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Vintage films highlight Oregon's history

The old, 16 millimeter film projector rattles and hums to life, casting color images of Southern Oregon on a screen — mountains, forests, lakes, roads. There are images of Crater Lake, and a narrator starts gushing in booster-ese about natural beauty and crystalline waters.

The film is "Southern Oregon: Land of Fulfillment," a 27-minute promotional film made in the early 1960s by filmmaker Robert Landsburg for the Livable Southern Oregon Association, which represented Jackson, Josephine, Douglas, Klamath and Lake counties.

The film, and some others like it, belongs to regional history buff Ben Truwe, of Medford. Truwe plans public showings of the films from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 16, in a space at 228 E. Main St., Medford, in connection with the Third Friday Art Walk event going on the same evening along Central Avenue, Bartlett Street and Middleford Alley.

"I've been looking for these a long time," Truwe says of the old movies. "I got this one ("Land of Fulfillment") at a garage sale on Portland Avenue."

He says he's bought others on e-Bay and received still others as donations.

"This is history," he says. "One reason I'm doing this is to maybe coax others out of the woodwork. I keep hearing horror stories of people throwing old film away because they don't have a projector and don't know what to do with it."

At an early run-through, Truwe has three projectors set up and is showing three films simultaneously. The effect is a bit like an art installation designed to overwhelm the senses, except that the images are all vintage Southern Oregon. There is the lodge at Diamond Lake, log trucks, the upper Rogue River, the Harry and David offices, pear orchards, Upper Klamath Lake, wooden drift boats and power boats, women in bathing suits that look like tutus.

"People have trouble watching silent movies," Truwe says. "So I'll try to have one with sound going at all times."

On-screen, the narrator is going on about 10 cubic miles of historic Mount Mazama collapsing to form the caldera that would fill and become Crater Lake. Phrases like "matchless grandeur" come trippingly from the tongue.

"In all the world, can there be another lake like this?" the narrator asks.

But wait, don't answer yet, he's just warming up.

Crater Lake, he says, is "just one of 1,000 reasons Southern Oregon is a Land of Fulfillment." Some of the others have taken on a humorous note in nearly half a century. A population of 11 persons per square mile. People who are never too busy to stop and talk.

On the other hand, some things don't change much. Like the boast that Medford's airport (no "International" then) was served by "two major airlines."

Other screens show the old Catholic Church in Jacksonville, cowboys in the Klamath Basin, sheep near Roseburg ("This is sheep country!") and carpenters framing a house.

Other films Truwe says he'll show include "The New Oregon Trail," a 1941 tourism effort by Ralph Gifford for the state highway system; a tourism film from the late 1940s; a 1954 Chamber of Commerce look at Medford and Jacksonville; and a couple of Allan Sandler films from the 1980s with interiors filmed at Briscoe School in Ashland.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478

Ben Truwe will present vintage 16-milimeter films about Southern Oregon next weekend. - Jamie Lusch