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Whitworth film festival honors Leonard Oakland

Leonard Oakland has taught at Whitworth University for 46 years.
Leonard Oakland has taught at Whitworth University for 46 years.

Leonard Oakland speaks with a passion that makes the cafe table he’s sitting at wobble and dance. He has taught English at Whitworth University for 46 years, yet it’s his passion for film that’s the topic on this Monday morning.

“I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian tradition that said movies were wrong and sinful,” Oakland said.

He rebelled against his upbringing in the early 1960s when he found himself at the University of California at Berkeley and began going to the movies.

“There were these great little storefront theaters and they showed new movies all the time,” Oakland said. “What did my family say? They didn’t know. They didn’t care – they were back in Chicago.”

Now Whitworth University has named an annual film festival and an endowment in Oakland’s name, to honor the long-serving professor.

Oakland taught his first film class at Whitworth in 1968.

“It was experimental; we were supposed to pick something to teach that was different from what we’d usually teach,” Oakland said. “And I had fallen in love with movies at Berkeley, so that’s what I picked.”

That one experimental class grew into a film course Oakland taught almost every January since then.

Though he is now in a half-time position at Whitworth, he still teaches a course in documentary and avant-garde film.

The idea for the film festival came up when Whitworth wanted to do something in Oakland’s honor.

“That was in 2008, when I turned 70. They asked how they could honor my legacy,” Oakland said. “I have so many interests and so many things I do, but film study is something I love, so it’s nice that will be my legacy.”

Oakland had a stint in actual movie-making when he worked on the 1988 baseball movie, “Bull Durham” as director Ron Shelton’s assistant.

“I looked at the world of movies, I thought about different jobs in movies, but I wasn’t a natural fit there for that,” Oakland said. “I’m not cut out for acting or for being a writer, and editing is kind of lonely and very technical. I went back to teaching instead.”

He has a fondness for foreign films – especially those by Francois Truffaut and Federico Fellini – and for documentaries.

Oakland is looking forward to the Academy Awards on Sunday and he especially likes “Silver Linings Playbook.” He has yet to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

“Many people have recommended that one to me,” he said.

Are there any Oscar predictions he is willing to put out there?

“I think ‘Lincoln’ is going to win for best picture, even though ‘Argo’ has won a lot until now,” Oakland said. “And I think Daniel Day-Lewis is going to get best actor for ‘Lincoln.’ ”

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