Even among Doors fans the “Jim Morrison Film Festival” isn’t a widely known event in the biography of Jim Morrison and the history of The Doors. The festival was held March 27, 1970 and featured the films for the songs “Break on Through” and “The Unknown Soldier”, as well as “Feast of Friends”, the BBC documentary “The Doors Are Open,” and Morrison’s film “HWY.”
The film festival was Morrison’s idea. Morrison had befriended ‘Poppin’” magazine owner Hank Zevallos when Zevallos had written an article focusing on Morrison as an artist instead of a sex symbol. When “Poppin’” ran into financial problems Zevallos called Morrison and told him the magazine was having cash flow issues and Morrison suggested having a benefit for the magazine that would include a poetry reading and a showing of “Hiway” (as it was then known).
Zevallos quickly hired a theatre in Vancouver and flew down to Los Angeles to work out the details of the benefit. The first problem he encountered was the length of “Hiway” itself. When they originally discussed the film Zevallos assumed that “Hiway” was a feature length movie, i.e., at least 90 minutes. When Zevallos talked with Morrison in L.A., he discovered that the movie would only be an hour in length (the finished film is only about 40 minutes in length) so the “Jim Morrison Film Festival” was born. Originally the festival was to include Morrison’s and Ray Manzarek’s UCLA films. When their UCLA films couldn’t be secured they decided that using The Doors’ films of the songs and documentaries along with “Hiway” would be enough to fill out a program.
As the date of the festival approached it turned out Morrison wouldn’t be able to attend because of Doors commitments, but then a larger problem presented itself. The print of “Hiway” was a 35mm film but the equipment at the movie theater they rented out was only for 16mm films, so they hit upon the rather unique solution of hiring a nearby theater that had the proper equipment to use after their last show and they would have the audience at the “Jim Morrison Film Festival” leave the first theater after seeing “Break on Through”, “The Unknown Soldier”, “Feast of Friends” and “The Doors Are Open” and walk the couple of blocks to the second theater to screen “Hiway”. The audience was told this was the stipulation of Morrison loaning the festival the film, that the audience had to participate in the film in some way.
Despite the best of intentions and extraordinary measures to bring the festival off, “Hiway” wasn’t well received by the audience, and there was only silence at the conclusion of the film. The benefit also wasn’t enough to save “Poppin’” as the magazine later folded.
“HWY” later fared better at other film festivals including the Atlanta International Film Festival.
Sources: “Recalling The Jim Morrison Film Festival” by Hank Zevallos that was reprinted in the book “You Make Me Real,” and the Ben Fong-Torres article “Jim Morrison talks about his own film.”
(Here’s a recording of the Fong-Torres interview. Morrison talks about “HWY” and Vancouver starting around the 6:00 mark.)
Originally published March 27, 2016.