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BendFilm Festival 2012 Is Here

BendFilm opens its ninth annual run in downtown Bend tonight. And I personally am halfway through my ninth year as a citizen of Bend.
Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But the international festival of independent film has enmeshed me in its web — first as a magazine editor that emblazoned its cover with the first festival, later as a volunteer member of the selections committee.
For the past four years, I have been a member, albeit a quiet one, of BendFilm’s board of directors.
Memories? I have many of them, starting with festival founder Katie Merritt. She built a successful event from scratch, showing amazing creativity, skill and pure moxie in shaping what has become an institution not only in Central Oregon but also among aspiring Hollywood filmmakers.
Perhaps my favorite movie ever screened here was “Born into Brothels,” which subsequently won the Academy Award as best documentary of 2004. But I recall many more, such as “9” (2005), a UCLA animated student short that Tim Burton turned into a full-length movie; “Outsourced” (2007), which later became a popular television series; and “Den Osynlige (The Invisible)” (2004), a supernatural Swedish thriller that was remade into an American feature, “The Invisible” (2007).

Personalities? I won’t forget actress Rosanna Arquette devoting much of her time in Bend developing a friendship with a young cerebral palsy victim. Actor C. Thomas Howell describing an intimate moment in his early film career to awards-banquet attendees who didn’t really want to hear it. Director John Waters enthralling Tower Theatre goers with ribald tales of “Polyester” and “Cecil B. Demented.”

This year, the roster of foreign-produced films extends well beyond neighboring Canada. Germany, Denmark, Ireland and Poland all have entries, along with Thailand, Brazil, Tunisia and South Korea. That’s five continents’ worth, in case you weren’t counting.

But the movies to which I’m really looking forward are two documentaries — “Ethel,” which opens the festival program with a 5 p.m. showing today at the Tower, and “The Revolutionary,” to be presented at 2 p.m. Friday at McMenamins and at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Oxford Hotel.

“Ethel” is a full-length documentary biopic of the life of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert Kennedy, as directed by their daughter, filmmaker Rory Kennedy. “The Revolutionary” tells the story of Sidney Rittenberg, an American who invested 35 years of his life in Maoist China.

Here’s a trailer for “The Revolutionary”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vH9w34onSC8

I’m also looking forward to the West Coast premiere of “Deadfall,” with a stellar cast that includes Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson. Set in Canada in wintertime, it is billed as an “icy thriller (with) a shocking climax.”

Go online to www.bendfilm.org for complete festival information, or drop by the festival office at downtown Bend’s Liberty Theatre, just north of the Tower Theatre on Wall Street.


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3 Leg Torso brings gypsy tango to Bend

The ever-flamboyant Storm Large may be the headliner for Friday night’s Hullabaloo at NorthWest Crossing, but don’t sell 3 Leg Torso short.

My guess is that you may never have heard anything like this eclectic Portland band.

Many idiosyncratic musicians have been germinated in Portland’s creative soil. Consider, for instance, Pink Martini or Pépé and the Bottle Blondes. But none of them melds the high-energy Balkan gypsy tango that 3 Leg Torso prefers to call “world chamber music.”

There may in fact be no words to accurately describe this instrumental music. Said violinist and co-founder Béla Balogh: “When we started, we didn’t put any parameters on what we’d play.” That holds true today.

His co-founder, accordionist Courtney Von Drehle, came up with the name 3 Leg Torso. “We had one foot in modern chamber music, one foot in Eastern European music, and one foot in free improvisational music,” Balogh explained. “These all came together to form one large trunk.”

The band today: Von Drehle is in yellow, Balogh looks through the window.

Balogh and Von Drehle met in 1993 at a music store where Balogh worked, and soon wound up playing in a rock band together. But they discovered their musical passions lay elsewhere.

3 Leg Torso was born in 1996 as a trio, including a cello; later, drums and bass were added. Today the band includes standup bass player Mike Murphy and percussionists T.J. Arco and Gary Irvine.

Balogh and Von Drehle write all of the band’s original music. “Our music is influenced by many genres,” Balogh told me. “I come from a classical and Eastern European background, and I watched a lot of cartoons in my youth. Even sometimes I watch them now with my son.”

Collaborations with symphony orchestras have inspired a new passion of writing for larger ensembles, Balogh said. 3 Leg Torso has even performed with his father, Hungarian-born Lajos Balogh, a longtime symphony conductor at Portland’s Marylhurst University.

