Amanda Weisbrod

Ten years into its successful run, the Eastern Oregon Film Festival lost its main venue for viewing box office films when the owners of the Granada Theatre decided not to continue their partnership. Despite this bump, the resilient organizers of the annual La Grande event say the show must go on — hopefully at the Liberty Theatre.

In order to make this vision a reality, the EOFF is kicking off fundraising efforts with a monthly concert series dubbed the Path to Liberty at hq, a venue at 112 Depot St. in La Grande, to equip Liberty Theatre with a professional digital cinema system.

In January, The Observer reported Mark Greulich, an owner of the Granada, ended the theater’s partnership with the film festival in an email. Without access to the Granada’s digital projection system, the festival needs to find a comparable venue for 2019 in order to show box office films. Chris Jennings, director of EOFF and co-founder of hq, wants to set Eastern Oregon University’s McKenzie Theatre as the film festival’s premiere venue, but he said he needs to find a “big name” film to show in order to fill the 446 seat auditorium.

Jennings hopes to “land” the film festival at the historic theater by 2020 and stay there for years to come.

“The Path to Liberty music series is how we’re starting off trying to garner awareness for the campaign and to essentially start putting some money in the coffers,” Jennings said. “As soon as we can start getting some money in the bank toward this project, the easier it becomes to leverage matching funds and to work with grants and other partners.”

The first show in the series on Feb. 15 will feature WEEED, a psychedelic rock band from Portland. WEEED has toured all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico and will be making a stop in La Grande on their way to a performance in Boise.

The next act in the series will be on March 20 with Wooden Indian Burial Ground, a rock band recognized by The New York Times and NPR for their “rare breed of psychedelic garage music.” World’s Finest, an experimental rock group with roots in punk and ska, will follow up on April 11 for the final show.

Doors will open at 8 p.m. and the show will start at 9 p.m. all three nights.

Music and film lovers will have the opportunity at each music series installment to purchase raffle tickets for prizes like a couple’s date package, complete with dinner and two tickets to the film festival, and a $500 outdoors adventure package from Blue Mountain Outfitters. The winning raffle tickets will be drawn at the April 11 concert. All money earned from raffle ticket sales and the $10 cover charges will go toward the Liberty’s cinema makeover, which Jennings estimates will cost about $120,000.

“If we can get a couple thousand dollars out of these next three months toward campaigning, that would be a great start toward our goals,” he said.

Jennings’ long-term goal is to foster growth in Eastern Oregon’s arts and culture scene through the EOFF and other community programs. This year, for the first time, he’s offering an exclusive pre-screening membership to whomever wants to join. The $100 membership fee will give film fanatics access to private screening events where they’ll be able to give input on submissions, a pass to the October 2019 festival and an EOFF T-shirt.

Jennings and EOFF co-founders Ian Clark and Mike Surber created the film festival in 2009 mainly for their own cinematic enrichment, but Jennings said they quickly realized the impact the festival could have on the Eastern Oregon community.

“Each year we’ve grown in audience, we’ve grown in relationships with businesses and we’ve grown with other arts organizations across the state,” Jennings said. “As filmmakers left our community with a really great experience, they’ve done nothing but spread the word about how great our little festival is and how supportive our community is.”

After a decade of growth and losing the Granada Theatre as its premiere venue early this year, the EOFF needs the space to expand, Jennings said. That’s where the Liberty comes in.

“Our intent is to work with the Liberty Theater Foundation and become a fundraising wing in equipping the Liberty with (cinema) tools once it’s operational,” he said. “Once that’s in place, we’ll have another art house cinema that can be used for all sorts of engaging programming from our organization and others.”

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer