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A Truly Moving Experience: The Wandering Reel Film Festival

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Schoolyard Blues. Photo courtesy of Wandering Reel Film Festival

The term “movies” was coined for moving pictures when they first came out. And films, also move us emotionally. Short films, featured in the Wandering Reel Film Festival coming to Barnstormer Theatre in Grants Pass on November 17 and 18, are in motion because they travel from venue to venue and tell compelling stories of everyday people.

Do selfies and Snapchat tell meaningful stories too? In the narrative film Three Red Sweaters, the director tackles the subject of photographs and memories. She asks, “If we can take pictures and document every moment of our lives, is that going to in any way diminish the value of those memories?” Interesting question to contemplate in a society fascinated with paparazzi and poppycock.

According to Michael Harrington, founder of Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival: “These are issue-based films. Meant to inspire people to be more active in their community and have something to say.” Schoolyard Blues, speaks volumes. A young boy is mentored by his older brother who has been cast out. He shows tremendous compassion and bravery begging the question, Why has he been marginalized?

The festival began about five years ago when Harrington himself had to make a move. He made the decision to go from the Big Sur area to Portland. Since he was already involved with short films, he wanted to continue but Portland was ripe with festivals already.

Harrington explains, “Short films are made by artists who are passionate about the subject.” Harrington was passionate about sticking with them. So, he made the festival nomadic. Since then, Harrington and a small team of volunteers, purposefully show the films in mostly rural areas without theaters or with limited access to film. Proving that all who wander are not lost.

The Fall Tour covers the Northwest and a Spring Tour extends from California to Colorado. Grants Pass became part of the Fall Tour because Harrington’s family lives there, and he remembers not having a lot of choice of movies when growing up. Two new locations added this year include: Corvallis, Oregon and Langley, Washington.

With so many worthy films being made each year, how does Harrington’s team choose? Harrington and seven other people pre-screen 200 films and choose around 25. Then, they arrange the chosen ones thematically. It is an organic process that ultimately leads to between four and seven films per program. And during the actual festival, Harrington reads director statements before the flicks and follows with Q&A sessions. Every year, audience members catalyze Harrington to make new conclusions or learn something, he explains.

No politics though. “There is a tendency to make everything political,” Harrington says. But one film, Libre, presents the issue of immigration and offers an alternative presentation to mainstream media. “Libre is about immigration from a human point of view about people in the US trying to gain asylum legally and the struggles they face. For anyone who sees it, it tends to soften hard edges about the subject.”

Another film, Boatman, features a couple celebrating their 71st anniversary and addresses the impermanence of life and structures and how one builds a life in the midst. The wife laments, “You can’t replace what you lost.”


7:30 pm, Saturday, November 17
Peek at portraits of the seemingly mundane moments, memories, and dreams that play meaningful parts in our lives through the unique styles of six visionary storytellers. Films Showing: BonoboInto the BlueThree Red Sweaters • The End of TimeThe Boatman • End of The Rainbow

2 pm, Sunday November 18
Discover the hidden stories of being an outsider in a society stuck on its definition of “norms.”  Films Showing: Death Metal GrandmaLibreBorn in the MaelstromSchoolyard BluesLittle Potato


Learn More: wanderingreel.org

Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival
November 17 and 18
Barnstormers Theatre, 112 NE Evelyn Avenue, Grants Pass



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