Every once in a while, a film finds its way to you with no context, no agenda, and no way to prepare yourself for the absolute originality of it – if you are in the right mood that particular day, it becomes a film to champion endlessly until other people see it. For me, OPERATION: RAVEN is that sort of film. It is a great example of real guerrilla filmmaking, a surprising gem pressed together by a group of friends with little more than a camera and a few stolen weekends at their disposal.

What I love most about writer/director’s Jimmie Buchanan Jr.’s film is that it doesn’t give in to the trap that all independent films face, which is to match the story to the budget. OPERATION: RAVEN is a cop story, and it needs gunfights and ninjas and helicopter chase scenes. Instead of just setting the entire film in their friend’s living room, they figured out what their version of that big budget action sequence could be – for the helicopters it involved hand-built models like something out of Mystery-Science Theatre 3000. No, this is not a film for a picky cinephile, it’s rough, and campy, but it is fun. And that’s what independent film lacks so often, a joy inherent in its creation.

Starring Amy McCullough as Sheila Raven, a hard-ass lone wolf detective who eats cigarettes for breakfast and doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit,’ OPERATION: RAVEN dives into the previously unknown world of luchador henchmen, cross-dressing drug smugglers, and maniacal villains who eat Vienna sausages hand-roasted by their own personal geishas. Yes, it’s all a little bit ridiculous, but once you allow yourself to be taken into their world, it’s a great ride.

The film was made with only 9 actors and zero crew and Buchanan is not afraid to tell you their budget was “around $600.” He says, “I actually think that the budget was one of the big advantages that we had in making this movie. It forced us to be creative. Making a duct system out of cardboard boxes and tin foil works infinitely better for this movie than it would have if we could have afforded something more typical. The kinds of scenes where we were being particularly creative (the underground cocaine farm, the helicopter, the evil lair) are what make the world of OPERATION: RAVEN take on a sort of playful, comic-book atmosphere. “

He did have a few priceless budget items in his pocket, like his lead actress, who holds the film together with gritty determination in the face of an increasingly outlandish plot. What’s great about her character is that she is never discounted by the mere fact that she is female. “The main character could be played by a man with no changes to the script,” says Buchanan. “Nobody ever assumes Sheila is weak, nobody is surprised that she is a good cop, nobody is embarrassed that she is tougher or better at police work than them, and she is never treated as a sex object.” In fact ,“there is no attempt to address her romantic needs, which is very unique in a movie with a female lead, but not that unique in movies with male leads.” McCullough had just moved to Portland from Chicago when Buchanan met her. As the music editor of a local paper as well as a bartender, she was, as he describes her “a gorgeous babe who smokes and drinks whiskey while writing articles about what the next big band in Portland is going to be, a very young Barbara Stanwyck. At some point you realize being cool isn’t everything and the ‘coolest’ jobs aren’t always the best ones for you. I think it’s called growing up.“ Years later, Buchanan tried to create this fantasy homage to ‘how badass Amy was’ with Sheila Raven. Not that she’s any less badass now, “Amy still reminds me of a badass Barbara Stanwyck,” says Buchanan “except now it’s the 30-year-old version, which everyone knows is even more desirable.”

The other asset is clearly his own imagination. “ I never wanted to engage in overt goofiness,” Buchanan says, “I knew that the characters themselves would have to act like what they were doing made sense and would have to take their own actions seriously. “ That being said OPERATION:RAVEN is full of bizarre situations and vastly different character types, as if they were drawn from different sources and forced to work out their problems here in this film. Buchanan consciously set the film in a vague location (with references to the City News and the City Police) though it’s a real place with actual consequences, even death. Another thing intentional obscured is the year. The police chief’s office feels like some sort of 70’s cop television show, but the villains come out of more eccentric 80’s action films. “They are into cocaine, Nagel paintings, and disco lighting,” says Buchanan. This becomes part of the film’s inherent charm. “I think the fact that we just went ahead and applied that kind of logic without worrying about the audience being confused about what year it actually is probably helps to create [the]atmosphere.” The result is sort of a Monty-Python-meets-Roger-Corman absurdist world where the story is only limited by the audience’s willingness to go with it.

Honestly, every would-be and currently-in-the-trenches Lowbudget/Nobudget filmmaker should see this film, it’s a great example of what can be done, and it’s a good time. When I was a kid, I loved running around with my camcorder and shooting my friends on bike chases down suburban streets, firing at each other with disk guns. Eventually you grow out of that and you write the film about being out of college and not having a job and not knowing what do with the rest of your life. Jimmie Buchanan Jr. has found a way to dial back the time machine and recapture the sheer delight of making a movie with all the naïveté of youth and all the guts of an auteur.

OPERATION: RAVEN makes its world premiere at the Galaxy Highland Theatre for one night only, Wednesday February 26th, at 7:00 pm. Check out http://www.galaxytheatres.com/highland/movie-info?film=882 for more information.




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