During a visit to Columbia University’s Film Division in 1987, Gus Van Sant, an unknown aspiring director with just one entirely self financed feature, Mala Noche, under his belt, made a big impression on me by describing himself as so frustrated by his actors that at one point he started throwing rocks at them.
Van Sant is an Oregon filmmaker many times over. His track record includes making films in Oregon, adapting Oregon authors, and working with Oregon cinematographers He graduated from a Portland high school, and he lives here. After traveling East to get his education and then going to Los Angeles to cut his filmmaking teeth, he returned home to make his first four films: Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, and Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.
At which point Hollywood was ready to do business with him.
Van Sant continues to make Portland based films when the mood hits him. Elephant (2003), which was shot in my high school, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Paranoid Park (2007), with a Portland cast of unknowns, won Cannes’ 60th Anniversary Prize.
Stubbornly independent in his vision, and obdurate in his resistance to being pigeonholed, Van Sant has spent his career erasing the line between art cinema and mainstream filmmaking.
Best Picture, New York Film Critics Circle Award: Milk
Best Actor, New York Film Critics Circle Award: Sean Penn in Milk
Best Supporting Actor, New York Film Critics Circle Award: Josh Brolin in Milk
Best Actor, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award: Sean Penn in Milk