I attended one out of four programs put on in Corvallis by The Wandering Reel, a traveling film festival with a focus on smaller towns that don’t get as much exposure to international and art film. Hosted at the Darkside Theater, the program I went to was titled “Our Basic Assumptions” and had seven short films that were hand selected by a panel to challenge viewers’ stereotypes around poverty, race, integrity, sexuality, gender, age, etc. The Wandering Reel only shows short films and tours up and down the west coast, bringing award-winning and insightful shorts to rural communities and smaller towns.
After the showing I attended a Q&A discussion group led by Michael Harrington, the
festival director and founder. Before forming the Wandering Reel, he worked for the Big Sur International Short Festival and has played the roles of director, actor, cinematographer, and teacher of cinema. Harrington spent a good amount of time discussing the process him and his creative team (a jury made up of award winning filmmakers, directors, and television writers) go through to select which shorts to show, and the methodology of utilizing “compassionate, thought-provoking cinema” to close cultural or ideological gaps in communities. He considers theater houses to be a meeting place for the community, yet almost always people will gather, view, and leave without any further discussion or interaction between each other. Harrington also lamented the unfair distribution of short films, with trendy and high budget films booking all the major festivals and lower budget/less well made films with more original and profound ideas being showcased very little.
After giving some background on him and his career, explaining what the Wandering Reel is about and was made for, Harrington led a discussion based off the seven shown short films. He expressed it as imperative to the experience to have not only a viewing as a community but also a conversation as a community. In the beginning, questions were asked by the audience as to how and why the films were made – clarifying questions about theme or time sequence, who the filmmaker was and their origins, one lady in the back couldn’t read the subtitles and had a question about a dialogue heavy scene. Then, the conversation evolved into the audience making commentary on their favorite film or elements they liked more than others. The Wandering Reel has audience members vote after watching an entire program, and always gives a viewer’s choice award to the winning filmmaker. Harrington made that seem like an extremely sought after type of award in this industry especially for directors trying to put their name out there. From then on we delved into a discussion of the theme of the program, “Our Basic Assumptions,” and Harrington prompted the retirees of Corvallis to share what most surprised them in the films.
I have never been to any kind of film festival and before now hadn’t seen short films in that format. I think it’s really cool and important that Harrington wants to support meaningful filmmaking and that he is able to create a space where people can come together to view as an audience but also a forum where those same people can talk about the experience. Harrington also has plans in the work for public outreach and wants to have a completely free screening program that is compatible for hospitals, prisons, schools, retirement homes, and poor communities.
all images from https://www.wanderingreel.org