark Gustafson, Craig Bartlett, William Fiesterman, Walter Murch. In THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN we see the first return to Portland, since the silent era, of feature length filmmaking produced by a Portland studio/production company.

Will Vinton’s and Bob Gardiner’s Oscar winning short, CLOSED MONDAYS (1974), all three of Will Vinton’s subsequent Oscar nominated shorts, RIP VAN WINKLE (1978), THE CREATION (1981), THE GREAT COGITO (1983), and the feature length THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN (1985) were stop motion animated, using clay. Will Vinton Studios trademarked the word “Claymation” in 1992.

MALA NOCHE (1986), Gus Van Sant, writer-director-producer. Based on memoir by Walt Curtis. Starring Tim Streeter, Doug Cooeyate.  John Campbell, DP. Pat Baum, sound. Gus Van Sant, executive producer. 

SHADOWPLAY (1986) Susan Shadburnewriter-director-producer. Starring Dee Wallace, Cloris Leachman. Produced by Dan Biggs, Susan Shadburne, Will Vinton. Executive produced by Roger Corman. In SHADOWPLAY, we see the first return to Portland, since the silent era, of the live action independent feature starring Hollywood talent.

OPERATION: TAKE NO PRISONERS (1987) Tom Shaw, writer-director-producer John H. Schmeer, DP.

DRUGSTORE COWBOY (1989) Gus Van Sant, writer-director. Starring Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James LeGros, Heather Graham, William S. Burroughs. Based on memoir by James Fogle. Robert Yeoman, DP. Nick Wechsler, Karen Murphy, producers. Cary Brokaw, executive producer.

This timeline is the fourth in a series created for Sheldon Renan. The first illuminates the minor cinemas of Oregon, 1910-1965. The second is a timeline of three NEA advocates for regional film who were from Oregon (Sheldon was one). The third illuminates the emergence of Oregon animation, 1965-1990. For best results, mesh all four together.

Sheldon Renan himself was active as a Los Angeles based writer-director-producer during the period covered by this timeline. His filmography includes the independent feature TREASURE: IN SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN HORSE (1984), shot on the Oregon coast.

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