Now that you’ve given to friends, family, and (hint) all those worthy arts nonprofits, how about treating yourself to a gift of Oregon music? We heard only a fraction of the classical, jazz and world music released by Oregon artists this year, but we sure enjoyed a lot of what we did hear. We’re dividing our year-end wrap into three segments this time, beginning with two Portland based groups that usually perform music before 1800 and frequently work together, as in this month’s Messiah performances. And don’t forget our past Oregon CD recommendations in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Cappella Romana

The Portland vocal ensemble released three recordings this year.

GoodFridayInJerusalem-300x300Good Friday in Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Re-read James McQuillen’s ArtsWatch review. You can hear the ensemble sing some of this music next week; see our Wednesday weekend previews for details.
cappella romana steinberg
Maximilian Steinberg’s Passion Week

Read my Wall Street Journal review of the Portland vocal ensemble’s world premiere performance of the long lost choral masterpiece they recorded and released this year. This new recording sounds just as moving as that performance, and contains not only the Lithuanian-born Steinberg’s early 20th century sacred music masterpiece, but also five Chant Arrangements for Holy Week composed by Steinberg’s father in law, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose shimmering beauty, if not innovation, approaches that of his son in law’s work.

Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin West
Nicosia, Cyprus in the 15th century: crossroads of East and West; way station for Crusaders; a prize captured by Richard the Lionheart; a successive vassal of French, Italian and Ottoman rulers; a multicultural community that included significant populations of Christians both European and Middle Eastern, Armenians, Jews, and Muslims. There are moments in history when the right combination of people and historical forces converges on a particular provincial community (like ‘60s Motown or Memphis in pop music) and transforms a cultural outpost into a surprising artistic fountain. The Portland vocal ensemble’s third (!) 2015 release imagines what a listener might have heard at one of those fertile junctures.


FILM: Hollywood Theatre will get ‘Hateful’ this Christmas

The landmark Portland theater is already prepping its 70mm presentation for Quentin Tarantino's new film

As soon as the brand new lenses arrived in the mail there was a rush of excitement. Then came the anxiety. Hollywood Theatre head programmer Dan Halsted, already a near-mythological Portland celluloid purveyor, has been through this before. The theater’s brave, forward-thinking decision years ago to install 70mm film protection capabilities in its large downstairs screen, despite the format being near-death after the seismic industry shift to digital, has already borne three separate successful exhibitions with “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Vertigo” and, just recently, “The Wild Bunch.” Even still, Halsted is nervous for the Hollywood’s upcoming two-week exclusive early run of Quentin Tarantino’s latest opus, “The Hateful Eight.” For starters, he needs to test out those new lenses.

To accommodate the unique release and specific technical specifications to show the film properly, Boston Light & Sound made new lenses for every theater showing it on 70mm. Known as Ultra Panavision 70, and constructed for a unique look—the widest standard aspect ratio used today is known as scope, or 2.39:1; ‘Hateful Eight’ will be shown in 2.76:1, making the image significantly wider than it is tall—they were used occasionally in the ’50s and ’60s, on films like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “Ben Hur,” but had to be made new because parts are more difficult to come by now. The lenses arrived at the Hollywood just last week. The film itself, one of some 100 prints struck anew on 70mm (the widest release on that format in more than 20 years), is not yet there. While Halsted and co. eagerly await its arrival, some other prep can begin.

these new lenses are much larger than normal

above: one of the new lenses from the Hollywood. They’re much larger than normal

To make use of the glorious large format (a subject that I’ve written about for OAW here and here), the Hollywood expanded its screen more than a year ago. All the better to make use of the high resolution, immersive depth, and gorgeously grainy imagery the format yields onscreen. But it will be re-formatted specifically to fit ‘Hateful Eight’s extreme wide picture, which, based on footage from trailers, Tarantino and regular DP Robert Richardson look to have taken advantage of its capabilities. Maybe even more impressive than the imagery, though, is the dynamic and layered sound found on 70mm presentations. The Hollywood will be the screening the film exactly as Tarantino intended, which can’t be said for most theaters in town in an era where multiplexes rarely even staff projectionists.

