Sue and I have lived part time in Harney County, in the southeast corner of the state, for about 20 years. In 2014 we were invited to be part of the cohort of twelve residents for PLAYA’s first thematic residency, entitled “Change Dynamics in the Northern Great Basin.” [Filmmakers Richard and Sue attended in place of two writers, alumna Cheryl Strayed and her husband, Brian Lindstrom, when book signings for Cheryl’s hugely popular book Wild pulled her away from home.] The idea of going to an artist’s residency in Oregon’s high desert seemed at first to be a busman’s holiday for us after spending so many years in the high desert of Oregon. After considering how a concerted amount of time with no distractions might be good for us to concentrate on a couple of new visual art projects, we enthusiastically accepted the invitation.
Two years after our first residency, we were invited for another. At that time, we were nearing completion of our film, Dryland, which focused on a declining rural wheat farming community in eastern Washington. A residency exploring change dynamics, in our minds, seemed perfect. And it was.
Shortly after that residency, I was invited to join PLAYA’s Board of Directors, along with four others with whom Sue and I had spent our initial twelve-day residency. Six months later, I was elected to become Board President. It was a challenging period of transition for PLAYA but immensely rewarding. I left the Board in March 2018, to devote more time to our current film, Refuge.
During our residency, we decided not to be on the clock. We were close to finishing Dryland and used our time solely for that purpose. In between intensive edit sessions, one or both of us would go off for a hike, or sit on the deck of the cabin and just stare across the playa and watch the dust storms grow and collapse in the distance. At about five each day, we joined the other residents in the Commons. We talked about our projects, breakthroughs, and creative roadblocks. Most important, though, we talked about things unrelated to our work. These conversations with richly talented people recharged us and helped us make the final decisions for our film. Our time at PLAYA was invaluable. Dryland was completed, and we spent the next two years on the road at film festivals and screenings across the country.
We had just settled back into normal life, when, on January 2, 2016, a group of about fifteen heavily-armed people, led by Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan, took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which is about thirty miles from where we live in Harney County. Initially they stated their intention to protest the incarceration of two local ranchers convicted of arson on public land, Dwight and Steven Hammond. However, their intentions soon shifted to a claim of gross federal overreach regarding the government’s ownership of public land, and they said they planned to stay at the refuge for years.
That was the start of the 41-day occupation of the refuge and of our new film, Refuge. The international media descended on our little community, telling their often sensationalized stories each night in 60-second spots on news programs. But with all the divisiveness that was, and is, occurring in our country, and that had suddenly forced its way into our own community, we knew this story had much larger implications about who we are as a nation. For more about the film, visit our website for Refuge.
On November 1, we’ll screen a sample of our film and conduct a conversation in Eugene, as part of an event sponsored by PLAYA. This will be the first public viewing of Refuge. Please join us. For more information about this screening, contact PLAYA at email@example.com.
Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.