Wednesday, April 4, 2012


2011, 16mm black and white, sound, 71 minutes


Empty Quarter is a film about the region of Southeast Oregon, an area populated by ranching and farming communities, in Lake, Harney, and Malheur counties. The region is roughly one-third of Oregon’s landmass yet holds less than 2% of the state’s population. Southeast Oregon, though familiar by name is a foreign place, particularly to those who reside in urban environments. It is a landscape in the making, constantly undergoing change. It is a highly politicized landscape, evoking differing opinions concerning resource management and land use. Through a series of stationary shots, recording open landscapes and the activities of local residents, Empty Quarter reflects on the character of the region. Natural areas are viewed among images of industry, various labor processes, land management and recreation. Voices of local residents describe the history of pioneer settlement, social life of rural communities and the struggles of small town economies.


“Shot in scantily populated southeastern Oregon, Empty Quarter presents a series of near-static
shots of farms, factories, townscapes, and—in dispassionate middle distance—people going about their mundane daily tasks. These scenes are punctuated by blank-screen commentaries from various residents, each reflecting in some way on what has been lost to the ravages of time and industry. This mix isn’t as dry or dour as it sounds: With patience, the film’s visual rhythm clicks and combines with the palate-cleansing talking-headless voiceovers (which subtly shift our perception of the images that have passed and color the ones that follow) to cohere into a canny, uniquely tactile portrait of American progress in all its ironies.”
–Mark Holcomb, Village Voice
"Empty Quarter isn’t just set in a land that’s approaching the definition of unsettled (the frontier
closing, as defined by Frederic Jackson Turner in 1893, when the population reached one
inhabitant per square mile). And it’s not just filmed in a landscape that visually can be so empty
you lose a sense of direction in it. The film is also probing that sparsely inhabited region of
consciousness where we grasp at straws in order to understand the world. Above and beyond the
issues of human cognition in such a place, and the formal syntax of documentary film that’s
explored to an edge, Alain LeTourneau and Pam Minty have slowed us down enough to
appreciate, as well, how the settler and Native American communities obtain such intelligence as
is necessary to inhabit and sometimes even thrive in such a place."
--William L. Fox, Director, Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art