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Joanna Priestley, Oregon filmmaker

January 19th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · No Comments · Oregon animator, Oregon director, Oregon filmmaker

Joanna Priestley, the Queen of Independent Animation, has a policy of never repeating herself. The only rule she seems to obey consistently is the avoidance of boredom.

Anouck Iyer, of ASIFA Seattle, interviewed Priestley in 2002.

What led you to choosing film as your medium of artistic expression?

I started as a painter. I had been working at a studio in Paris and when I returned to the states I relocated to the town of Sisters in central Oregon. At that time there were no movie theaters in Sisters nor in the three surrounding counties, which encompassed a vast area. So, a friend and I started a group called “Strictly Cinema.” We starting renting 16mm prints and showing them at the Bend High School. The screenings were wildly successful, there was no VHS back then so people came in droves to see these films. Later we started showing films at the Redmond High School and in the summers we held outdoor screenings at local parks.

We just kept doing more and more screenings because there was a demand for it. This led us to organizing film festivals. Our first big event was an animation festival. We brought in a filmmaker from Portland named Bob Gardiner who won an Oscar for a film he did with Will Vinton called Closed Mondays. That event was a gigantic success. It got me interest in animation and it was the first time I was able to see noncommercial animation art. From “Strictly Cinema” I got a job as the Film Librarian, then the Regional Coordinator at the Northwest Film Center working for Bill Foster. That was at a time when Bill Foster was bringing in a lot of independent filmmakers and animators, like George Griffin, Jane Aaron, and Marv Newland. So I was able to meet them and they were actually guests in my home. I was exposed to lots of work. I got so excited about the possibilities of translating what I was doing in painting to filmmaking.

I went to the Safeway store across the street, bought some index cards and started experimenting. From there I took a class taught by Roger Kukes who was the first animation teacher at the NW Film Center. He is a brilliant artist who is still active in town, but not in animation. He got me really excited about animation and made want to pursue it, so I went on to study at Cal Arts’ Experimental Animation program.

For readers new to the study of Portland animation history, I would like to point out a few interesting mileposts on Joanna’s career path.

1. She went to Paris. Then she went to the desert. Classic trajectory for an emerging artist! It was in Oregon’s High Desert that publisher-turned-producer Mike Richardson found his vocation in comics. It was in the desert that filmmaker Penny Allen wrote her book, A Geography Of Saints. (Although Penny reversed things and went to Paris after, not before, her desert epiphany.)

2. The first noncommercial animation she saw was by fellow Oregonians, Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner. Somewhere it must have registered that those two also happened to be Oscar winners.

3. She was taught by Roger Kukes, who also taught Rose Bond. Perhaps Priestley and Bond were in the same class! If so, Kukes is a master teacher, because these two students went on to have international careers.

4. “I was exposed to lots of work.” Bill Foster made sure Northwest Film Center students saw lots of independent animation and met living, breathing filmmakers.

The longer ASIFA interview provides a great short introduction to what Portland did right to nurture a young film artist. Joanna returned the favor by founding the Portland chapter of ASIFA, and by teaching at AI, PNCA and NWFC, and by running an apprenticeship program from her own studio.

See Joanna Priestley’s films, including three premieres, and meet the Queen Of Independent Animation herself, on January 28, 2012, at 7:00 PM, at Whitsell Auditorium. More information here.

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