The band has produced three independent albums — most recently “Animals & Cannibals” in 2010. Despite its roots, it has at times been loosely compared to Argentine nuevo-tango originator Ástor Piazzolla and to the Kronos Quartet modern chamber ensemble.

Certainly, 3 Leg Torso has the inventory to do all of that. In addition to the violin, accordion, bass and drums, you may also hear the xylophone, vibraphone, trumpet and saxophone. “I’m starting to bring in my octave mandolin,” Balogh said. “And Courtney might add his slide guitar.”

You can watch the band perform on its web site — www.3legtorso.com — or, better yet, live and free tomorrow night in Bend. 3 Leg Torso takes the stage at the NorthWest Crossing Neighborhood Center at 7 p.m., preceding Storm Large and following local Celtic-influenced favorite Five Pint Mary.

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Answering the Typhoon Rumors

Rumors of the impending demise of Typhoon, the popular Thai restaurant on Bond Street in downtown Bend, apparently are just that — rumors.

Typhoon, Bond Street, Bend

I spoke this afternoon to Jim Thomas, a member of Typhoon’s board of directors, and he vehemently denied that the company plans to close its Bend restaurant.

Never mind that Typhoon has been charged with civil rights violations by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Never mind that its founder, Stephen Kline, died following a heart attack in August. Never mind that two of the seven members of the Typhoon group have closed in the Portland area in recent months.

Never mind that COG (that’s my acronym for Central Oregon Gossip) has been circulating the word about Typhoon’s slow death for well over a year.

“Only two of our restaurants have ever closed,” Thomas said. “Those were in West Linn and on Broadway in downtown Portland (at the Hotel Lucia).

Bo Restobar, Bend

“Our northwest Portland restaurant is still open, as well as our restaurants in Gresham, Beaverton, and Redmond, Wash. Plus we have a presence on the campus of Microsoft (in Redmond).”

Thomas speculated that recent rumors began when the restaurant’s Bo Restobar, located in the same Franklin Crossing building, reduced its winter hours to Thursday-to-Saturday evenings only.

“There is a distinct possibility that we will consolidate the Bo bar into the restaurant at some point,” Thomas said. “But otherwise, we’re going to keeping doing what we’re doing now, which is serving lunch and dinner every day.”

Thomas said the restaurant group feels no pressure from the legal suit filed against it. But he wouldn’t comment further. “It’s an ongoing investigation,” he said. “We’re not supposed to talk about it.”

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Chef David Touvell of Chow Talks about Sustainability

Running one of Central Oregon’s finest breakfast-and-lunch restaurants isn’t enough for David Touvell. The owner and executive chef of Chow (www.chowbend.com), on Newport Avenue, has other big plans in mind.

Chef David Touvell

That’s not surprising, when you get to know him. Touvell, 35, has never been the kind of guy to sit still.

What’s in the works? For starters, a new pizza pub, The Local Slice. Dave hopes to get it up and running by the beginning of February in Brookswood Meadow Plaza, on Bend’s south side. He was to have signed the lease earlier this week.

Later in 2012, he expects to expand the Chow concept … to Portland. He is exploring three possible locations on Northeast Alberta Street and Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. Stay tuned.

And then there’s a little personal business — a wedding. Dave and his longtime girlfriend, Rebecca Wilkinson, plan to get married in the summer. Their daughter, Jardin, born in August 2010, will be an active participant.

I guess you could say that even Touvell’s personal life revolved around sustainability.

“If we don’t support our local producers, the world itself from a food perspective will collapse,” Dave tells me one morning over a plate of eggs Blackstone, one of his signature dishes. “There’s no way we can sustain ourselves if we buy from everybody all over the world.”

Touvell has been a part of the Bend restaurant scene since 2000. A native of Ventura, Calif., he began working in the bakery kitchen of a family friend when he was only 9 years old. He attended the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, and after a stint with the Pebble Beach Resorts group on California’s Monterey Peninsula, returned to Oregon.

He arrived in Bend after working in Ashland (Catwalk and Peerless); Tucson, Ariz. (the Tack Room and Hacienda del Sol); and Portland (Couvron and William’s). He initially worked at Café Rosemary, then consulted for seven years at such restaurants as Barcelona, Sushimoto, the Lodge at Suttle Lake and Kanpai.

In 2008, he opened Chow. “I’d always seen the location, and wanted to do a restaurant on my own,” he says. “I designed it and the concept evolved.”

Ham and eggs, Chow-style

Today, the first thing a patron sees when walking in the front door is a blackboard that lists three dozen local food providers and other business people whose services Touvell enlists.

