Empty Quarter (2011, 16mm black & white/sound, 71 minutes) 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, being re-worked. It is a highly politicized landscape, evoking differing opinions concerning resource management and land use. It is also a landscape that is, despite some beliefs, rich with diversity, as seen by the presence of East Indian and Japanese families, ancestors of Basque sheepherders, home to the Paiute tribes people, and to Latinos who have come to help work the land.
Empty Quarter departs from a documentary form that utilizes “talking head” interviews and “B-roll” or “cut-away” images tied together with occasional narration. The film instead presents stark portraits, waiting to be explored and digested by the viewer. Meaning is extracted in the slow process of accumulation and measured response. 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, resource 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.