What: 2018 BendFilm Festival

When: Thursday through ­Sunday; see schedule at bendfilm2018.eventive.org/schedule

Where:

• Cascades Theatre, 148 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend

• McMenamins Old St. Francis School, 700 NW Bond St., Bend

• Regal Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, 680 SW Powerhouse Drive, Bend

• Tin Pan Theater, 869 NW Tin Pan Alley, Bend

• Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., Bend

• Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Drive, Bend

• Madras Performing Arts Center, 412 SE Buff St., Madras

• The Hub, headquartered in At Liberty, 849 NW Wall St., is where to go for questions and to buy tickets

Cost: Full Festival Pass, good for all components of the event, including the Opening Night Party, Friday Night Party and Awards Ceremony, allows entry to all films with reserved tickets and ticketless entry to all films 10 minutes before show if seating is available, is $250; Full Film Pass is $150, allows entry to all films with reserved tickets and ticketless entry to all films 10 minutes before show if seating is available; advance film tickets are $12 online or at the box office ($15 Opening Night Film), located inside At Liberty, 849 NW Wall St., Bend; $10 Standby Tickets at the door ($15 Opening Night Film), sold after Pass and Advanced ticket holders are seated; Madras screenings $5-$25; Underground Wristband $40 (Note: BendFilm strongly recommends buying tickets in advance and printing them at home, or having them available on your smartphone for easy scanning at venues).

Contact: bendfilm.org or 541-388-3378

The curtain opens on BendFilm Thursday. Are you ready?

Over the course of the next four days, the 15th annual independent film festival will shine a spotlight on short and full-length independent documentaries and narrative films, screening for audiences a gaggle of new films and several underrated classics, as well as celebrate the filmmakers who labored to create them.

The films that will screen at venues around Bend — and, in a new addition, Madras Performing Arts Center — may be “small” in terms of being made outside mainstream Hollywood, but in all other ways BendFilm screams BIG: the energy and bustle of its parties, panels and its $10,500 in prize money, for which filmmakers from around the country are heading to Bend.

Classics

This year, there are 73 short films and 44 features from across the topical spectrum. Along with up and comers, this year’s festival offers a perhaps surprising number of vintage films — Paul Newman’s 1971 directorial debut, “Sometimes a Great Notion,” based on the novel by Oregon great Ken Kesey, will serve as the Closing Night Film. Also screening are a number of more recent classics, among them films that hark back to BendFilm’s origin year, 2004.

Another movie that’s been around a while, Chris Eyre’s 1998 film “Smoke Signals,” will screen at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Madras. Star Adam Beach, who’s since gone on to appear in such films as “Suicide Squad” and “Hostiles,” will be on hand for the program, as well as Saturday’s screening at 3:15 p.m. in Bend. Eyre is serving as one of the jury members of a new prize for Native American cinema. Also new this year is the prize for Environmental/Outdoor Adventure Features.

The 2007 film “Join Us” will screen at Madras Performing Arts Center on Saturday and may hold a certain nostalgic appeal to those who remember Rajneeshpuram in nearby Wasco County.

“That film in particular we felt would be interesting to run out there because it’s basically a stone’s throw away from Antelope,” Festival Programmer Erik Jambor said. “It’s about a cult from South Carolina — sort of a culty church situation. It could maybe get some interesting buzz going out there.”

Indie women

“We always have a number of things going on that we’re trying to accomplish, and this year being the 15th anniversary we wanted to have a way to celebrate some of the filmmakers whose work we had run in the past,” Jambor said. “There were a couple of different alleyways to that.”

One of the programs is the Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini Retrospective. Writer and director Granik and producer and writer Rosellini have collaborated on a number of films, including “Down to the Bone,” which screened in ’04 at BendFilm. Also screening as part of the Restrospective block is their new film, “Leave No Trace,” about a father and daughter living in a Portland park, and 2010’s “Winter’s Bone,” featuring Jennifer Lawrence in her breakthrough role.

According to Jambor, Granik and Rosellini will attend this year’s BendFilm to accept the inaugural Indie Women Award, created in honor of Pamela Hulse Andrews, an early supporter of BendFilm who died in March of this year.

In a similar vein, the Ondi ­Simoner Showcase will include the filmmaker’s documentary, “Dig!,” about frenemy Portland bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Dandy Warhols, which landed her the Best Director award in the 2004 BendFilm Festival (not to mention the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance).