“I’ve been practicing sustainability since I first started cooking,” he says. “It’s not only that flavor is more alive when the food is in season. More than that, it is an educated response to the economy and to what people eat from a dietary perspective.

“Everything is made from scratch. We don’t grow our own potatoes or milk our own cows … but if we could, we would. It’s not marketing. I really, really believe in it.”

David Touvell is one of nearly two dozen Central Oregon chefs featured with original recipes in “Sage in the Kitchen,” a cookbook soon to be published as a benefit project for Bend’s Community Center. For more information, please see: www.facebook.com/pages/Sage-in-the-Kitchen/277434852281807

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In the Kitchen with Juri Sbandati

Tuscan tenderloin: Grandma didn't make Italian food like this (Barb Gonzalez photos)

Juri Sbandati is not your average Oregon chef.

A native of Florence, Italy, he has a doctorate in history. Named by his parents for Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin, he is an avid fan of Grand Prix and Formula One race-car driving, and he named his own 21-month-old son Ugo after a favorite driver.

Chef Juri Sbandati

Juri and his wife, Kinley, own and operate Trattoria Sbandati (www.trattoriasbandati.com), an intimate cafe on College Way, on Bend’s west side. “There is an Italian saying: ‘The fewer the tables, the fuller your restaurant,’” recites Juri, 37. “I am tired of restaurants that seat 150 people. I decided to go the opposite direction. “A trattoria in Italy is a family-run restaurant, a place where you can develop strong connections with your customers and make everyone feel special.”

The 36-seat restaurant, its Florentine art and draperies giving it a sense of European style, opened in October 2009 and already is rated one of the premier places to dine in Central Oregon.

The cuisine is authentically Tuscan. It is not Americanized. There’s no spaghetti and meatballs on the menu. “That is not Italian food,” Juri says. “You also won’t find fettuccine Alfredo or chicken Parmigiana here.”

Italian food is simple, accessible and versatile, he says. “But simple does not mean easy. I try to be an artisan. I don’t cook much with butter or heavy cream. I want to cook for people, but not feed the masses. I am cooking with a personal touch.”

Pastas, sauces, breads and soups are all hand-made. Prix-fixe dinners are worthy of special occasions. At these, the four-course menu is determined several days ahead of time. “I want to create an experience,” says Juri. “I want to make you anticipate for days.”

Juri discovered his flair for cooking as a university student. It was in Florence that he met Kinley Fitzkee, a Boston native who had gone to Italy for graduate studies in art. They married and settled in Oregon, where Juri set up his own business, Sbandati Personal Chef, and cooked in the homes of clients from San Francisco to Seattle.

After several years, they opened their own restaurant, and Bend is the better for it. “A chef without a kitchen is like a country without a government,” says Juri, who is never at a shortage for words. “Besides, food is a great excuse to talk about your country and who you are.”

This profile is one of two dozen that will appear with original recipes in “Sage in the Kitchen,” a cookbook soon to be published as a benefit project for Bend’s Community Center. For more information, please see: www.facebook.com/pages/Sage-in-the-Kitchen/277434852281807

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BendFilm: The Perfect Age



Zegers and Ritter in "The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll" (Red Hawk Films)


The first thing you should know about “The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll” is that it’s not really about rock ‘n’ roll.

Selected as the opening feature of the 2010 BendFilm festival, the movie explores the boundaries of friendship within the context of the music industry.

Although the soundtrack is heavy on blues and classic rock music, from Canned Heat and Bob Dylan to Nirvana and Alice in Chains, “It’s more about people and relationships,” said director Scott Rosenbaum.


Scott Rosenbaum (Barb Gonzalez photo)


Rosenbaum and his co-writer, Jasin Cadic, were still dealing with jet lag when we sat down this morning over stiff cups of java at the Lone Pine Coffee House on Tin Pan Alley.

“Our biggest challenge was not to write a cliche,” Scott said. “But we could’ve written this story about two guys who are accountants.  It’s a story of betrayal, abandonment, loyalty, freedom … and ultimately, passion and friendship.”

“The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll” shows tonight at 8:30 at the Tower Theatre, and again Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Sisters Movie House.  Tickets are $10, available at the door (arrive early!) or online at http://www.bendfilm.org.

The story goes something like this: Spyder (Kevin Zegers, of Transamerica and Normal) is a hard-rock musician who had huge success with his first album. When his second release flops, he returns to his Long Island hometown to reconnect with his old friend and collaborator Eric (Jason Ritter, TV’s The Event and Joan of Arcadia), whom he hasn’t seen in seven years.

