The Great Northwest

about the project

The Great Northwest is a 70-minute experimental documentary based on the re-creation of a 3,200 mile road-trip made in 1958 by four Seattle women who thoroughly documented their journey in an elaborate scrapbook of photos, postcards, and brochures. Fifty years later, Portland filmmaker Matt McCormick found that scrapbook in a thrift store, and in 2010 set out on the road, following their route as precisely as possible and searching out every stop in which the ladies had documented.

Sissie, Berta, Clauris, and Bev, each unmarried and in her late 30s, set out across the Pacific Northwest in a ‘55 Plymouth and crisscrossed the region for nearly a month. Traveling through Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon, they visited National Parks, roadside attractions and drove the Historic Gorge Highway before it was 'historic'. Along the way they took photographs, kept notes, and collected menus, brochures, post-cards and receipts, all of which the organized into a crafty 70 page scrapbook of leather-bound construction paper.

The urban and rural landscapes the women experienced during their trip have changed greatly since 1958. While urban centers such as Seattle, Portland, and Spokane have sprouted sky-scrappers and hefty suburban growth, other towns such as Vantage and Taft no longer exist; one being flooded by Columbia River damming and the other paved over by Interstate 90. Development, damming, industry, and construction of the Interstate Highway System have moved mountains and rivers as well as towns and communities. Yet many aspects of the Pacific Northwest appear relatively unchanged. Carefully preserved towns such as Wallace, Idaho, and steadfast tourist attractions such as the Oregon Coast’s Sea Lion Caves seem almost stuck in time except for perhaps a few new layers of paint.

Patiently shot with an observational approach, The Great Northwest is a lyrical time-capsule that explores the fragility of history while documenting the present day. Using only location sound recordings and void of any narration or music, the film paints a portrait of the region while exploring how the visual landscape of the Pacific Northwest has changed over the past 50 years. While documenting transformations in culture, architecture, and land-use, the film explores the urban-rural divide, the region’s relationship to natural resources, looks at the history of roads and the impacts of changing infrastructure, and considers the impact of tourism on the history and development of the American West.

The Great Northwest was funded in part from grants from the Regional Arts and Culture Council and the Oregon Media Arts Fellowship.