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Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon (2006)

Not Rated | | Documentary | January 2006 (USA)
A documentary about a rural Oregon timber town and a rift between conservatives and liberals that threatens to put an end to a 40-year-old scholarship plan that pays the college tuition for... See full summary »

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A documentary about a rural Oregon timber town and a rift between conservatives and liberals that threatens to put an end to a 40-year-old scholarship plan that pays the college tuition for every local high school graduate the town produces. Written by Anonymous

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Many viewers will probably end up completely siding with one side and villainizing the other, just as it played out in life.
24 March 2012 | by See all my reviews

'CLEAR CUT: THE STORY OF PHILOMATH, OREGON: Four and a Half Stars (Out of Five)

A documentary about Philomath, Oregon and the dispute which happened there between traditionalist conservatives (most specifically Steve Lowther and others in charge of the Clemen's foundation) and more liberal minded residents and how it effected the scholarship (set up by Rex Clemens) which had paid the college tuition for every local high school graduate for over 40 years! The film was produced and directed by Philomath High School graduate (in 1998) Peter Richardson (who also filmed another critically acclaimed documentary set in Oregon about the 'Death with Dignity Act' called 'HOW TO DIE IN OREGON'). The film was scored by local singer-songwriter Debra Arlyn. I worked with Debra at her father's video store in Philomath (Video Circle, which is now closed), in the early to mid 2000s and recognized several of those interviewed in the film as former customers there. The film is a well made and informative film as well as a very moving one in my opinion.

The movie centers around Rex Clemens, who died in 1985. He was a high school dropout who became a huge businessman in the lumber industry in Philomath and, as the movie points out, he knew he owed a lot to his employees and the local community. As a thank you to Philomath he used his wealth to setup a foundation supporting the local schools as well as granting a fully paid four-year college scholarship to anyone who graduated from Philomath High School, no strings attached! The scholarship had been abused over the years by many people moving to the town for just their final years of high school, in order to take advantage of it of course. When Clemens died his three nephews basically took over control of the foundation and began questioning how it should be used. Being extremely conservative and traditional they had severe problems with how the town was changing (as more employees from OSU and HP were moving in) and how it was becoming less and less the town it once was known to be. They also had a huge problem with how the high school was being ran and felt liberal views were being forced on to the students. They specifically had a problem with the new superintendent, Terry Kneisler, who moved there from Chicago. Things came to a boiling point when they threatened the school with pulling the scholarship if they didn't get rid of Kneisler.

The movie does a very good job of getting all it's information across while still moving at a seemingly fast pace (for a documentary at least). It's only 72 minutes but it lays out a lot of information in a very involving way. It's yet another movie about argument and cultural differences. It's also a movie about the rich few, once again, trying to completely control the masses with their money. The movie is not biased in anyway; it presents both sides fairly and doesn't depict anyone in a negative way through it's storytelling techniques or editing. The people involved do show their character though through their own words very clearly and many viewers will probably end up completely siding with one side and villainizing the other, just as it played out in life. By the end of the film there was definitely an individual that I couldn't stand or feel any sympathy or respect for and I was actually inspired by how some things turned out and felt somewhat moved by them. That probably has a lot to do with Richardson's excellent directing. He never tells you how to feel but still does a great job of getting the emotions flowing anyway. Arlyn's soundtrack is perfectly subtle and, like the film, never tries too hard to force you to feel a certain way. Living in the area I was probably more interested in the subject matter than others who don't but I really thought it was a very well made documentary. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006 and just earlier this month became available to the public on Hulu and Netflix.

Watch our movie review show 'MOVIE TALK' at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzFSvs_E5S8


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