Reel NW

About the Film

About the Film

In the rural Oregon logging town of Philomath, every high school graduate has their college tuition paid thanks to the generosity of local lumber baron Rex Clemens. But when a new schools superintendent arrives from Chicago, the administrators of the scholarship become concerned over what is perceives as the increasingly liberal direction of the schools. The conflict between the old-time loggers and the "urban immigrants" escalates dramatically, and the scholarship administrators deliver an ultimatum: either the superintendent leaves or the scholarship is withdrawn, leaving the town's children without money for college.

About the Filmmaker

About the Filmmaker

Peter D. Richardson is a Portland-based documentary filmmaker. He grew up in Philomath, Oregon, and studied film production at Notre Dame University. “Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon” was his debut feature. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006 and was broadcast on the Sundance Channel. The film won the Award for Best Documentary at the Sarasota Film Festival in 2006.

Richardson’s second documentary, “How to Die in Oregon”, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Portland International Film Festival, and awards and recognition at many other festivals. It premiered on HBO in May 2011.

Filmmaker's Statement

Filmmaker's Statement

The cultural divide in Philomath, between liberal and conservative, faith-based and secular, is a microcosm of what is happening across America today. It’s America’s culture war writ small—told through the struggle of a rural Oregon logging town. But in Philomath, there’s more at stake than an abstraction about where our American culture is headed. There’s also a scholarship and, very literally, children’s futures that are on the line.

Like most kids who grew up in Philomath, I took the Clemens Scholarship for granted. I thought of it not as a gift, but as an entitlement. The scholarship paid your tuition to either of the Oregon universities, or the same money could be applied to the school of your choice. There were no requirements; simply attend Philomath High School, graduate, and the money was yours. There was one hitch, though: you had to fill out what must have been the nation’s shortest scholarship “application.” I remember filling out the application my senior year: a single, one-sided, 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. At the bottom was a small area where you wrote what you planned to do with your life. I remember actually being perturbed that I had to spend three minutes scribbling something about my life plans into a space about four lines tall. But I did, and those precious three minutes netted me $16,000 for college. When you feel entitled to a gift, you are also beholden to it, and this was the power the Clemens Foundation had over Philomath: control born of generosity.

So when the foundation and other community members became dissatisfied with the perceived liberal agenda in the schools, they could actually do something about it, and quick. If the superintendent, whom they believed most responsible for the changes in the school, didn’t resign, they would withdraw the scholarship that had been in the community since 1959. The superintendent and school board refused their ultimatum and the Foundation pulled the scholarships, eight months before graduation—not a lot of time for a high school senior to start saving for college. A few months later, the superintendent and the principal of the high school announced they were taking jobs outside the district, and it wasn’t long before the Foundation announced the scholarships were back, with certain restrictions based on “family background.”

Since the scholarship was pulled and then reinstated in 2002, many I talk to in Philomath feel that the town is returning to its conservative roots. At the high school, the Gay Straight Alliance has been renamed the Human Alliance for Diversity and a controversial play was cancelled at the last minute when a concerned Foundation board member made a call to the new superintendent. The school board and city council are, by most accounts, more conservative, as are the district’s key administrators, including the new superintendent and high school principal.

You could say that the Clemens Foundation won the war; that they affected the cultural change they desired. But they also lost. They lost the opportunity to educate many of the town’s children, who no longer apply for the scholarship because they either disagree with the Foundation’s politics or aren’t eligible under the new criteria. In a sense the foundation has won the culture war in Philomath, but in so doing they’ve lost their only bargaining chip: the remarkable promise of a free education. So when the next culture war comes to town, they will have as much power as any other citizen in America who fights the battle of red vs. blue.

Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon


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If you don't like the way he ( the foundation ) puts restrictions on the scholarship money and has an agenda that he believes in, don't take the money. It seems to me that most liberals see the world "give me your money whether you like what I'm doing or not and if you don't like what I'm doing, you are a scumbag"

As the filmaker put it he saw this as a RIGHT. A RIGHT to another mans money, are you crazy?


What a terrible thing to do. In fact, this is blasphemy in the name of a family legacy. Wouldn't any man uncertain of himself and his actions anxiously sweat bullets, churn and turned prior to anointing himself as judge, jury, executioner, victim and God? He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 17:150)
How can a man take an altruistic act of generosity and transform it into an egotistical vessel of control ruled by hatred and empty soil. That was not God, it was a man who felt empowered and enjoyed that feeling so much that he has since continued to rein over the small community he grew up in, right or wrong. I wonder how he might have felt had the tables been turned. What if it was his life that had been threatened due to a lack of compliance of another mans ideology of the way things should be regardless of the consequence.
This is a very good example of what is going on in this country on a small scale. Industrialized farming and agriculture versus the people and our government. I really believe that if this man had the power that he would force the discontinuation of any education if it went against his personal agenda. This man castrated himself up there that day. There isn't any amount of money in this world that is guided by evil that is worth having in the first place.


After seeing this movie I was as compelled as you to say about the same thing.To say what he said and then wrap it up with God is so offensive.I would have accepted it as what seems to happen to people with money and power and said OK. Why claim to be a man of God when clearly by his
actions is not!!


