South Bend native Keith Cox – now making his way in the Hollywood world of movies – has documented the oyster industry over a period of several years. He has done much of the filming himself, on a shoestring budget, fitting it into his busy career and life in general.
His series of seven films is soon to be finished, and county residents – particularly the oyster farmers and processors who are featured in the series – are invited to see the premiere showing of the seventh, and final, segment of “Willapa Bay Oysters” locally during Labor Day weekend.
Three hosted events will be a part of the annual Labor Day festivities in South Bend and Raymond, including the following:
* A premiere viewing at the Raymond Theatre Saturday, Aug. 31, for an invited audience of oyster farmers, processors, boat captains, deck hands, shuckers – a good share of those in the Willapa Bay area whose livelihood depends on the oyster industry. Screening begins at 5:30 p.m. and Cox said all 350 seats are filled.
* A Community Reception at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, at the Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce, 916 West First St. This public event will be a community celebration of the oyster industry, Cox said, and will include the audience– “95 percent oyster industry related from all around the bay” –following the premiere showing two hours earlier. Food and drink will be available at the reception, including – of course! – Willapa Bay oysters and clams. Hamburgers, hot dogs and salads also are on the menu.
Those with pre-sold tickets for Sunday’s public premiere (see below) can use those tickets for cheaper admission to the reception. Admission will be $5 for others. “Bring your friends,” Cox invited.
* A public premiere of “Willapa Bay Oysters” will be available for the general public Sunday, Sept. 1, at 3:30 p.m. at the Raymond Theatre, after the South Bend Labor Day Parade has concluded which starts at 1 p.m.
Cox describes the filming process on his website, www.WillapaBayDocs.com:
“After conceiving the project in October 2009 and documenting the first oystering footage in November 2009 for the series “Willapa Bay Oysters” – two years later – seven trips to Washington – interviews with over 120 people – more than 300 hours of new footage captured and old films and video collected – photography is finished!”
Cox is a South Bend High School (’95) and Washington State University (’98) graduate who took his lifelong interest in filmmaking to Hollywood where he has most recently worked behind-the-scenes for the movies “Man of Steel” and “The Hobbit.” Not to mention – well, maybe to mention – some of the big-name stars he has rubbed shoulders with, Justin Timberlake, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez, among others. He was also part of the huge film crew for the years long “Survivor” series.
Those career connections have made him a big name with local media, too, in telling about his documentary series.
While many local folks hold him in awe for his professional work, he likewise holds in awe the subjects of his documentaries, those in the oyster industry.
In recent conversation with this reporter, he mentioned in particular:
“The Wiegardt family from Nahcotta, has been oyster farming since the 1870s. They’re the longest non-stop family-run oyster company in the United States, now in its fifth generation of farming.”
“The Olsen family from South Bend: Technically, Norman is the sixth generation. There was a gap in the family-run operation, but some of these families keep coming back.”
“It’s been inspiring,” Cox said of the documentary series. “It has actually helped bring the community together a little more.The series celebrates the industry, showcasing the farming processes but even more the hard work and dedication of the oystermen.”
Those are the folks who will be at the Saturday night premiere. When Cox first started calling to see if his oyster industry friends would be interested in the premiere viewing, he got “yes, yes, yes” with call after call.
“It was amazing!” he commented. “People were changing their plans to be able to attend.”
And why not? It’s not often that one’s way of living – something done day in and day out, with a continuity that becomes something that we take for granted – is paid tribute through historical documentation.
Cox has done more than record a way of living in the Willapa Bay waters. He has honored the lifestyle and those who live it.