The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Paul Turner Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

June 24, 2015


Paul W. Turner was born in 1961 in San Jose, California. Turner's father was a biomedical electrical engineer and his mother a bacteriologist. Largely out of pursuit of further schooling and career opportunities, Turner's parents moved their family often during Paul's childhood. Over the course of his youth, Paul lived in San Jose, Santa Cruz, Vancouver B.C. and Woodburn, Oregon before finally graduating from high school in Cottage Grove, Oregon.

Turner became captivated by photography and film at an early age. One of his initial jobs out of high school was as an assistant at the Woodburn Drive-In, where he and a friend lived in an apartment built under the screen. During these years, Turner also worked at an indoor theater in downtown Woodburn, which provided him with his first experiences as a projectionist, and likewise took classes at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon.

In the mid-1980s, following a period working at a photography lab in Salem, Turner became the manager of the Kuhn Cinema in Lebanon, Oregon, which he ran for the next decade. It was during this time period that Turner returned to school once more, initially taking courses at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Oregon and writing for the school's newspaper, The Commuter.

Turner proved a good fit for the LBCC newspaper and his work there ultimately captured the eye of the faculty advisor for the OSU Daily Barometer, who invited Turner to transfer to Oregon State and provide leadership as a student editor. In the mid-1990s, Turner made the switch to Oregon State, serving as photo editor and staff writer for the newspaper, and majoring in English. While at OSU, Turner also developed a connection with Jon Lewis, a faculty member in English specializing in Film Studies. In addition to his faculty responsibilities, Lewis helped administer OSU's International Film Series, which Turner covered for the Barometer as a film reviewer.

By 1996 the series, which had run continuously on the OSU campus since 1977, was beginning to encounter difficulties sustaining itself. Prompted in part by conversations with Lewis, Turner decided to drop out of OSU and to open an arthouse cinema in Corvallis that would provide the independent and foreign films once delivered by the campus series. In September 1997, after six months of renovations that he carried out himself, Turner opened the Avalon Cinema, a single-screen theater carved out of a former mercantile store and located near the Corvallis waterfront.

In 2005 Turner opened a second theater in Corvallis, the Darkside Cinema, created largely in response to the construction in town of a multi-screen megaplex that was large enough to be booking both mainstream product as well as some of the smaller films normally screened by The Avalon. The Darkside, consisting of four theaters capable of seating about fifty people each, both kept the culture of arthouse cinema alive in Corvallis and led to the demise of The Avalon, which closed in 2007.

Today, the Darkside Cinema continues to screen independent, foreign and art films every night of the year. In addition to a steady rotation of commercial bookings, the theater also serves as host to a free Community Movie Night and to a number of festival events, including the annual Crossroads International Film Festival.

In addition to the daily work of operating his businesses, Turner has spent time documenting many of the memorable moments that have arisen over the course of his career in movies. Selections of these pieces have been compiled into two books: Prancing Lavender Bunnies: And Other Stuff from the Darkside of Independent Cinema (2008) and Dodging the Butterfly Nets: Running Through the Gears of a Small Town Independent Cinema (2009).