The ever chatty and controversial director (who’s been in the news of late attracting some cop hate for attending a rally where he spoke out against police brutality) essentially used his clout and ever-increasing box office success (his last two films, “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” were box office behemoths) to convince the Weinstein Company to release his latest on 70mm. Tarantino’s long been a proponent for shooting and projecting on celluloid, and the inspiration to release “The Hateful Eight” in this manner came from Paul Thomas Anderson’s and Christopher Nolan’s resuscitating of the format for “The Master” and “Interstellar,” respectively. These directors are film fetishists to be sure, but the way they’ve used their individual and collective power in the industry to keep it alive is to be commended. We should be so lucky as moviegoers to see more specialized presentations like this that remind why cinema is at its best in a big, dark room shown on a giant screen with the sound cranked up. Much as I’ve really come around on DCP projection, 70mm film projection is still the gold standard, no-doubt-about-it best way to watch a movie.

hateful 8 70mm

“The Hateful Eight” is another Western from Tarantino. He’s assembled a dynamic cast, most of them a who’s who of Tarantino regulars (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, Bruce Dern, Walton Goggins) and a few newbies (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir, Channing Tatum). Not much is known yet about the finished film beyond some enticing details: the run time will be about three hours, with an overture and intermission (the 70mm version of the film will also have 6 additional minutes of footage); genius Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who scored “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” (Tarantino’s favorite film of all time), made a new original score for the film; it’s set in one location, a haberdashery, where most the action takes place. It appears to be a nice bridge between the indie sensibilities of his early work like “Reservoir Dogs” and the big budget size and epic scope of his more modern work.

Any time Quentin Tarantino releases a new film it’s cause for celebration. But this special 70mm engagement, which will run two full weeks before opening wide in theaters across the county (mostly projected on digital by then), really gets to what he’s about as a filmmaker. Deeply nostalgic for bygone, lost eras of cinema—a time when people used to go out to the movies for their evenings, not just use it to kill two hours before moving on to the next thing—it’s exciting to see him double down on a near-dormant technology with the hope of giving it a life. It’s a risky proposition for him and theaters like the Hollywood to invest in a technology that’s been passed by and almost left for dead. Especially in this era of simplified, faster and cheaper digital presentations.


But that’s why going to the Hollywood is really the only place you should see “The Hateful Eight” come Christmas time. Why see it any other way? We’re lucky enough here in Portland to have that option, and to see it there well before most the country gets a chance. Take advantage of it, and see what all the fuss is about. If “The Hateful Eight” is a success (Halsted hopes to keep the print at the theater after its run, to revive through the years and continue showing the way it was meant to be seen and heard), maybe this long thought dead way of showing films can come back, even in a niche way.

Or maybe it’s already happening? King Vidor’s “Solomon And Sheba” was the first 70mm presentation screened at The Hollywood Theatre back in 1959. Thankfully, “The Hateful Eight” will not be the last. 2016 will be the Hollywood’s 90th anniversary, so the plan is to show many more classics on 70mm. “Baraka,” a visual nonfiction work from 1992 that’s a stone-cold masterpiece, will screen there in April. And look out for much more next year: Halsted is hoping for new restorations to happen, but also plans to show “The Sound of Music,” “Lawrence Of Arabia,” “West Side Story”—he’s even looking for “Die Hard,” which would just be amazing.

This is why it matters where you decide to see a movie. If you see “The Hateful Eight” this Christmas, choose wisely.

The 42nd Northwest Filmmakers’ Fest: A few highlights worth seeing

This year's Pacific Northwest-focused fest runs from November 12 - 18 and it's packed with several shorts programs and 16 features

For four decades, he Northwest Film Center has been at the forefront of supporting locally made, truly independent movies. The tradition continues with the 42nd annual Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival, starting Thursday and running through November 18. Made up of several short film programs, more than a dozen features, and a few offshoot, filmmaker-friendly gatherings and get togethers. All the better to enjoy locally made films from the Pacific Northwest and talk shop with other filmmakers.

Before we dive into our four main highlight feature films recommended by our own Lily Hudson, I thought I might chime in a little and throw out a few more recommendations of films that I enjoyed, and you just might as well. From Vancouver, BC, comes Hadwin’s Judgement, a straightforward documentary adaption of the wonderful nonfiction novel The Golden Spruce, by  John Vaillant. The novel is something of a cousin to Into The Wild, so make sure to check out the film and the book. A regular at the Northwest Film Center for the last few years, Zach Weintraub, continues to show his growth as a filmmaker with his latest, Slackjaw. And finally, a few shorts I really admired, playing in SHORTS II: Tracing Space program, Miles Sprietsma’s Spatial and Kurtis Hough’s To See More Light.

Make sure to check out our interview feature with programmer Thomas Phillipson for his tips and themes for this year’s fest. See you at the fest!


Thomas Phillipson sums up 15 years at the NW Filmmakers’ Fest

The man behind this week's 42nd annual Northwest Filmmaker's Festival says goodbye to Portland and talks about the festival

A Portland tradition since 1973, the Northwest Film Center’s Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival showcases regional work by filmmakers from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, Idaho and Montana (those last three are technically part of the Northwest). As Regional Services Manager, Thomas Phillipson has been helming the fest since 2000, so he’s seen a lot of on-screen flannel. ArtsWatch writer Lily Hudson spent time with Phillipson to talk about the 42nd year of the festival (which opens Thursday, November 9 and runs through November 18), the newfound diversity of regional film and the despotic rule of the celebrity judge.


ArtsWatch: You’ve been with the NW Film Center a long time. This year’s 42nd Fest marks 15 years and 15 NWFests. What’s been the arc of regional film in your time with NWFC? How has it grown and changed?

Thomas Phillipson: It’s tough to place the development of the Northwest filmmaking community in an arc—it just keeps bubbling and changing all the time. Of course technology has democratized filmmaking, and the Film Center’s glib mission of “putting cameras in the hands of the people” gets quite a lot easier when you move from a 16mm Bolex camera to today’s whiz-bang equipment. You no longer need an army to make your film… or video… or digital media. That means that there can be fewer filters between the auteur and the audience. I’ve been pleased to watch and have tried to especially promote projects that feel like natural expressions of the people who made them, and each year I feel like I have more of these types of films to choose from.

Forty-two years ago, the Film Center was pretty much the only screen in town where you could find super-indy Northwest filmmakers’ work, but that’s just not the case any more. In the new world order of an explosion of content, the Film Center’s curatorial function is all the more important.

While it sounds elitist (because it is) the Film Center’s high curatorial bar lets filmmakers and their audiences know that what they see on our screens is carefully chosen. We strengthen the Film Center’s brand not for the sake of the Film Center, but to be in an optimal position to advocate for the filmmakers whose work is screened here.

Phillipson introduces a film at a previous year's NWFest. Photo by RL Potograpiya.

Phillipson introduces a film at a previous year’s NWFest. Photo by RL Potograpiya.

Does the Pacific Northwest film scene have a ‘personality’ or a way of looking at the world? Is there a perspective that characterizes films coming out of this region? Or themes that come up again and again?

I hesitate to suggest that there is a defining characteristic common to filmmakers living in the Northwest, because that might unfairly suggest that this work is somehow provincial and quaint, when it’s viable on any global standard that I would care about. I’ve looked and looked through the years for something to talk about that is quintessential in Northwest filmmaking, but the work is so varied that any summing up feels forced and exclusive.

Can you tell us a little about the features this year?

I am pleased with the diversity of our feature-length films this year, which might point to that arc you were asking about before. Northwest filmmakers are great at exploring their community, but I see more and more excellent features investigating the world outside the Northwest. We have several features shot overseas (CHRISTIANA: 40 YEARS OF OCCUPATION, DRAWING THE TIGER, MAKE MINE COUNTRY, WELCOME TO THE CIRCUS), as well as other important issue documentaries (ARRESTING POWER: RESISTING POLICE VIOLENCE IN PORTLAND, HADWIN’S JUDGEMENT, THE WAY WE TALK) and some well-told narrative pieces (BIRDS OF NEPTUNE, THE CURIO, DEATH ON A ROCK, SLACKJAW, THE TREE INSIDE) that are finding audiences all over the world. In the same day we are showing the latest work produced by our friends at NW Documentary, VOYAGERS WITHOUT TRACE, and an entirely hand-animated (in cut paper) WWII epic AND WE WERE YOUNG. I’m also quite looking forward to our screening of THE SANDWICH NAZI, a documentary portrait of a colorful, somewhat outrageous deli owner in Vancouver that is an extrapolation of a favorite short of the same name we screened a few NW Fests back.

The ‘shorts’ sections are broken into three themes: Fantasies and Diversions, Tracing Space and Intimate Portraits. How do you define these three themes?

Each year, the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival brings in a new guest judge who watches, selects and offers awards to a few gifted filmmakers (Roughly 10% of the films entered are selected). This year our judge was Steve Anker, who teaches at CalArts and has a long career in programming innovative and challenging work. Steve not only selected the short films this year, but also placed them into their three shorts programs guided by themes he saw in the work, hence the program titles.

Most years, the judges watch the films, tell me which ones they would like to include, and then I am left to place them into programs. I always like to make each shorts program as diverse as possible so any given audience will see a breadth of work being produced in the region. Then there’s the old mix-tape game of controlling the flow of mood throughout the program and also setting each film up to thrive in its position in the lineup. It’s always a delicious challenge for me and I missed not having the opportunity this year, but on the other hand, it’s great when a judge like Steve really digs into the project and goes one step further to solidify a point of view in the programming.

The advantage of the single judge system the NW Fest has stuck to all these years is that we end up with more adventurous programming than anything juried by a committee. The choices in the end are pointedly subjective; there’s no pretense that these are the only films that might have been selected for the festival this year, rather they are one highly regarded professional’s selections. So I’ll dodge your question because part of the fun of watching this year’s shorts programs is to think about how the individual films fit into Steve’s overarching, slightly enigmatic titles.

This is your last year working with the Film Center—any parting words? Hopes or dreams for the future of the NW Filmmakers’ Festival?

Yes, I am pulling up my deeply buried anchor and all the attached barnacles and setting sail for Germany without a clear idea of what comes next for me. There is a large part of me that is a little worried that I am leaving what could be the most rewarding work I will ever do. For me, the job has been first and foremost about getting to know and serve the filmmakers of this region. I have made so many dear, lifelong friends. As the old cliché goes, they have given me much, much more than I have given them. My dreams for the festival no longer have any currency but I look forward to my able and inspired replacement, the very talented filmmaker, Ben Popp, taking the Festival into new exciting directions.

There have been times over the last 15 years when I very selfishly thought of this Festival as my baby, but of course, it’s the Filmmakers’ Festival and its freshness and success relies on them much more than it ever did on me. It’s in great hands.

Thomas Phillipson will be at every screening for the 42nd Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. All screenings are at Whitsell Auditorium located in the Portland Art Museum. Except for one film, which screens at the Skype Lounge. For more information, check the web site.

Weekend MusicWatch

Oregon music hooks up with dance, video art, architecture, theater and more this weekend.

Oregon music hooks up with dance, video art, architecture, theater and more this weekend. Check the All Classical radio calendar for more info on classical performances, March Music Moderne’s Ear Trumpet calendar for Portland-area new music performances, and let our readers know about other worthwhile music events in the comments section below.

Jennnifer Wright plays her Skeleton Piano at BodyVox Studios this weekend.

Jennnifer Wright plays her Skeleton Piano at BodyVox Studios this weekend.

India Arts Fest 2015
September 30-October 9
Various venues, Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, Hillsboro.
Read my Willamette Week preview of this weekend’s two music events at Portland State, and Jamuna Chiarini’s ArtsWatch story about the festival’s dance events.

Justin Bartlett
October 2, Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College, Portland. October 3, Central Oregon Community College, Bend. October 4, Portland Piano Company.
Portland Piano International’s welcome new commissioning program that connects Oregon composers to its young Rising Stars gets off to a strong start with pianist Bartlett performing a compelling program that includes the world premiere of Eternal Gardens by one of the state’s most accomplished composers, Michael Johanson, as well as music by the great 20th century Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, Karol Szymanowski, Dmitri Shostakovich and one of J.S. Bach’s alluring French suites. Admission to this recital, like the other eleven coming up over the next two years, is free of charge. The program is funded by a Creative Heights Grant from the Oregon Community Foundation.


