Portland State’s Theater Arts Department is welcoming back an old friend to its fold: documentary filmmaker Steve Amen. Amen, a PSU alumnus with 25 years of documentary filmmaking under his belt, is the theater arts department’s artist-in-residence, and will be teaching a class on documentary film production during the upcoming winter and spring terms.
Portland State’s Theater Arts Department is welcoming back an old friend to its fold: documentary filmmaker Steve Amen.
Amen, a PSU alumnus with 25 years of documentary filmmaking under his belt, is the theater arts department’s artist-in-residence, and will be teaching a class on documentary film production during the upcoming winter and spring terms.
The subject Amen is teaching is one he is intimately familiar with. Amen is the executive producer and host of the Oregon Public Broadcasting’s documentary series Oregon Field Guide, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
Sarah Andrews-Collier, chair of theater arts, said Amen is a welcome addition to the department.”[Amen] is a longtime friend to PSU and to the theater department,” she said.
Amen’s involvement with theater arts goes back to his years as a student, “Although I graduated in the speech department, I have also done some plays with the theater department,” Amen said.
Professor William Tate, who has known Amen for over 25 years, recalled some of his past performances.”I remember seeing him act in a number of plays,” Tate said. “At the time, I always thought he would be working in some aspect of television.”
Amen did end up working in television. After graduating from university in 1986, Amen worked in various positions for a local television network before settling in at OPB, where he began to gain recognition for his work on Oregon Field Guide.
Now, Amen’s series is the highest-rated locally produced series among PBS stations, according to OPB.Amen’s work as the executive producer and host of the show, in addition to his past production work, has earned him seven regional Emmys as well as one national Emmy.
Amen won the national Emmy for his HBO documentary Teen Killers: A Second Chance, which tells the story of three incarcerated minors in Oregon as they participate in a controversial therapy program with the promise of turning their lives around.
Before delving into filmmaking, Amen said he liked to tell stories in different mediums. He even worked for the Vanguard as a news writer and photographer during his time as a PSU student, he said.
Both Tate and Andrews-Collier expressed excitement over Amen’s artist-in-residency status. Andrews-Collier said Amen was a shoe-in for the new position because of his experience.
“When we decided to offer our first coursework in documentary production, Steve immediately came to mind,” Andrews-Collier said. “He’s a great choice because he has been making documentary films for over 25 years and has earned numerous awards.”
Andrews-Collier also lauded Amen for the natural subjects of his documentaries.
“Much of the work Steve has done has fore grounded issues related to the environment,” she said.Amen said he too is excited about his status as artist-in-residence at PSU.
“I’m at a point in my career where I want to pass on some of what I’ve learned,” he said.
Amen expanded on his goals as a teacher, “A lot of what I want to do is to help the students get ready for the real world, I’ve look at a lot of proposals and theses from college students and I’m amazed at how unprofessional they are. This is a way to help them learn the art of storytelling, documentary filmmaking,” he said.
Amen also said he is fortunate to work in as vibrant a city as Portland, which is gaining a reputation for independent filmmakers.
“Simply put, the talent is here and the opportunities are in place,” Amen said.
The addition of Amen to the theater arts faculty is the first step in the department’s hope to go beyond general film study and hopefully move toward the production aspect, a long time goal of the department, Tate said.
While Amen will only be an artist-in-residence at PSU for two terms, there is a possibility of him returning to teach again next year, he said.
“I’ve known Steve for a lot of years,” said Tate, who nominated Amen for an Outstanding Alumni Award in 2000, which he won. “He has achieved prominence both regionally and nationally, and become a permanent fixture to OPB and PSU.”