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4-03 Phoenix, Oregon

Actors James Le Gros, left, Jesse Borrego, and Diedrich Bader star in “Phoenix, Oregon,” a film shot primarily in Klamath Falls that, due to some fluke circumstances associated with COVID-19-related theater shutdowns, technically was the top grossing box office film in the country.

When movie theaters across the U.S. were forced to close their doors in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the independent film “Phoenix, Oregon,” was about to be dead in the water.

The sweet and sincere slice-of-life dramedy, filmed in Klamath Falls in 2018, about two middle-aged friends who quit their dead-end restaurant jobs to open a pizza parlor/bowling alley in their small town was scheduled to open March 20 in dozens of theaters. Now, it was a movie without a home. And, its theater partners were in even worse shape, suddenly unable to sell tickets or popcorn in an industry with already razor-thin profit margins even in the best of times.

Most people would have given up, but “Phoenix, Oregon” co-producer Annie Lundgren with Joma Films isn’t most people.

After a few days of trying to find help, Lundgren and Joma decided to do it the old fashioned way; they figured out a way to not only save the movie but also help those suddenly struggling theaters at the same time.

“Those movie theaters were going to be there for us to show the film before they had to close; it was only right to help them when they needed it,” said Lundgren.

Over several sleepless nights, Lundgren and her small team devised a simple-but-unique pivot strategy by launching America’s very first theatrical-at-home platform. Movie fans could watch “Phoenix, Oregon” on the film’s website for the bargain matinee price of just $6.50, and later receive a digital copy of the movie to own. Best of all, 50% of the rental fees would go directly to the independent theaters who would’ve been screening the film if they were open.

Lundgren’s kind, golden rule strategy to help her film and the shuttered theaters survive flew directly in the face of ‘big Hollywood’. The major studios completely deserted their theater partners, either by delaying the release of their releases or moving films including “The Invisible Woman” and “Trolls World Tour” immediately to very expensive Pay-Per-View models, gouging entertainment-starved Americans who were suddenly ordered to shelter-at-home up to $20 per movie.

It had one other notable effect: “Phoenix, Oregon” became the top-grossing film in the United States on its opening weekend…also the lowest grossing no. 1 film in America in history, but still a notable mark and rare achievement for an independent film.

Now three months later in the aftermath, mega-theater chain AMC is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and has publicly excoriated Universal Studios for their callous treatment, saying should they ever reopen, they’ll never screen a Universal Studios film in any of their theaters again.

Soon, the world took notice of Lundgren and Joma Film’s Theatrical-At-Home platform and their act of kindness and resourcefulness. “Phoenix, Oregon” received huge national kudos from happy movie fans, grateful theaters, and big press outlets including The CBS Evening News, The New York Times, Fox News Channel, and many others for devising a simple way to do well, by doing good.

Lundgren recently expanded her outreach by teaming up with the Oregon Hospitality Foundation to help raise thousands of dollars for struggling restaurant workers laid off during the pandemic with a special “dinner and a movie” package.

Joma Films and Annie Lundgren now have two more upcoming “Theatrical-At-Home” releases coming up; acclaimed director Christopher Munch’s mysterious mash-up of sci-fi and politics “The 11thGreen” due June 26th and award-winning documentary filmmaker Ramsey Denison’s “Money Machine”, a scathing expose of Las Vegas police corruption in the wake of the mass shooting there in 2017 that left 50 dead and hundreds wounded set for home release July 3rd.

“Nothing takes the place of going to the movies in person, but until everyone can feel safe doing that, this ‘Theatrical-At-Home platform gives folks a different option to still experience cinema…and it helps make sure those independent theaters are actually still in business when it is safe to go to the movies again,” said Joma Film’s Lundgren.

And, that helps make it worth waiting for the popcorn.