An accomplished guitarist and songwriter in his own right, Eric convinces Spyder to join him on a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles, with famed music impresario August West (the almost-legendary Peter Fonda, Easy Rider, Yulee’s Gold) driving the bus down Route 66.

The movie also stars Taryn Manning (8 Mile, Sons of Anarchy) as Spyder’s manager, and features such actors as Ruby Dee, Lucas Haas, Lauren Holley, Kelly Lynch, Aimee Teagarden and Billy Dee Williams.


Jason Cadic (Barb Gonzalez Photo)


Some of the last surviving members of the great blues bands of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf — keyboardist Pinetop Perkins, now 97; guitarist Hubert Sumlin, 78; and harpist Sugar Blue, 60 — play key roles. “Rock ‘n’ roll’s the bastard son of the blues, man!” says Spyder.

Cadic, who co-stars in the film as Bixx, Spyder’s bass player, is a real-life rock musician. His new band, Star Killer, will make its debut on Halloween night at the House of Blues in New Orleans. He is also a painter of mixed-media abstract canvases, featured in New York galleries. And he designs sets for such Big Apple fashionistas as Gucci.

“I just go with the flow and don’t say no to anything,” Jasin said. “The daytime stuff helps me do stuff at night. The music is my hub. Everything else spins off that.”

Rosenbaum spent 10 years as a Wall Street trader, then turned his focus to film making. In 2006, he was given “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to join director Spike Lee as a set production assistant during the making of “Miracle at St. Ann” in Italy. “It was a great learning experience,” he said, that helped to launch him into his own career.

Check out the trailer at this site: http://www.theperfectageofrocknroll.com/

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BendFilm: Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams


Jack Roberts as Duncan Christopher


Jack Roberts and Justin Monroe grew up in Oklahoma as awkward youths with big dreams. And that’s why their new movie, “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher,” is able to so successfully express that angst.

Already a winner of awards at five film festivals from Tulsa, Okla., to Edmonton, Alberta — and an official selection in 11 other film festivals, from Vermont to Buenos Aires — “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams” makes its Oregon debut tomorrow, on the opening night of the BendFilm Festival.

It will be presented at 9 p.m. at the Regal 1 Theater in the Shops at the Old Mill District. Tickets are $10, available at the venue or online at http://www.bendfilm.org.

“Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams” is a fictional work, but it’s not that far removed from the memories of Jack Roberts, the movie’s star and writer.

The movie’s main character, Duncan Christopher, is the son of a rock star who flipped out and died. That didn’t stop Duncan from wanting to be a rocker like his daddy. Raised in social isolation until his 30th birthday, he moves to Tulsa and tackles his dream … initially, in a karaoke bar.

Roberts was unable to make it to Bend for the festival, but in his place are Heather Roberts, his wife and co-star, and Justin Monroe, his longtime friend and the movie’s director. They joined me today for a round of drinks and conversation at 900 Wall.

I quickly learned that there is much more to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams” than first meets the eye.

“When you make a movie, you have so much opportunity to benefit the community,” Heather said.  “A project like this is so life-giving.”  And that, she said, is the premise upon which their production company, Hearth Creative, is founded.

“We want to go into communities and develop our films as part of those communities,” she explained.

“Duncan’s story is basically Tulsa’s story,” Justin added. “We moved from Los Angeles back to Tulsa, where Jack and I had grown up. For three years, we became part of that community again. We used as many local actors and musicians as possible. Our amazing soundtrack is 99% local (a CD will be released soon).

“This is a heartfelt story. It is about awkwardness and occupational dynamics. And we hope we take our viewers on a journey: Certainly, as you watch the movie, you get somewhere different than where you started.

“We wanted to shine the metaphorical belt buckle of Oklahoma.”

The Roberts and Monroe families — Heather (a former Congressional aide) and Jack have two young children; Justin (once a rock ‘n’ roll singer) and his wife, Kasey, have a preschool-age son and daughter — have just moved to Portland. They intend to benefit Oregon just as they did Oklahoma, and are already seeking out musicians to help them with the soundtrack of their next movie.

“It will be a modern-day Western on the Oregon Trail,” Justin said. “Jack is just finishing the seventh draft. In scope and time investment, it will be 10 times bigger than ‘Duncan Christopher.’ ”

The director said he hopes to begin shooting the movie in the spring and summer of 2011, with Jack Roberts riding horseback from Kansas City to Portland.

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