Over the Hills, to Portland’s multi-cultural present

The energy at Portland's ethnic community events is great, and so are the performances


“You come every year!”

I do not recognize this observant Sri Lankan woman in a peacock blue sari, who’s obviously proud of the show we’re both attending.
“Yes, I‘ve been here since nearly the beginning,” I reply.

Last month, I was at a Sri Lankan event feting the community’s children with dance, drama and song— the fourth annual Pipena Kekulu (Blooming Buds), and I’ve attended all but the first. This time, Oregon state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian presented one of the three welcoming speeches, with touching thanks to the community for allowing him and his wife to participate once more in the sharing of children’s arts/entertainment activities, his own children having left the nest, both happy successful artists/entertainers.

Oregon Buddhist Temple in Portland, USA celebrated the Vesak Festival last May with Sri Lankan Buddhists living in Portland.

Oregon Buddhist Temple celebrated the Vesak Festival last May. Photo:  ceylontoday.lk.

I attended the first such event in 2013 because I feel part of this community whose many children I have the privilege of teaching piano. I keep going because these events are ebullient. In fact, I’m stepping it up this Saturday, catching Sunil Edirisinghe and Neela Wickramasinghe in concert at PCC Sylvania (see listing at end of this story). Sri Lankan pop stars as popular on the island as Lady Gaga, but they are so underground outside of the culture that you have to call several numbers to secure tickets. Portland is the smallest city they’re playing on a tour which includes London, New York (where they drew 1,200) and Los Angeles (where they drew 1,000). Sri Lankans from Seattle and Vancouver BC will be making the journey to catch this show. In addition, performers from Pipena Kekulu 2015 will be opening. That’s like Bethany elementary school kids opening for the Rolling Stones. And yet, when I search the web for them, no website or Facebook page or Twitter or ANYTHING comes up. Promotions and marketing are as baffling to some of these ethnic communities as they are in the classical music milieu. In fact, Oregon Arts Watch might be the first Oregon arts/entertainment publication starting to cover and preview events like this when we find out about them.

These community and professional shows are part of a world of “ethnic” arts unknown to many Portlanders, especially those east of the West Hills. These events are worth knowing about — not just for their own joy and beauty, but also for what they can teach us about restoring Western classical music’s connection to the larger community.


I would like to think that as soon as the Italian/Argentine artist Lucio Fontana began his Concetto Spaziale series of “paintings” (he did not use that word), puncturing and slicing the surfaces, paintings were no longer destined to remain flat and affixed to gallery walls. Canvases morphed into sculpture and sculpture referenced painting; close one eye to eliminate stereopsis, and the gallery walls themselves become a canvas. This is one of a couple strategies in Leslie Baum’s exhibit, Co-conspirators and the possibility of painting in a parallel universe at Hap Gallery.

I will say at this early stage that I am not a fan of the title for this exhibit. “Co-conspirators” by itself might be enough as it suggests a scheme, perhaps initiated by a sole mind, then elucidated through cooperation. The agreed-upon agenda then carries an echo from the point of origin, which is what I see here. Baum has created and displayed this complex work in a manner that shifts cumulatively and dimensionally, although the dimensionality are of the second and third varieties.

I have been familiar with Baum’s work for about twenty years. Very much a painter, most of her work remained steadfastly two-dimensional until three or four years ago when Baum began making irregularly shaped paintings. These forms sometimes do double-duty as sculpture. Whether on the wall, on a shelf, or set on the floor, placement has become as important as palette.

Hap Gallery is a small, narrow space, making it possible to take in nearly the whole room from the front door. And if one were to do so for this show, one would be very conscious of the predominating colors of yellow and red, along with black, and a smattering of green, blue and violet. In addition, Baum has coordinated works so those colors lead the eye to take in the space as a whole. For my purposes, I will liken it to how one might encounter an orchestrated suburban living room (but in a good way).


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