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Local activists explore the ideals of Cascadia through film

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Listed as #8 on Time magazine's list of aspiring nations, the Republic of Cascadia has a legitimate shot at seceding. Three local filmmakers are using their artistic abilities to support the cause and spread the message of the Cascadian revolution.

The Cascadia movement officially campaigns for the autonomy of the bioregion commonly referred to as the Pacific Northwest. In the dreams of Cascadian hopefuls, this state will split from Canada and the U.S. to form a new nation with a culture of sustainability and change through the influence of individuals.

Secession is a great option. We have the best coffee, hippest hipsters and a regional economy estimated to generate $675 billion dollars annually, not to mention Bigfoot and our own catalog of microbrews. Who needs New York City when we've got Seattle?

Everywhere west of the Rocky Mountains from the southeast Alaskan pan handle down to Cape Mendocino would pull a Confederate States of America and drop out of the Union. It sounds outrageous—the pipe dream of environmental militants—but this dream is no joke to those involved.

In fact, there are even Cascadian activists here in Central Oregon, and they're working toward a viable future for the movement. Three local advocates are lobbying for change through their film Occupied Cascadia, a documentary exploring bioregionalism through cinematography of the land and commentary from regional experts and indigenous people.

Next week, Devin Hess, Mel Sweet and Casey Bryan Corcoran will be showing their creation at the Tin Pan Theater. The Sunday showing will be followed by a Q-and-A discussion with the filmmakers in an effort to ignite conversation about the future of our region.

"We feel really disenfranchised, like a lot of people in our generation, when looking at solutions that are offered by the mainstream," said Hess, co-director, editor and videographer of the film. "The old cliché sayings about America and patriotism don't have the same meaning for our generation."


Hess, Sweet and Corcoran began work on the film in the summer of 2011 but were supporters of the movement long before the concept for the movie arose.

Corcoran cites forest defense campaigns like Fall Creek and Warner Creek as the beginning of his exposure to Cascadian ideology. He watched fellow students at Bend High School venture into the woods to join tree sits, and in 2005, he started a zine called "Autonomous Cascadia," which discussed bioregionalism and radical ecology.

When he met Sweet working at a farmers market in 2007, they were both involved in the local food movement and interested in spreading the word about Cascadia.

"There's a lot of history, but it was invisible because it was stuck in academia or it was off in the woods fighting with the Forest Service police," said Corcoran of the movement. "We said, let's make a modern media piece and put it up on YouTube so everyone can see it."

With zero filmmaking experience, and nothing but small grass-roots donations, the three friends spent the end of 2011 through the summer 2012 traveling the bioregion in a 1991 Honda Civic, sharing the responsibilities of shooting footage and conducting interviews for the film.

"We basically interviewed everybody," said Corcoran. "Not specifically Cascadian ideologues, but indigenous people, ecological activists, academics, archeologists and geographers. The footage of the land comes from our travels."

The trio met with advocates for dam removal, authors, activists, feminists, astrologers, indigenous elders, hippies and hipsters, from B.C. to Humboldt County. This vast cast of characters shared their passion for an alternative solution to what they see as the collapsing values of our society.

"The reality now is that of a dying empire, at least economically, and we don't want to see our land base being destroyed by being thrown into a global economy that doesn't care about one place or another," said Corcoran. "This is our answer."

After filming, the trio put together a director's cut of the film with a run time of 115 minutes, which they showed at the Tower Theatre in October. Then, they took the film on a monthlong tour from Canada to Northern California.

"Some nights there were five people, and some nights there was 185," said Corcoran. "We're the punk rock DIY version of filmmakers: We'll play your living room or we'll play the White House lawn."


The idea of Cascadia has been circulating for decades.

In 1975, Ernest Callenbach published Ecotopia, a utopian, environmental novel that follows a reporter through the seceded state of Cascadia in which society had been scaled down, centralized and refocused on restoration of the land and sustainable living.

In the last three decades, the movement has gained traction in the Northwest. Corcoran credits the forest defense campaigns of the 1990s for his discovery of Cascadian idealism along with bootlegged VHS's of films like Cascadia Free State.

"The big organizations were called Cascadia Wildlands Project, Cascadia Forest Defenders and Earth First! Cascadia. There was a big campaign in 2003 called Cascadia Summer against the Bush administration's federal assault on the forests here," Corcoran explained in an email. "In Eugene at the time there was a long-running pirate radio station called Radio Free Cascadia, and those 'Free Cascadia' stickers have been around a good while."  

On the road, the filmmakers attended Cascadia meetings in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. There are many student groups involved in the movement—Corcoran mentioned assemblies like the Cascadia Solidarity Alliance in Eugene and The Cascadia Branch at Portland State University.

The next step for the filmmakers is getting folks involved in Bend.

"If you are alive today it's your responsibility to participate in the process to start making things better and to change things," said Sweet. "I think we often wait for someone to give us the solution before we start moving forward, but things aren't getting better, they're getting drastically worse."

Sweet suggested that anyone can be a Cascadian by getting involved with local issues that will change the face of our regional future.

"From the Mirror Pond issue, the spillway and the dam fiasco to our septic systems we have these amazing opportunities to do things drastically different," said Sweet. "We need to come together as a community and participate in a larger relationship with our bioregion."

You can get involved by checking out Occupied Cascadia for free online or at Tin Pan next week. They filmmakers have posted other Cascadian resources on their site, including a reading list and suggestions for how to connect with the movement.

Occupied Cascadia

Tin Pan Theater, 869 NW Tin Pan Alley

7 p.m., Sunday Jan. 27, followed by Q and A with the filmmakers

8:30 p.m., Monday Jan. 28 and Tuesday, Jan. 29

Online at


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