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Bushra Azzouz ’80

June 13, 2019 in Portland, Oregon.

Documentary filmmaker Bushra Azzouz taught for decades at Portland’s Northwest Film Center, giving voice to hundreds of aspiring filmmakers. One of the outreach projects she led was in Eddyville, a rural Oregon town, where she had middle-school students interview the oldest members of their families, mining for memories of the place. As a filmmaker, it was not industry shifts from film to video that concerned her. “The truth is,” she said, “I’m not interested in technology, but in storytelling.”

Her own story began with her birth in Mosul, Iraq. She grew up in Lebanon and moved to the United States, where she majored in theatre at Reed.

“I wanted to be as far away as possible from everything I knew,” she said. “Even the eastern United States were too close, and I liked the fact that I had to look up Oregon on the map.”

Bushra’s budding interest in contemporary theatre was met with an insistence on familiarity with Shakespeare, which she had barely read. After writing her thesis, “La Celestina: Mosaics,” she discovered that she was short half a credit. She enrolled in a film class at Portland State University taught by Andries Deinum, who had cofounded the school’s Center for the Moving Image in 1969. It opened her eyes to film as another language.

She spent five years making a 70-minute documentary that explored the life of contemporary Native American basket weaver Nettie Jackson as well as the documentary process. That film, And Woman Wove It in a Basket, won awards at two Native American festivals and was screened at the Museum of Modern Art. While making the film, Bushra earned a graduate degree in documentary film production at San Francisco State University. She was still making final edits on her film when she became a faculty member at the Northwest Film Study Center.

Bushra’s other films include No News, her reflection on the events of 9/11 that drew on the long history of cyclical violence her family endured in the Middle East; Women of Cyprus, a study of Cypriot women trying to reunify their war-torn island; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Prison, portraying the production of Shakespeare’s comedies by inmates at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon.

In her personal life, as in her films, Bushra devoted herself to giving voice to the marginalized and the powerless. She worked on projects committed to community media, organic food production, indigenous land rights in Borneo, children, and homeless youths.

“Teaching students film is giving them a voice,” she said of her years of teaching aspiring filmmakers. She was also a lead mentor for the Film Center’s Project Viewfinder, which collaborated with organizations like Outside In and New Avenues for Youth to give Portland’s young homeless the opportunity to share their perspectives through film. She is survived by her husband, Andy Larkin, and her two brothers, Bashar and Haydar.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2019

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