Can culture fill Bend's 'soft' seasons?
By DAVID NOGUERAS
Oregon Public Broadcasting
BEND - Over the last few decades, Bend has become a popular tourist destination thanks in part to picturesque views and dramatic scenery. This weekend, the city is welcoming visitors for a different sort of scenery.
BendFilm gets underway Thursday. The festival is celebrating its 10th season. And tourism officials are looking to BendFilm and other cultural events as way to draw more visitors during the off-season.
Festival Director Orit Schwartz says BendFilm focuses on the filmmakers, rather than big name stars or media moguls.
"Really, they are the reason why these films are here. Our belief and what BendFilm is built on is 'every filmmaker is a rock star'," Schwartz says.
She says this year, more than a hundred filmmakers are expected to be on hand. That's a record for the festival. That might have something to do with Moviemaker Magazine naming BendFilm one of the top 25 festivals for filmmakers this year.
Hank and Asha is one of 82 films that will play at this year's BendFilm. It's the story of two characters --Hank who lives in New York -- and Asha who lives in Prague. They form a connection through the exchange of video letters.
The film’s co-producer and director James Duff says festivals are a great way to get your movie seen.
"Ours is a micro budget movie and we know we're not going to open on 3400 screens. So we're looking at the festival circuit as a way to get our film out there for people to see," Duff says.
The festival brings visitors like Duff to Bend in October, a month that tends to mark the beginning of a yearly drop off in tourism.
"Peak winter months often times are less than half of what a peak summer month would be," says Doug Laplaca, President and CEO of VisitBend.
LaPlaca is part of group asking voters in Bend and Deschutes County to raise the the fee paid by travelers staying at a hotel or other temporary lodging.
The 1.4 percent increase would be spread out over two years and would bring in an estimated $700,000 during its first year. Most of that would be used to pay for a new marketing campaign promoting Bend in places like Seattle and Northern California. But it would also fund police and fire services.
It would also establish a trust that could be used by organizations to promote cultural tourism. LaPlaca says the fund could be used by a range of organizations, like BendFilm or a local museum that wanted to promote a new exhibit to out-of-towners.
"That's the kind of thing that if there were more resources available to them of the amazing things that they are doing, there's no doubt that more people are going to come in," LaPlaca says.
Backers of the initiative had originally called for a 2 percent hike on the transient room tax. But they scaled back their proposal after opposition from mostly small hotel operators.
Dave Rathbun, the General Manager of Mount Bachelor Ski Resort, was initially opposed to the plan. He says even though Bachelor doesn't operate its own lodging, it does rely on partners in the community who do.
"A big chunk of our visitors do spend their time and money in the higher end resort properties, but we get just as many visitors that are coming from let’s say Portland, a lot of younger customers that travel with their friends. I mean they're looking for a value-type experience," Rathbun says.
Rathbun says a number of operators, particularly those who serve customers passing through the Highway 97 corridor, were concerned the increase would hurt their businesses and that they wouldn’t see much benefit.
Mount Bachelor wound up supporting the new plan, but Rathbun says he suspects not everybody was happy with the compromise. It would increase the price of a $100-a-night hotel room by about $1.50.
Filmmaker Julia Morrison says compared to New York, the cost of accommodations in Bend seems to be a bargain. She co-wrote Hank and Asha with her husband, James Duff. The couple has been on the road attending festivals for the last few months.
"It's been really fun to go to film festivals and sit in the back row and listen to the audience and sort of brace for when you hope they're going to laugh and when there's a turn in the story and you hear somebody gasp or sigh or whatever. It's really satisfying to feel in this direct way the emotional impact that you're making on a group of people. And there's nothing like sitting in the back of the room with people as they're watching the film,” Morrison says.
BendFilm runs through Sunday.