POLK COUNTY -- A documentary about the former town of Valsetz will be featured during the Salem Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 16.
"Home: The Story of Valsetz," Ronan Feely's documentary about the history and closing of the company town, will make its big-screen debut at the festival.
It will be one of six features made by local filmmakers in contention for the festival's Northwest Emerging Filmmaker Award.
Feely said he's honored to have his film be part of the festival, but sees the opportunity more about giving the story of Valsetz a bigger stage.
"Even if it doesn't go any further than this, I'm glad that it will be seen by a wider audience who can hear about a story that happened on their doorstep," he said.
Feely worked on the film for almost three years, mostly in his spare time. He accomplished the task for less than $500, paying only for the voice over, the music and old newspaper photos.
He said editing his footage and constructing each segment of the film was surprisingly easy.
"I think the story just wanted to be told," he said.
When asked what it was about Feely's documentary that made it a good fit for the festival, it was difficult for Loretta Miles, the festival director, to narrow down what appealed to her.
"It's really everything," Miles said, noting the obvious passion Feely had for the subject and the sensitivity with which he told the story. "It was very surprising to find out that he didn't grow up in this area and that his heart didn't break when Valsetz was plowed under."
Feely said while making the documentary, he was stricken by the similarities Valsetz had to his hometown in Northern Ireland, also a tiny logging town.
"I had already lived in a similar place myself," he said. "I knew what was important to the people up there. I knew what was important to show on the screen."
The documentary did strike a chord with former residents when he premiered it at a reunion on the town site in June.
"There were people cheering, people laughing and people crying," he said.
Feely, too, was affected by the story. He worked for a production company in the United Kingdom that made films viewed by millions. But showing this documentary, small by any measure, seemed more important than his other projects.
"I was more nervous about a film playing to 400 (former residents) because they were right beside me," he said.
The title "Home: The Story of Valsetz," seems so fitting now, but Feely said he struggled with the name. It was actually his wife, Mercedes Rhodan-Feely, who convinced him that "home" needed to be in the name.
"This is what Valsetz is to these people," Feely recalled her saying to him. "It's about a place they called home.
"Everybody can go home," Feely continued. "For better or for worse, you can always go back to the place you came from, but these people can't."
Feely said he's invited former residents to join him for a question-and-answer session after the film screens Sunday. He said it feels more appropriate for them to answer questions about their hometown.
"This is their story," he said.
Big Screen Debut
"Home: The Story of Valsetz."
Sunday, Oct. 16, 5:45 p.m.
The Grand Theatre, 191 High St., Salem.
$8. Advance tickets can be purchased at Salem Cinema, 1127 Broadway NE, Salem; Travel Salem, 181 High St., Salem; or at boxofficetickets.com.