To the students of Philomath and the World. Something we all should learn to respect is; The single most important offering Steve Lowther and the Clemens foundation has to offer is that they are historical witnesses. All of our teachers and children who are easily impressed need to take a moment to consider the importance the historical witness has on our society today. Mr. Lowther spoke mostly about the issues he personally witnessed in his lifetime, while most other individuals spoke of and taught hypothetical theories. I ask all teachers of hypothetical theories to consider the following. Almost all old growth forests we have today are manmade, that is, we fought forest fires to preserve them from destruction. The forests in Alaska burn, almost every 40 years, as a way to control diseases. Clear cut logging has for generations managed to keep timber diseases in control in the Pacific Northwest without chemical use. An area burnt by a forest fire or clear cut brings the vegetation down to the level where wildlife can feed on it and all forms of the wildlife population explode. With all of the fossil fuels we are burning today and our need for the renewable timber resource it would be insane to allow our forest to just burn up. Much litigation has ensued over the salmon populations in our streams and rivers, yet every time the dams on the Columbia River are identified as the real reason we have dwindled salmon populations the argument is ignored. The truth is that as profitable as it was for the cities of the northwest and California, the damming of the Columbia river, was devastating to all of the rural communities who live and work in the Pacific Northwest, as they lost a huge portion of their wildlife food supply, and were targeted by unscrupulous ignorant environmentalists, who lobbied and legislated from the cities. Surprising enough the rural families have never asked for a hand out or to be repaid for the damage done. They have only continually asked to address the situation with historical witnesses and sound science which is what the lobbyist and unscrupulous politicians of the urban areas, that are dependent on the Bonneville Power Grid, are determined to discredit and ignore. I want to make it perfectly clear that I believe Hydro-electric generation is the safest and cleanest form of electricity we have today and should not be removed or replaced with a more pollutant form of electricity but it is in no way clean energy. Hydroelectric power is responsible for the largest environmental disaster in the history of the world. The entire wildlife population of the great Columbia River System has either been destroyed or seriously damaged from the dams and I cringe every time they produce a clean energy electric car. It is criminal false advertising. Ignorance is bliss and makes all of us feel good when we ignore reality and historical witnesses who sometimes gives us a reality check. Only by the grace of God did the Clemens family have the courage to stand up and testify as historical witnesses and as of yet I have not heard from one historical witness who has creditably challenged their testimony or evidence. Will the one with the truth please step up to the plate I would like to see him or her take a swing at it. Agenda 21, is a socialist plan to bend, break and destroy our constitution, and at no time should we allow our constitution to be bent and broken as there is far too much at stake. We as a nation have to have the ability to reach for the stars, and without our constitution we cannot. As Dr. Martin Seligman put it in his book “The Optimistic Child”, we will become a nation of depressed individuals like the Soviet Union, if we allow others to bend our constitution. Socialism is only allowed within our constitution as long as it does not bend it. The moment any group bends our constitution it becomes a subversive group that is criminal and illegal.


Looks like they killed the goose that laid the golden egg. And now are real sour about it... Boneheads.


Very interesting story as a tale of what has happened and is happening across America. On top of the Wall Street greed that sent the lumber industry to it's demise, the insanity (of the Superintendent, Principle, Alternative-Attitudes-and-Behaviors Students, and a few proselytizing Teachers) belongs on America's Dumbest! If word got out, like it has now that this film has aired, every kid that wants a free college education should be drawn to that [magnet] school and simply graduate. The Clemens' were fantastic philanthropists and this culture clash almost blew the whole gig. These are my thoughts and I consider myself a political liberal. I am very thankful for the philanthropists and the USMC!


Yeah, I caught that after I posted; but, I let it go because it's not easy to edit comments after they're posted. May I ask an aficionado such as yourself ... What is the difference in meaning between "Hmmm", "Hmmmm", or even "Hmmmmngrphm"?


Hmmmm. Most political liberals I know are well educated and know the difference between "Principle" and "Principal"

Most conservatives know the difference as well.

WOW! What a movie. Well done. This is the best un bias documentary to expose the well oiled machine of the United Nations, Agenda 21, Sustainable Development, Global to Local action plan. I wonder how many people in this movie actually know and understand the real threat to our communities and our constitution. There is a much larger underlying agenda from the United Nations. Get educated. Google “Agenda 21 for dummies” The international branch of the Forest Service was created to implement Agenda 21.


I grew up in small towns where the community depended on timber for livlihood. The west is rich with stories of timber barons--and those who fought to keep "the little man" solvent. The struggles in those communities are variations on this theme--with painfully intractable results. Ray Canterbury is another timber legacy In the 1980s, Quilcene suffered from the demise of both the timber and fishing industries ( and the local community struggles with changes--many not positive.

As for Clemens Foundation, I firmly believe owners have the right to set the rules for any and all scholarship or grant monies; even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has rules about the format of grant request that creates problems for a struggling 3rd world applicant. Selling off the family home to the school rather than the nursing home seems like the start of a feud that polarized to bring about some un-neighborly and untimely claims and behaviors on both sides.

Pete Richardson has used his scholarship money AND his talents wisely!! I look forward to more of these and want to share this with everyone, especially the tiny towns in OR and WA and the "invading neologisms".


I loved how one student put it very bluntly and said what we were all thinking; That guy representing the Clemens Foundation is a scumbag. He can say whatever he pleases, but his actions and words reveal his *real* character - and it's nothing like the Jesus he loved to talk about.


Jesus engaged in combat with Hades and emerged as the greater force ... the Higher Man ... Forever!

In the Clemens' Family and Foundation, we can see something of the "Higher Man" and therefore a direct connection with Jesus. What is your combat experience?

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