John Wayne Film Festival rides into the sunset

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Oakhurst festival raises roughly $3,000 for the Sierra Historical Sites Association.

LaDonna Douglas was one of the 120 or so people who showed up Sunday at the MET Cinemas of Oakhurst for the John Wayne Film Festival.


“Well, oh my God, it’s John Wayne,” the Oakhurst resident gushed.

She was buying raffle tickets for prizes that included a darn good portrait of the actor. All the other prizes had plastic cups for the ticket stubs. The portrait had a MET popcorn bucket, and by early afternoon it was nearly full.

The festival, a fundraiser for Sierra Historical Sites Association, which oversees Fresno Flats Historic Park, took over one theater at the MET and a chunk of the parking lot out front. Three movies — “Fort Apache,” “Red River” and “Rio Bravo” were shown. In between there were jailings, a John Wayne look-alike contest, chili and cornbread, cobblers with ice cream and drawings for the prizes.

The festival goers sat under tents, enjoying the beautiful day and declared the chili — prepared by Fresno Flats volunteers — delicious. Public servant Tom Wheeler, District 5 Madera County Supervisor, served chili and time. He was one of the people thrown in the Fresno Flats portable hoosegow.

Coordinator Carrie Pereira had warned that anyone could swear out a warrant against anyone, who would then be given a fair trial, found guilty and tossed in the clink until bail was paid.

Wheeler was charged with being a silver-tongued devil. They passed the hat for his bail and collected $35.10. He matched that amount.

Rusty Murphy of the Met went behind bars for the essence of butter on his breath. Educator and columnist Bill Atwood wound up in the cooler for being known to wear hats with “funny ears.” (He’s a member of Yosemite-Oakhurst-Sierra 49ears, a group of Disneyana enthusiasts.)

The winners of the John Wayne portrait were Jim and Vicki Belton of North Fork. Vicki said she has Wayne memorabilia — including a collectible plate and a movie poster — in the office at her home, and the oil painting would get the place of honor.

The winner of the look-alike contest (Murphy and Wheeler were among the entrants) was Bruce McNichols, who looked like he’s seen his fair share of cowboying. But in the interest of public disclosure, not one of the contestants even came close to the Duke.

Because all the space, time and food and prizes for the festival was donated, Fresno Flats will get all the money. An early tally was somewhere around $3,000.

The audiences for the films appeared to be mostly on the far side of 40, but enthusiastic about seeing Wayne and friends on the big screen for the first time in a long time. At the midafternoon showing of “Red River,” sighs were audible as Wayne’s character kissed his sweetheart goodbye. Watchers also chuckled at the verbal antics of Walter Brennan as Wayne’s crusty old retainer and cheered when Montgomery Clift (who played Wayne’s foster son) finally gave Wayne what was coming to him. Two guys who seemed to know what they were talking about figured the herd on screen was not the nearly 10,000 referred to in the script.

Pereira said she was delighted with the way the festival turned out.

“Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun,” she said.

She added she is hoping to make a film festival an annual affair.

By Elizabeth Gabriel, The Sierra Star

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