Willamette Week's Longbaugh Film Festival debuted in April 2003, serving as a showcase for independent filmmaking. The three-day event took place at the historic Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon. With well over one thousand people showing up to catch the various programs of feature films, shorts and documentaries, the first annual Longbaugh Film Festival was an unquestionable success. Featuring the work of some of the most talented film and video artists from the fringes of filmmaking, Longbaugh presented exciting work from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Festival highlights included Frances Anderson's powerful documentary Civilian Casualties, which left audiences emotionally drained, the unveiling of James Westby's cult classic Bloody Mary: The Version You've Seen, and the Portland premier of Ian and Tyson Smith's The Sexy Chef, which played to a standing-room-only crowd.
As the term "independent film" becomes more closely associated with festivals like Sundance and Toronto, the nature of independent films has changed drastically over the years. Over the years, festivals such as Sundance have shifted away from showcasing independently produced films seeking distribution, to movies that already have distribution deals and those that were produced by companies like Miramax. The result is less of a festival and more of a market showcase for upcoming product.
Willamette Week's Longbaugh Film Festival, which takes its name from Harry Longbaugh, the infamous outlaw from the Old West, better known as The Sundance Kid, is a return of the film festival that champions independent cinema.