Nestled in Southern Oregon's Umpqua National Forest, there's a homey, 1920s fishing lodge called Diamond Lake Resort. Surrounded by old-growth pine trees, it sits on the north shore of a mountain lake. In the lobby, there are brown leather chairs in front of a stone fireplace, and outside, there are mountain views and a lake full of rainbow trout.
But for Portland-based experimental filmmaker Pam Minty, Diamond Lake isn't an idyllic vacation destination—it's the place where, at age 24, she did laundry, cleaned motel rooms and cabins and covered shifts at the resort's restaurant. Now, it's also the subject matter of her 20-minute documentary, High Lakes, which beautifully captures the universal experience of having a job from hell. It premieres this week on a double bill with a film by Minty's idol and sometimes Oregonian, Jon Jost.
Minty's desire to create High Lakes was rooted in a desire to highlight under valued corridors of American society. Minty perceived a link between the monotonous work undertaken by the resort's staff with the barriers facing women directors. "I'm part of a smaller group that is at this point in time that is starting to become more actively a part of the conversation, seeking ways to have our experiences reflected in the images that we see," says Minty. "So I really wanted to investigate that in this portrait of this place."
To sketch that portrait, Minty needed a budget of roughly $18,000 and the participation of at least some members of the current Diamond Lake cleaning staff. "I think their knowledge of me being a past employee, doing the same work that they were doing might have opened up their comfort level with me being there a little bit," she says, "more than if I had shown up and said, 'I want to tell your story.'"
Minty shot the film on gorgeous Super 16 film, and often keeps the camera stationary, forcing you to stare for prolonged periods of time at women immersed in the monotonous work of sprucing up a bedroom or a kitchen. It's a technique that can rigorously test an audience's patience, but also ushers the viewer into a state of heightened awareness. "I think we're trained to have an expectation for the camera to track us to where the story wants us to have our focus—and I feel the opposite," says Minty. "I prefer works that allow me to make the decision about where I want to focus and give me the time to take in all the elements of the image and the landscape."
High Lakes is by turns reassuring and melancholy. For the film, Minty interviewed friends, family, colleagues and members of the resort's staff about their work experiences, some of which are recounted in the film's many voiceovers. The most memorable of these comes from a woman who remembers consistently coming up short when she counted money at her job and taking $5 out of her tips each time to compensate—only to later realize that the missing money had been stolen.
High Lakes also reflects the economic upheavals since Minty worked at Diamond Lake in 1994. The film begins with her explaining that "while the work was rigorous and the wages low, room and board was included." Now, she says, "the women working here mostly live in nearby Roseburg. With the cost of room and board now coming out of the wage, it must be more difficult to save for things like education, health care and retirement."
In that way, High Lakes isn't just about Minty, or even Diamond Lake—it's about a rise in working-class desperation.
It's a topic that's certainly too big to tackle in one film, so perhaps it's just as well that Minty plans to take High Lakes beyond the big screen. Minty has continued to collect interviews with people about their work experiences and can even imagine turning High Lakes into a museum exhibit.
Minty says that she's appreciative of the staff of Diamond Lake's ongoing cooperation. "I don't know how I'd feel if someone showed up to my job and started filming me," she says, before adding, "I wouldn't like it. I would make them stop."
SEE IT: High Lakes screens at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd, hollywoodtheatre.org. 7:00 pm Friday, December 8. $9.