LA GRANDE — The Eastern Oregon Film Festival plans to light up the screen at one of La Grande’s seminal landmarks.

The film festival, which was held only online last year due to the pandemic, aims to serve moviegoers and film buffs a special treat this October — the festival will take place in the Liberty Theatre, the newly renovated historic building that dates back to 1910.

There also will be showings at the performing arts space HQ in downtown La Grande and the newly renovated Loso Hall at Eastern Oregon University. But the Liberty will be the main attraction. With the new venues, new technology will help increase the overall quality of the festival.

“This the first time there’s been a good screen and projector,” said Chris Jennings, the main organizing force behind the EOFF. “We’ve been a grassroots screen for so long, we’ve been hustling projectors. It’ll be great to move to more solid ground.”

Each year, the film festival shows nearly two dozen films ranging from feature-length flicks to bite-sized shorts to the film fanatics of La Grande and Eastern Oregon. Artists from around the country come and speak about their films and their process in creating them.

The pandemic last year posed a challenge to the festival, with the event moving to an online format that didn’t generate as much interest as previous years. Jennings said he is optimistic this year will provide a way for the festival to return stronger than before.

“The challenge is getting people excited again,” he said. “But the future is bright.”

The film selection process, which in previous years involved the members of EOFF coming together and watching back-to-back films over a several-hour period before giving recommendations and discussion, has evolved to fit with the pandemic. Last year members watched on their own or through watch parties via Zoom. This year marked a return of those watch parties and a new addition — a residency program.

Jennings said he wanted even more high-quality talent congregating in La Grande each year, so he created a new film residency program with the goal of having filmmakers write their screenplays and produce their works in the Grande Ronde Valley, which in turn would promote the region on a grander scale.

In a sense, Jennings is looking for the Eastern Oregon equivalent of “The Goonies” — a way to put La Grande on the map the way the 1985 adventure comedy film raised the profile of Astoria.

The inaugural group of EOFF residents consists of four festival alumni — Alexander Craven, H. Nelson Tracy, Natalie Metzger and Parker Winship — as well as two attendees who are new to Eastern Oregon — Karina Lomelin Ripper and Samantha Crainich.

“They’re here,” Jennings said, “with the goal of them coming back in a year to produce those films.”

The filmmakers will stay one month in La Grande at The Lodge at Hot Springs Lake. There, they will spend their time writing their screenplays — hopefully inspired by the region, Jennings said.

“They’re going to be touring around. They’re here to do location scouting,” Jennings said. “The major stipulation of the residency program was we want to have the screenplay to be the focus. (We want) their time here to be very thoughtful and creative about how the nuance and the culture and the landscape of the Grande Ronde Valley as a whole can play a role within that story.”

The residents also provide a more tangible boon to the local economy. Jennings said the cohorts will actively engage with the community through small events and visiting restaurants and stores.

“They’re willing to come here and invest in the character of La Grande,” he said.

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