By Max Denning
Ten years ago, the inaugural Eastern Oregon Film Festival in La Grande had humble beginnings. The local, independent projects didn't screen at a fancy venue. The town square and a TV parked under a tent would have to do. Oh, and it was raining.
In 2018, the EOFF looked substantially different. For three full days, the local movie theater was packed, and some of the feature films in the lineup had received notoriety earlier that year, including a South by Southwest Grand Jury Award and a nomination for Best Narrative Feature at Sundance.
One of the bigger gets of 2018? Oregon resident and cult classic star Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness, Bubba Ho-Tep, The Evil Dead) made the trek from the Rogue Valley to Eastern Oregon to take part in "Brunch with Bruce," which included an extended Q&A session. Festival organizers were enthusiastic about the growing success and acclaim and already beginning to prepare for a bigger and better year 10.
Then, last month, something shocking happened.
The Granada 3 Theatre, which had been the screening venue since the event's second year, pulled its partnership. After some sustained rumblings about the theater's dissatisfaction with the annual program, one of the owners of the Granada, Mark Greulich, sent an email to the movie house's manager Jan. 14 announcing the decision to sever ties. No reason was given.
"The La Grande Theatre [chain] will not be participating in the Eastern Oregon Film Festival," the announcement said.
The Granada's other owners, Charles and John Greulich, were cc'd on the email. Multiple requests by WW for comment were made via email and telephone, but only John Greulich responded and said he was "not interested in giving any comments to a newspaper."
Ian Clark, program director and co-founder of the EOFF who is also a Portland resident, describes the Greulichs' move as "extremely disappointing." There has been very little communication, Clark adds, between festival leadership and the Granada's owners.
"I wish we could have had a sit-down meeting, if not a face-to-face conversation, then a phone call," Clark says. "Their decision kind of breaks my heart."
But organizers didn't lick their wounds for long.
This last winter, they kicked off a fundraising concert series with several Portland rock bands: WEEED took the stage in February and Wooden Indian Burial Ground performed the following month. World's Finest will play the final show April 11. The campaign seeks to bring in enough money to make La Grande's historic Liberty Theatre the festival's new home in 2020, though there is no official agreement just yet. No matter where it lands, EOFF director Christopher Jennings stresses that he needs the entire state's film community to step up and support the festival's efforts.
"Take action, submit, sponsor, donate, attend and help the rural parts of our state sustain excellence in cultural programming," Jennings says, "not only for their immediate community benefit, but to create a reason, year after year, to get out of the city and head for something different. Something rich. Something real."
While year 10 of the festival is likely to be starkly different from 2018, with more shorts, pop-ups in local restaurants, and a headlining feature to attempt to fill the 400-plus-seat McKenzie Theatre at Eastern Oregon University, Clark isn't necessarily worried.
"It forces us to do what we've always done—innovate," Clark says. "EOFF will go on. We'll become a stronger organization."
SEE IT: The Eastern Oregon Film Festival screens at various locations throughout La Grande. Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 24-26. Membership $100-$250. Pass prices TBA. Submissions are now open and can be made at filmfreeway.com/eofilmfest.