“Her latest movie is her first scripted picture, a biopic about Robert Mapplethorpe, and so we thought this is a great way to bring her back,” Jambor said.

On the whole, women filmmakers are having a landmark year at BendFilm. Beyond these prominent showcases, there are more films by females in BendFilm than in previous years — a fact reflected in The First Features panel discussion at 1:45 p.m. Friday at McMenamins. Like the other panel discussions, it’s free and open to the public.

“It’s an established director whose first feature we’re showing … talking with other directors showing their first work in the festival,” Jambor said. “This time it’s all female directors.”

“It was easy to have all women as panelists,” said Todd Looby, executive director of BendFilm, who said the Festival has made efforts to get more women into BendFilm. “It’s something we’ve been working on very, very aggressively since, like, ’14.”

“Yeah, pretty close to half of the films have women directors,” Jambor said. “It’s literally half of the features, and it’s maybe 45 percent of the shorts.”

According to Looby, “This is the perennial goal of EVERY fest. … What we’re finding is you get more women who see more films by women, and you’re just naturally going to program — the programming ratio is just naturally going to be where it should be (relative to) the population. … It’s crazy that Hollywood only has 7 percent of women being directors.”

Among the women who will be on hand at BendFilm this weekend is documentary maker Melody Gilbert, whose evocative “Silicone Soul” delves into human and not-so-human relationships between aging and/or lonely people and their lifelike synthetic companions.

“Let me just start off by saying I do not have a doll. … A lot of people go, ‘You must be in that community.’ I’m not,” she said.“A lot of people make the connection to that movie ‘Lars and the Real Girl,’ and I tell people this is kind of like the real ‘Lars and the Real Girl.’”

Gilbert’s film takes a compassionate look at folks who do relate to lifelike dolls — including the elderly, who can benefit from time and contact with baby dolls. The film also ponders whether people, because of increasing technology and social isolation, are losing their ability to form relationships with one another.

It took Gilbert just over three years to complete the film. “In the short time I worked on it, things have changed rapidly, where we’re just moving into robots like that’s normal,” she said. “That’s just fascinating to me.”

BendFilm Underground and local films

“Silicone Soul” is among films screening at Volcanic Theatre Pub as part of BendFilm Underground, another new program this year at BendFilm. For $40, one can get a wristband admitting them to it and the other six films screening at Volcanic. Volcanic owner and filmmaker Derek Sitter’s short, dark film, “Tutu Grande,” is not only in the festival, but it will also screen at his venue.

“We just had these really interesting films that were a little different and were a little bit more edgy,” Looby said. “Bend’s getting a little bit more eclectic, too, which is great (because) we want to reach as many people as we can.”

Looby continued, “It’ll be the easiest way to see the Fest for some people who haven’t done that. It’s just a more loose, welcoming space. … This will allow people to kind of check something else out. And we’re going to have Bend Burlesque playing before shows. It’s a good way to celebrate the weirdness — the weird and wonderful that is here in Bend.”

Other films with local ties include “The Far Green Country,” “The Last Hot Lick” and “The Astronot.” Bend filmmaker Tim Cash said he’s excited to have “The Astronot” screen at BendFilm.

“A bunch of our friends and family have been asking when they get to see it, and we’ve been holding them off because we’ve been waiting to show it in a theater,” Cash said.

Cash directed the film, which was written by Canadian musician Pennan Brae. It tells the story of Daniel, played by Brae, a recluse harboring dreams of space flight. The film is set during the 1940s and late ’60s and was shot in such places as La Pine, the Painted Hills and Fort Rock, which will be recognizable to Central Oregonians attending BendFilm.

“It’s the ‘Astronot,’ with an n-o-t because this guy lacks everything that an astronaut has — bravery, courage, and meanwhile he’s going through his own problems,” Cash said.

A hired gun as director and editor of “The Astronot,” Cash is ramping up to start work on what he calls his passion project, a post-apocalyptic kung-fu movie.

He’s already written the screenplay and plans to shoot the film in the High Desert.

“We have all these incredible, wild locations, especially Eastern Oregon has these vast deserts,” Cash said.

“A post-apocalyptic film — again, we’re going to use the topography to help us set the environment the story takes place in.”

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