Ian McCluskey takes a collaborative, DIY approach to making documentaries. In 2003, he founded NW Documentary, a non-profit that creates original documentaries and teaches others to craft their own stories.
Ian lives in Portland, Oregon.
From “Film Mentors With Backstories,” published in The Oregonian, 2010, by Peter Ames Carlin:
…McCluskey eventually wound up at the University of Oregon journalism school, where a moment of curiosity inspired him to crash the opening session of a class in documentary making. The returning students had already prepared to give detailed pitches for films, including precise budget analyses and other micro-details. And yet, McCluskey found the confidence to pitch a documentary about Celilo Falls, the lost waterfall on the Columbia River that served as the hub of Native American life in the Pacific Northwest before it was dammed out of existence in the 1950s.
McCluskey went on to make the film — though he actually had to sign up for the documentary class and learn the basics of filmmaking first.
Flush with his new set of skills, McCluskey fueled his muse with an old-fashioned populist sense of purpose: “This Woody Guthrie idea,” he says, “that stories should be for people, by people.”
After spending a few years as a staff producer for OPB, McCluskey rode the system’s post-9/11 production slowdown to a realization that his future lay not just in making films, but also in teaching others how to create their own.
Knowing that it would take less than $10,000 to buy the equipment to get started, McCluskey founded NW Documentary in 2003, and with a staff made entirely of volunteers, got to work.
Workshops began soon thereafter, while McCluskey invested just as much effort in shooting two full-length films, starting with “Sun Gu Ja,” about the history of Koreans in America, and, more famously, “Eloquent Nude,” which combined modern interviews with archival photos and, daringly filmed re-enactments of crucial moments, to portray the conjoined lives of groundbreaking photographer Edward Weston and his model and eventual wife, Charis Wilson.
A hit on the North American festival circuit, “Eloquent Nude” soon found an eager worldwide audience, won a legion of awards and still provides income for NW Documentary’s yearly programs.
McCluskey’s latest film, a nostalgic short about the carefree days of young adulthood called “Summer Snapshot,” also sets real voices to visual re-enactments that use old-fashioned super-8 film to evoke a long day of running, swimming and singing at a swimming hole on the Sandy River.
But while McCluskey may be seasoned enough to experiment with form and technique in his films, he finds just as much emotional power in the documentaries made by his students.