40th Anniversary Gala Preview: Gus Van Sant

The NW Film Center is proud to announce that Gus Van Sant will be the honorary chair for this year’s Gala, which will take place on Saturday May 12th. For those of you who don’t know as much as you should about Van Sant, here’s a quick briefing:

He began studying painting at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970, but changed his major to cinema when he became aware of avant-garde directors like Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, and Andy Warhol. He went to Los Angeles in 1976, and was a production assistant to writer/director Ken Shapiro. It was in L.A. that he took an interest in Hollywood Boulevard’s marginalized population, which has since become one of his cinematic themes. His first feature, Mala Noche (1985), dealt with existence on society’s fringe.

The Los Angeles Times called Mala Noche the year’s Best Independent Film, but it wasn’t enough to solidify big studio interest for van Sant’s next projects, Drugstore Cowboy (1989) and My Own Private Idaho (1991), which were deemed too risky. So Van Sant moved to Portland, Oregon and began working on Cowboy with independent production company Avenue. The film was a success, as was My Own Private Idaho, which came next and examined unrequited love, alienation, and the concept of family. Both screenplays for Cowboy and Idaho won Van Sant Independent Spirit Awards.

Watch Gus Van Sant working with the film strips of Elephant below.

Youth, as a concept and as a specific time in a person’s existence, typically plays a major role in Van Sant’s films. He has stated “that he’s drawn to stories about young people because it’s the most vibrant part of life.” But one could argue that he is more vibrant than ever, having kept up a steady stream of projects since his earliest days. In roughly thirty-four years, Van Sant has made 14 feature films, 18 short films, and 15 music videos. The variety inherent within his work is awe-inspiring, and his features take on recurring themes in fresh ways. 

Yet, his enduring vitality is pronounced not just through his filmography, but through his ability to create in other mediums. During his career, Van Sant has released two albums (Gus van Sant and 18 Songs About Golf), published a novel (Pink), had a book of his photography published (108 Portraits), and appeared in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. So it’s easy to acknowledge that Gus Van Sant is an amazing and prolific writer/director/producer/etc, but have you seen all of his feature films?

As the Gala approaches and you are busy with decisions about what to wear to the 1940s inspired theme, consider seeing or revisiting the following features:

Mala Noche (1985)

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993)

To Die For (1995)

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Psycho (1998)

Finding Forrester (2000)

his ‘Death Trilogy’ Gerry (2002), Elephant (2003), Last Days (2005)

Paranoid Park (2007)

Milk (2008)

Restless (2011)


  1. […] 40th Anniversary Gala Preview: Gus Van Sant – Newsroom from Newsroom on March 22, 2012 at 08:39PM […]

  2. […] of Filmmaker Interviews: Several with Gus van Sant on his films Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, and others. William Burroughs doing a reading while in […]

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