“The last time I was in Bend,” said filmmaker Kristi Denton Cohen, “it was to meet with William Hurt to talk with him about appearing in our movie.”
That was nearly five years ago, in late December 2005. But Kristi has fond memories of that visit. Hurt said “Yes,” other name actors followed, as The River Why filmed in the summer of 2008.
Largely built around a theme of fly-fishing, The River Why was shot on Oregon’s Wilson, Clackamas and Nehalem rivers, as well as in Portland.
It was honored for its cinematography in April’s Ashland Film Festival, the first in which it was entered, and has won additional awards at other festivals around the country. Most recently, it won “best narrative feature” and “best actor” (Zach Gilford) at the Alaska International Film Festival.
Gilford plays Gus Orviston, a sensitive, fishing-obsessed young man who moves away from his controlling parents to become a recluse on a near-wilderness river. The story follows his emotional and spiritual awakening.
I saw the movie yesterday afternoon at its BendFilm debut at the Tower Theatre. It shows again this morning at the Sisters Movie House, and if it turns out to be a festival award winner, will play once more tomorrow at the Regal Cinemas.
I loved it.
The movie was first conceived in the mid-1980s, when Kristi’s husband, filmmaker Tom Cohen, first optioned the rights for the David James Duncan novel.
“Tom and Jon Osborne (The Paper Chase) covered the script in the mid-‘80s,” Kristi recalled, “and we came up here to Oregon, on our honeymoon, to scout locations. Then the project kind of got put on the back burner.
“In 2004, after I had completed an independent documentary (Vertical Frontier, about climbing at Yosemite National Park), I decided to give this another shot.”
That was when she recruited the Oscar-winning Hurt, who has a ranch east of Bend. Kathleen Quinlan (Made of Honor), William Devane (Space Cowboys), Amber Heard (Pineapple Express) and Gilford (Friday Night Lights).
None of the actors were able to attend the Bend screenings — not even Hurt, who had other obligations. “It feels so funny that he’s not here,” said Kristi Cohen.
You can learn more about The River Why at www.theriverwhy.com.