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'Last Blockbuster' film to premiere in Bend, home of the last Blockbuster

The two filmmakers behind “The Last Blockbuster” documentary find it fitting they will debut their nostalgic film at a drive-in theater.

Taylor Morden and Zeke Kamm scrambled the past few months to find a venue to unveil their documentary about the last Blockbuster on Earth, located in Bend. They had to postpone showings due to restrictions around indoor gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Then they found a solution on a dirt and gravel parking lot near the Deschutes River in Bend.

“It’s magical,” Morden said. “The circumstances suck, but it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Their film will premiere Saturday as part of BendFilm Festival’s summer drive-in theater series at the corner of Shevlin-Hixon Drive and Columbia Street near Riverbend Park in Bend. Gates open at 7 p.m. and the film will start just after dusk, around 8:30 p.m.

The Saturday show is sold out, but a second showing will be held at the same place and time on Friday, July 31. Tickets are available online at www.bendticket.com.

“It’s the only way I feel comfortable showing the movie now,” Morden said. “The last thing we want is for someone to go see our movie and then get sick.”

Both filmmakers grew up with drive-in theaters, but haven’t been to one in years since the theaters have disappeared, almost as quickly as Blockbuster locations, they said. Screening their film under the stars not only taps into their nostalgia, but also a recent pandemic-driven trend.

“There is a definite interest in drive-ins right now due to the pandemic, and there’s a whole bunch of special event drive-ins being operated across the country, everything from restaurant parking lots to county fairgrounds to Walmart parking lots,” said Michael Aronson, an associate professor of cinema studies at the University of Oregon.

Aronson, who is studying drive-in theaters for an academic project, said there were 50 to 70 drive-in theaters at the height of their use Oregon, after the 1950s.

As of October 2019, 305 theater locations were left in the United States, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. Just three permanent theaters are still operating in Oregon — in La Grande, Newberg and Milton-Freewater.

For Morden, the last time he went to a drive-in theater was in the 1980s.

“Blockbuster was a new thing the last time I was at a drive-in theater,” said Morden, a 39-year-old filmmaker who owns his own production company, Pop Motion Pictures.

Kamm, 49, fondly recalls going to drive-in theaters as a child in New Jersey. He remembers hopping into the family car, eating junk food and enjoying a film.

The drive-in experience will be much better Saturday, since people will be able to hear the film through an FM station on their car stereos rather than portable speakers attached to the car doors, he said.

“It should still have all the charm but now the quality is better,” Kamm said.

Morden and Kamm can’t wait to see their film on the drive-in theater screen.

They spent three years piecing together the documentary. The film is lighthearted and funny featuring interviews with celebrities including actors Kevin Smith, Jamie Kennedy and comedian Doug Benson.

“We are really proud of how it came out,” Kamm said. “It’s going to put some smiles on people’s faces for sure.”

The film examines how Blockbuster went from having about 9,000 stores at its peak to just one store off Third Street in Bend. Many believe it was Netflix and other online streaming services that led to Blockbuster’s demise, but there are other factors, the filmmakers said.

“We answer the question everyone wants to know: What happened? Why did they go out of business?” Kamm said. “A lot of people thought it was Netflix, but it wasn’t.”

Most of the film focuses on the Bend Blockbuster and store manager Sandy Harding. The filmmakers were with Harding as her store became the last in the world. The only other Blockbuster in Perth, Australia, closed in March 2019. (Florence, Italy, has a Blockbuster, but it is operating without proper licensing with Dish Network, which acquired Blockbuster in April 2011.)

Harding said she has not watched the movie yet or any of the interviews she did for the film.

“It will be pretty nerve-wracking to see myself on the screen,” she said. “I’m a Blockbuster manager. I’m not a celebrity.”

Harding was happy to hear the world premiere of the film would be in Bend, where locals have strongly supported her store. She is grateful to the community for still renting videos even as the store had to temporarily close and offer curbside pickup due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The store reopened in April and has encouraged visitors to wear face masks and keep their distance as they pick out movies.

“The bottom line is we can’t do this without Bend,” Harding said. “We’re just so appreciative of everyone’s support.”

Harding can’t wait to see all the cars parked together to watch the premiere, and celebrate Bend having the world’s last Blockbuster.

“Who doesn’t love a warm summer night in Central Oregon?” she said.

Filmmakers Zeke Kamm, left, and Taylor Morden plan to premiere their movie about the last Blockbuster at a pop-up drive-in theater on Deschutes Brewing property in Bend on Saturday, July 25, 2020. Ryan Brennecke/The Bulletin