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Author comes 'full circle' at Ashland screening

Dressed in an elegant black dress and heels, author Cheryl Strayed said her first time in Ashland two decades ago was much different than her time at Sunday's celebration of a screening of the movie "Wild."

"I walked here. I staggered here," Strayed told an audience at the Varsity Theatre in downtown Ashland before the start of the invitation-only sneak preview screening of the movie.

Her book, "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," was the basis for the film starring Reese Witherspoon.

"I feel that returning here is a full circle," Strayed said.

Ashland played a starring role in the movie, with a film production company shooting on the downtown Ashland Plaza and in local businesses in 2013. Released this month, the film — which was shot almost entirely in Oregon — is winning praise from critics, both for Witherspoon's acting and the sweeping landscape shots.

"Wild" may spur more film productions to be shot in Oregon, said Tim Williams, executive director for the Governor's Office of Film & Television, also known as Oregon Film.

He said the film may have the staying power of the classic adventure movie "Goonies," shot in Astoria.

"It's an amazing calling card. It showcases the diversity of this state — from urban to rural to mountains to small towns like Ashland. The secret's out," said Williams, speaking at a cocktail reception at the Ashland Springs Hotel before the screening.

He said "Wild" could boost Oregon's tourism industry.

"People will say, 'I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, go to Ashland, visit Crater Lake and see Mt. Hood,'" Williams predicted.

The movie will be shown across the U.S. and internationally, including in Asia, Europe and Latin America, he said.

Diverse segments of the community were involved in the filming of the movie, from local film professionals to the hospitality industry. Locals also were cast to play Grateful Dead fans converging on the Plaza in commemoration of Jerry Garcia's death. Downtown streets were closed off to vehicles during the filming, although crowds of onlookers gathered.

"I think showcasing Ashland as a destination for film productions is very positive for our local economy," said city of Ashland Management Analyst Ann Seltzer, who helped the production company during the process. "Film is a clean industry. It has an intense impact for a short period of time. Then things go back to normal. While a production is here, a lot of money is spent in the community."

"Wild" will open to general audiences on Friday at the Varsity Theatre.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Reese Witherspoon portrays author Cheryl Strayed in 'Wild,' set to be released in Ashland on Friday. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures