People express hospitality through food. When someone prepares a meal for a stranger, it’s a form of social grace. It’s what separates us from the animals and thus makes us human. Some might call it a spiritual act.

When someone feeds you four times in two days and gently prods you to continue eating until you’re stuffed to the gills…then the person is something more than merely human. It’s likely that the person is a grandparent.

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Jimi Brooks died ten years ago today. I never met him. He passed away, at the age of 38, long before I’d ever heard of him. He was an Oregon winemaker. He was an upstart and rebel. And if he were alive today, he’d be one of the most influential people in the business. His story is the anchor of our documentary American Wine story.

Now, a decade after he left us, despite never once speaking with him, I feel like I know him well. I sometimes can even sense his voice…which I’ve heard only once on a compressed video recording…in my head.

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I spent a few days on Lizard Island working on a series of stories and videos for Oregon State, as well as shooting a trailer for what I hope to be the next documentary film project I tackle: the very sad and sobering story of the decline of our coral reefs around the world.

There are only a few moments when you can step back and say, “I’m pretty damn lucky.” Being sent to a remote island seventy miles off the eastern coast of tropical Australia could be defined as one of those. Despite the dark undercurrent of the subject matter, plus the long days of solo shooting, interviewing and late nights backing up data, it’s pretty thrilling to visit places few others get a chance to see, and to gain a glimpse of lifestyles and occupations so different from your own.

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Produce bins at farmers market

“The temperature is hovering around 100 degrees right now in Phoenix,” the pilot announced. Then, dryly, “We expect it to climb steadily to two or three hundred by the time we land.”

I have to admit to a little bit of dread over my trip to the Valley of the Sun. The temperate nature of the Willamette Valley has made me weak and intolerant of extremes. I hail from Chicago and Missouri, where conditions range from blistering to arctic with the occasional tornado thrown in. But I’m afraid I’ve lost my Midwestern heartiness.

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After four years, seven states, seventy interviews, three name changes and what seems like an endless process, we’re finally nearing the home stretch. Now we’ve got a rough edit of the film and we’re raising some finishing funds to help us launch the film in 2014. Check out our campaign on Kickstarter, and look for American Wine Story to be screening in the fall and available through digital download.


This past Friday we screened our documentary, American Wine Story, for some of the film’s subjects. It was bit of a nail biter as you always wonder how folks are going to react, especially to a film that’s largely about them. The reception was very enthusiastic. This is an inspirational flick about the American Dream in a bottle, not a hatchet job, so the folks involved were bound to enjoy the fact as they’re being positioned in a somewhat favorable light. Now the question remains: how will outside audiences respond? If we take it beyond wine people will the audience find something to pull them into the story?

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Cliff face
I’ve made up stories since I was a kid. I started my own version of The Hobbit at least eleven different times. Then later on I tried making up stories that were more original. A few were. Many weren’t. Some were good. Others lousy. Ultimately, stories are aggregations of a thousand overheard conversations, films, books, poems, tall tales, barstool monologues, lies and nursery rhymes heard, read seen and watched over the years.

Stories are interesting. People like them. And they’re willing to pay money for them. At least that’s our hope when I co-founded the company Slipstream Cinema, which focuses on aerial cinematography but is ultimately about assisting people in the telling of their own stories and using technology to help them do so.

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Scene from The Wind Kept
How does a writer who is used to hacking away on a coffee-stained keyboard in some dark corner while mumbling incomprehensibly to no one in particular suddenly find himself part of a team premiering a music video in a historic theatre with a group of collaborators from around the country?

Well, like most things it starts with a conversation during lunch or in some hallway in a crumbling university building. “Let’s make a music video.” I’m not sure if I said it first or if it was Santiago, but one of us uttered that fateful phrase. It seemed like an innocent, wistful thing to say at the time. It reminded me of an earlier conversation with Truen Pence over fried chicken tendons at Corvallis’s best greasy spoon Chinese place where one of us broached the question that has come to dominate our existence for more than three years: “Hey, we should make a documentary about wine.” This music video project started much the same way.

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Badlands near Bend, Oregon

“Nostalgic” is a short story I wrote as background when brainstorming ideas for a music video collaboration  for the song The Wind Kept by Brave Julius, which we produced in 2012-2013 and premiered at the Whiteside Theatre on March 16, 2013. Santiago Uceda directed the video and more artfully and imaginatively executed the concept in a way that only  he can.

HE SAW HER ONLY ONCE in church when he was nine, and he never forgot her summer dress, her freckled, peeling shoulders, the scent of lavender and sunburned skin. She glanced at him once, over her shoulder, from where she sat in the pew with the McIntyres, and he felt his back straighten and the hairs rise on his neck. She smiled and he stared, frozen, the only time in his life he’d ever mustered the courage to look at someone so directly for so long.

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Here’s a project we’re wrapping up. It’s a music video for acoustic guitarist Brave Julius and director/illustrator/animator Santiago Uceda. We’re raising funds to put on a concert and premiere the video in a classic theater in our hometown of Corvallis, Oregon. It’s a fun project: part filmmaking, part concert and part community art project. Strange how water cooler conversations and a simple email inquiry can turn into something so much bigger. Suddenly we’re trying to find a way to fill an 800-seat theater. No small feat for an artist, writer and musician who are all essentially introverts (I can, admittedly, have a big mouth on occasion).

Fortunately Jaime Williams of the Whiteside Theatre Foundation has quite a bit of event experience and is driving the planning. She’s a passionate advocate of bringing live music to Corvallis, and doing it with class and style via a glorious old venue that was rescued from the brink of demolition. Architecture is community art, and it’s something we often overlook in this culture of the rugged individual. Great wealth, fame or achievement is celebrated, but who still builds beautiful things that truly last these days? That’s why I like filmmaking: it’s a collaborative effort…and to ultimately be successful, you need the community on board in the form of an audience.

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