A local director and his local film

“Raising Flagg,” which begins today in Portland, is an independent film in the truest sense of the term. Made on a shoestring budget over a two-year period and shot exclusively in Oregon, the film features a startlingly impressive cast led by Alan Arkin, Lauren Holly, Austin Pendleton and Clifton James.


Eugene-based filmmaker Neal Miller, who co-wrote the script with his wife Nancy, had the idea for the film in his head for years. It is a reprise of “A Matter of Principle,” a PBS American Playhouse production from 1984. But due to scheduling conflicts and the ever-present issue of financing, it awhile for the film to reach the production stage.


“It was really, really hard,” Miller said. “It’s just not that easy to get a small film made anymore. The major studios have such a hand in dictating what gets made and who makes it. But in the end, we got it done. And we had an incredible cast.”


“Raising Flagg” follows a rather simple though at times tedious plotline. Flagg Purdy, wonderfully played by Arkin, is a stubborn, resolute, stuck-in-his-ways handyman who has watched both his family and time pass him by. After an unfriendly disagreement and the obligatory unfriendly fallout – stemming from conflict over property lines and a game of checkers – Purdy is confronted with a series of life changes that force him to reconsider everything that he once held as true. As Purdy falls into a deep yet often humorous depression his family gathers around him. Drama ensues.


Underneath all of the somewhat redundant and stereotypical family hijinks, deeply resounding generational, economical and social conflicts emerge, carrying a film that runs strikingly close to Miller’s own life.


“There’s a scene in the film where Flagg finds a letter that his father had written,” Miller said. “It’s a love letter, a very personal love letter. And Flagg has a hard time reconciling that his father could have opened up in that manner, could have been that human. Well, I came across the same thing in my own life.”


The scene that Miller refers to is the turning point in Flagg’s consciousness. It is where Flagg the irascible, foolhardy man becomes Flagg the semi-forward-thinking man, who is aware of his legacy and his elusive future. As Flagg falls into a warmer world of realization, all of the disparate pieces that his extended family has become are put back into place.


“It comes down to forgiveness and redemption. Yes, it’s a family story, but it runs deeper. We wanted to create real characters, in real situations,” Miller said.


In creating the realism, Miller opted for straight camera angles and natural lighting.

“We worked with an excellent cinematographer who got what we wanted and just did an excellent job. After shooting was over though, we actually had to edit it twice. Eventually, we used a guy who does studio work, namely on the ‘Survivor’ television series, and he made it look like what we had envisioned in our heads for so long,” Miller said.


The film – while at times slow, awkward and forced – ultimately shines when compared to 99 percent of the schlock that Hollywood currently tosses out. And it is a film that succeeds in its most natural, familial moments.


“Whole scenes, whole sections of dialogue were built up from scratch, in the moment,” Miller explained. “We would have the entire cast, sitting in a family room, just talking, creating. And I think that those scenes work really well. It’s something that you can’t get anymore from a normal, big picture.”


He’s right. “Raising Flagg” works where it is the most natural, when it’s in a truly independent state of filmmaking. In these scenes, the talent inherent in the cast, in the players’ natural acting ability, shines through, giving off a feeling of warmth and familiarity that has been missing from major Hollywood pictures for a long, long time.


“Raising Flagg” opens tonight. For more information go to www.raisingflagg.com