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Gorge Impact Film Festival to celebrate inaugural event

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

By Laurel Brown, Columbia Gorge News

HOOD RIVER — Let’s face it — from newsrooms to Netflix shows, doom and gloom seems to be everywhere. Constant negative messages of hopelessness permeate our days and apocalyptic shows like The Walking Dead and The Last of Us are popular across the globe. As a society, we are aware of modern issues like war and climate change, but how do we acknowledge those facts without losing hope for a better future?

Together, the three co-founders of the Gorge Impact Film Festival decided to address that question. Leith Gaines, Alan Hickenbottom, and Sean O’Connor joined forces to create a fun, inspiring event for film connoisseurs of all ages. Their mission asks, “How indeed does humanity go forward with joy, hope, and optimism on a changed planet?”

In just under a year, Gaines, Hickenbottom, and O’Connor have volunteered their time and resources to create an all-day film festival slotted for Nov. 4 at The Ruins. They want Hood River crawling with film buffs, ready to participate in and discuss engaging human stories. “We’re going all in on an unknown, completely blind and hopeful,” O’Connor said of his co-founders and sponsors.

Aside from The Ruins, Gorge Impact Film Festival has received support from countless sponsors and granting organizers: The Griffin House, Hood River Hotel, Celilo, Double Mountain, Oregon Film, Green Thumb Projects, The Roundhouse Foundation, Visit Hood River, and many more. They believe in the value and sustainability of this event as an annual occasion.

After nearly 100 screenings during a shut-in evaluation process, final film selections had to have a message that sparks inspiration and optimism. “Our mission focuses on the planet and how it has changed … Giving up isn’t an option. We need to find a way forward,” the event website states. With specific, challenging criteria for filmmakers and expert juries, the festival will offer high-caliber work and discussion time with creators.

“I believe it might be above the level that people are expecting. This festival features high levels of filmmaking as far as theme and quality,” said O’Connor, who is an Emmy award-winner with a diverse background in visual storytelling. His work, often involving nonprofits, focuses on developing global relationships for positive social and environmental progress.

O’Connor will have some of his recent works shown at the festival, including one of the two feature films during the evening block, Kumari: A Father’s Dream. Directed by O’Connor, Kumari will have its Hood River premiere during the event followed by a discussion including O’Connor.

Hickenbottom, festival director, shared his excitement about the final selections, including O’Connor’s work. “We have a visual smorgasbord. From indigenous filmmakers in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to international submissions, we want people to come open-minded and ready to discuss these great films,” Hickenbottom said.

Other films on the program guide include Black Ice, Like A River, Technicolor, Ultimate Citizens, and PLACE — People, Lamprey and Cultural Ecology, just to name a few. The closing feature film is Path of the Panther, a National Geographic collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio among the list of executive producers. Many of the filmmakers are local to the state or region, from Jim Aikman, Rush Sturges, and Woodrow Hunt to creatives such as Chelsea Jolly, Andrew Nadkarni, Shelley Toon Lindberg, Andrew Harrison-Brown, Zeppelin Zeerip, and many others.

A still from one of the films featured in the Gorge Impact Film Festival, which runs all day Nov. 4 at The Ruins in Hood River. Co-founders Leith Gaines, Alan Hickenbottom and Sean O'Connor wanted to create a fun, inspiring event for all ages. Photos courtesy Sean O'Conno

The conception of this event was the collective idea of all three co-founders; they knew this was a project worth each of their time. “Film is an accessible medium. It’s an art form that people are already using every day, so we thought the festival was a great way to curate a collection of stories that provides an experience,” Gaines explained.

As program director, Gaines was pleased with the theme of the event and the value it can add to the community.

“The planet has already changed in many ways and we’re stuck with that 'Now what?' Feeling. This festival is about how we choose to move forward. We want to show what’s being done, one human at a time,” she said.

Gaines spoke of growing this off-season event into a three-day film festival scattered throughout the Gorge as a source of communal experience. It is also a resource for creatives that can “bring pride, expanded cultural awareness, and additional revenue to the area,” she said in a press release. The team is preparing for success and desires feedback to learn for next year’s festival, which will likely involve longer day blocks and multiple theater spaces.

Concessions will be provided by Native Provisions and the event offers three screening blocks at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 6 p.m. Tickets are $30 per block or $75 for an all-day pass, though they are on track to sell out. Check online at for availability or at the door day-of. Arlene Burnes, former mayor of Mosier and experienced film festival director and judge, will be the emcee for the event.

The festival concludes with an award ceremony and after party celebration at The Elks Club. Awards will be selected by an official jury with an “audience choice” category. Physical awards are being designed by the Advanced Manufacturing class at Columbia Gorge Community College as part of their Career and Technical Education program. As Creative Director of the event, O’Connor’s film will not be eligible for awards.

Source: Columbia Gorge News

Original article here.


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