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




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Philomath, Oregon, is a small timber town with a very generous benefactor. The Clemens family, owing their success to the local logging industry, decided to give back to their community by offering college scholarships to all graduates of the local high school. For more than 40 years, they provided thousands of students with free college tuition-no strings attached. As the fading lumber industry gave way to new high-tech industries, Philomath found itself in flux, with old and new ways of life dividing residents. As one of the descendants in charge of the Clemens Foundation, Steve Lowther was determined to change what he felt was a "politically correct" (read "antilogging") curriculum and lack of morals among students. He pressed the school board to stop the liberal bias that was allegedly overrunning the school's administration. What unfurled was a drag-out fight-under intense national media scrutiny-involving the future of the foundation, with the students caught in the middle. While the action takes place in Philomath, the film's ultimate strength is the way it serves as a microcosm for the vast ideological divisions within our country. Director Peter Richardson has crafted a seamless portrait of a clash of differing values. With those on both sides of the issue well represented, Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon is a triumphant piece of filmmaking.-- (C) Sundance Film Festival
Documentary , Special Interest
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Critic Reviews for Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon

All Critics (5) | Top Critics (1)

In leading players' righteousness and unwillingness to compromise, this real-life drama encapsulates current U.S. society's tug-of-war over values.

Full Review… | January 27, 2006
Top Critic

The film should interest PBS type of viewers concerned about the culture wars between traditionalists and progressives... .

Full Review… | March 3, 2009
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

You read about issues like the ones it's concerned with all the time, but in the abstract; it's remarkable to see them presented in a way that helps you both see and feel the reality.

May 12, 2006

Peter Richardson tries to provide a fair and balanced (to coin a phrase) look at both sides.

Full Review… | January 22, 2006
Film Threat

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Full Review… | January 23, 2006
Film Threat

Audience Reviews for Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon


A remarkable movie showing how stubborn pride plus personal resentment can tear a community apart. Peter Richardson followed this with another even more remarkable documentary, "How to Die in Oregon". Whatever he turns his attention to next, I'll be there to see the result.

Michael Harbour
Michael Harbour

[b]Loggers vs. School[/b] Documentaries on the whole, politically tend to lean towards the left. [url=""][i][color=#0000ff]Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath Oregon[/color][/i][/url] walks the straightest line down the middle, that this reviewer has ever seen. Filmmaker Peter Richardson, gives each side of this heated argument their fair share of screen time; and doesn't input much, if any, of his own opinions on the controversy. The film is basically the story of present-day America, only it's focused on a small town in central Oregon. On one side you have the conservative loggers, on the other, the liberal school administrators. The fight is over the children and the future of our country. At the beginning of the film we meet Steve Lowther; the owner of a fairly big logging company in Philomath, Oregon. He seems like a nice-enough-guy, a redneck to be sure, but his laugh is contagious. He and his two brothers (who the film never introduces) run the very unique Clemens Foundation. Their uncle Rex, a logging barren, and his wife, who never had any children of their own, loved kids so much that they set up this foundation to give away a full scholarship to every single student who graduates from Philomath High School. Wow. That's an amazing deal, it doesn't matter who you are or what your grades may be, if you're from this town you'll get a free ride. It might just be reason enough to move there. [center][img][/img] [size=1]Steve Lowther[/size] [/center] And that's exactly what's happening, this once small logging town is quickly growing. Not necessarily because of the scholarship offer, but because that is what's happening around the country. People are deciding to get out of the city and move to small towns just like this one. Philomath offers that small town feel, with some big city type jobs in close by Corvallis: at Hewlett Packard and the Oregon State University. And these big city folk are bringing their liberal beliefs with them. One of them is Philomath School Superintendent, Dr. Terry Kneisler from Chicago. According to Lowther, under Kneisler's watch, teachers are pushing environmentally friendly; i.e. anti-logging, ideas on these young minds, while also questioning the use of the school's mascot: the Warrior, an old Native-American statue. The last straw seems to come when the school allows a silent protest, by a select few students, for gay rights. Lowther believes it's his job to step in and change what he thinks is the quick spiraling-down of these kids values. He uses his foundation's clout to bully the school's administration, threatening them with the ultimatum of pulling the scholarship out from under the student's feet. Soon the whole town is involved in this political tug-of-war. [img][/img] [i]Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath Oregon[/i] is a very intriguing film. It balances the argument incredibly well. I think who you're rooting for simply comes down to which side of the fence you sit. You may agree with Lowther on his methods for trying to keep his town's youth on the straight and narrow, and how he compares the "corruption" of these kids to Nazi Germany. You may agree with Dr. Kneisler and his teacher's live and let live policy. Or you may find yourself in the middle like the school's board of directors who are trying to come up with a way to please everyone. The film gives the people involved the chance to tell their story; each gets equal time to state their argument. How it all plays out in the end; may seem like a fair answer to the problem or you might find yourself filled with anger. If the film suffers at all, it is because of the many the talking heads. I got a bit tired of seeing the same people, in the same clothes, with the same backgrounds over and over again. But really there's not much else to show in this film; it is about these people and their problems with one another. The filmmakers try to break this up with some decent photography of the school and the area, and some interesting uses of typography, but it always comes back to those same few guys talking to the camera. Thankfully the film is well edited and never lingers too long on any one of these folks, keeping the story moving along at a good pace. Filmmaker Richardson, an actual Philomath graduate and a former recipient of the scholarship in question, does an excellent job with this hometown story he's decided to share with the world. [b]On a personal note.[/b] The reason I decided, out of the sixty or so documentaries that the festival offered, to see [i]Clear Cut[/i] was because for me, it is a local story. Philomath lies a few hours north of Ashland, and I drive through there quite often on the way to my wife's mother's house. (The best tacos I've ever had, outside of Mexico, are found in a small roadside stop in Philomath.) From visiting the film's [url=""][color=#0000ff]website[/color][/url] I learned that this was a very small production, with only a few filmmakers besides Richardson involved; that they shot on the same camera that I use, the Panasonic DVX100A. That despite these limitations, the film opened at Sundance, something to which all us small time filmmakers aspire. This Oregon made film gave me hope for my own.

Ross Williams
Ross Williams

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