Growing up, Professor Leonard Oakland was not allowed to watch movies because of his family’s fundamentalist Christian worldview. Throughout high school and college, he gave up going to films because of these beliefs. “[Going to movies] was part of the code of forbidden conduct: don’t smoke, drink, dance, gamble or go to movies,” Oakland said, about his college experience.
However, Oakland gradually began to lose faith that those rules were relevant for Christians to follow and started going to the movies as a grad student at UC Berkeley. He attended movies at least three times a week and became especially interested in foreign, independent and classic films, Oakland said.
“The great foreign films of the late 1950s and the early 1960s were emerging, and we were seeing them in Berkeley or in other major cities,” Oakland said.
When Oakland came to Whitworth in 1966, the 4-1-4 schedule that Whitworth uses with two semesters and Jan Term in the middle, was in an “experimental” stage, Oakland said. Professors were not allowed to teach any requirements for the first Jan Term, so Oakland created a class called “The Art Film as Literature,” which combined his love of movies with his discipline, literature.
Oakland still teaches film classes in Jan term, and occasionally offers an evening class on the subject. His love of film led him to some involvement in filmmaking, such as his performance as “Jeopardy Contestant #3” in the movie “White Men Can’t Jump.” He also assisted with the writing of “Bull Durham,” a successful baseball movie directed by Oakland’s friend Ron Shelton.
Seven years ago, when Oakland’s teaching contract went from 100 percent to 50 percent, he attended a celebration acknowledging his years at Whitworth.
“I was asked over some months before that, ‘What kind of legacy would I like to leave behind me at Whitworth?’” Oakland said.
After discussing several options of things Oakland cared passionately about with a committee, they eventually settled on film. After raising some funds, Oakland and Whitworth decided that the money could be used for an annual film festival, and the Leonard A. Oakland Film Festival was born.
The festival consists of one American independent film, one documentary and one foreign film, corresponding to three film classes he created, and then three more well-known or older films later in the evening.
A committee of several people, including Oakland, meet before the school year and decide on worthy films to show and determine whether or not each year’s festival has a theme.
“This year we have the theme of forgiveness that runs through our movies,” Oakland said.
The theme is centered around the second movie in the festival, a documentary titled “Forgiveness,” which played on Feb. 21. The filmmaker, Woodrow Wilson Scholar Helen Whitney, was on campus for several days, where she spoke in various classes and ran a Q&A session after the film.
“Forgiveness” brings up tough question such as, “When is it right to forgive?” The film is not directed from a Christian perspective, but covers how religion and personal belief affect in what capacity one can forgive.
“The word ‘forgiveness’ evokes mystery and power…[it] goes way beyond the culture you grew up in, or the religion that shaped you,” Whitney said during the after-film Q&A session. Whitney described the film as “searingly personal” to make, as it follows the stories of many people who have either been wronged or have committed wrongs.
Each person interviewed for the documentary had a different definition of forgiveness and atonement, which begged audience members to analyze their personal definitions of these words.
“It made me think about my own view [of forgiveness]. It was good to see examples of where other people come from,” junior Lindsey Page said, in response to viewing the film.
The first film shown in the festival was “Wildlike,” a film about being reconciled with your past done in partnership with the Spokane International Film Festival. The next film, showing on March 7, is “Calvary,” a powerful Irish film.
Each of these movies, along with the 10 p.m. showings of familiar classics “Unforgiven” and “Princess Bride,” deal with themes of forgiveness in their own way, and provide a sense of unity for the festival.
One of Oakland’s goals for the festival is to expose students to films they might not otherwise have seen, and promote lesser-known films.
“These are powerful film experiences and they expand our students’ filmgoing experience beyond the ordinary Hollywood films,” Oakland said.