As the 41st Portland International Film Festival rounds the far turn and enters its second week, a mouth-watering array of cinematic flavors remain to be sampled. (We’ll even mention a few of them below.) But PIFF has always done an excellent job demonstrating that Northwest films and filmmakers can stand shoulder-to-shoulder alongside their intercontinental kin—and that they can do so without losing their unique local charms.
Greg Hamilton has been a familiar figure in the Portland film firmament for years. He’s organized tributes to director Les Blank, single-handedly kept “Fast Break”—the classic documentary about the 1977 NBA champion Portland Trail Blazers—in the public eye, and serves on the board of the Hollywood Theatre. Now he’s making his debut as a director with a portrait of another local institution: “Thou Shall Not Tailgate” profiles the Rev. Chuck Linville, an old-school Portland oddball who drives his elaborately festooned art cars around town when he’s not relaxing in his home amid equally eccentric decor.
The 25-minute film, screening as part of the shorts program “Made in Oregon 2: Wilderness,” lays interview audio with Linville over archival footage of his automotive exploits. Linville really is an ordained minister (Hamilton first met him at a wedding he performed), as well as a former Postal Service worker and an original member of Portland’s Cacophony Society. There’s a whole section devoted to him in Chuck Palahniuk’s myth-making Portland travelogue, “Fugitives and Refugees.”
In other words, Linville and his Church of Eternal Combustion are the epitome of what we talk about when we talk about “Old Portland.” He’s not trying to create a personal brand, or exude some sort of cultivated weirdness. He’s just a guy who, as he puts it, gets bored easily. And who likes to glue hundreds of baby-bottle nipples to the top of his station wagon. “Thou Shall Not Tailgate,” though, isn’t meant as a simple nostalgic gesture, says Hamilton. Instead, it’s “paying witness to the transformation of Portland,” perhaps trying to inspire future kooks by spotlighting those who know how to do kooky right.
(“Shorts 4: Made in Oregon 2: Wilderness” screens at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Whitsell Auditorium.)
Aaron Katz was born in Portland, grew up here, and made his first few films here. His last feature, though, 2014’s “Land Ho” (co-directed by Martha Stephens), ranged all the way to Iceland. With his new movie, “Gemini,” he’s back on the West Coast, at least, for an L.A.-set thriller about a movie star, her faithful personal assistant, and a brutal murder.
Although that skeletal plot summary might make “Gemini” sound like some cheesy Hollywood noir, it’s laconic tone and lack of obsession with narrative drive put it closer to Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” than to “Basic Instinct.” Jill (Lola Kirke, daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke) works for Heather (Zoë Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet). When Heather drops out of a big film role, she sends Jill to deliver the bad news to the director. When Heather needs to borrow a gun for self-protection, she turns to Jill. When Heather turns up dead, and the investigating detective (John Cho) needs a prime suspect, you guessed it: Jill. Kirke’s low-key charm carries the movie along as Jill finds herself forced into amateur sleuthdom in order to try to clear her name. Fans of Katz’s 2010 Portland-set “Cold Weather,” which took a similarly shaggy-dog approach, should feel right at home.
(“Gemini” screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, February 23, at the Whitsell Auditorium, and at 2:45 p.m. Saturday, February 24, at Cinemagic. Katz will be in attendance at both screenings.)
Another Portland icon, novelist Willy Vlautin, has now had two of his books adapted for the screen, and one of the hottest tickets at this year’s PIFF is sure to be the Portland premiere of “Lean on Pete,” directed by English filmmaker Andrew Haigh (“Weekend,” “45 Years”). It’s the story of a teenaged boy (Charlie Plummer, “All the Money in the World”) and the past-his-prime racehorse with which he forms a powerful bond. Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny co-star in what anyone who’s read the book can tell you should be an emotional rollercoaster of a film.
(“Lean on Pete” screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 28, at the Whitsell Auditorium, with Haigh in attendance.)
A few other tidbits from PIFF 41 ½:
“The Charmer”: This unsettling Danish flick centers on an Iranian immigrant named Esmail who at first seems like a creepy womanizer, desperately prowling the bars of Copenhagen for his latest conquest. It emerges, however, that he’s sending most of the money he makes as a furniture mover back home, and that if he doesn’t find a live-in romantic partner before his visa expires he’ll be headed back himself. That’s not the only layer of ambiguity to Esmail, or to the relationship he strikes up with a woman who’s a Danish citizen but was born in Iran, and who just might be the one. (8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, Cinemagic)
“Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle”: Everybody thinks their family members would be fascinating documentary subjects, but few are as correct in that opinion as Spanish actor/director Gustavo Salmerón, who turned his camera on his own sprawling, eccentric brood and especially on its unforgettable matriarch. Gustavo filmed his mother Julito over the course of 14 years, as she achieves her three dreams: having lots of kids, a monkey, and a castle. But when the 2008 economic crisis hits, Julito confronts the reality that she may not get to keep all three.
Last but not least, if you can’t get enough subtitles at the international film festival, and you’re a fan of Japanese cult-favorite filmmaker Seijun Suzuki, you probably need to own this new Blu-ray boxed set, “Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years, Vol. 1.” It includes five previously hard-to-find “youth pictures” made between 1958 and 1965 by the master who would eventually loose “Tokyo Drifter” and “Branded to Kill” on an unsuspecting world. Some, like “Teenage Yakuza” and “The Boy Who Came Back,” are standard juvenile-delinquency tales rendered with Suzuki’s special brand of melodramatic flair. “The Incorrigible” and “Born Under Crossed Stars” are period-set dramas that prefigure some of Suzuki’s later work in the “Taisho” trilogy of films. But the real gem here is “The Wind-of-Youth Group Crosses the Mountain Pass,” from 1961, which lives up to its title. It’s about a college kid on summer break who hooks up with a touring magic troupe and gets a job as a ladies’ underwear salesman. Eye-popping color, zany humor, and extreme compositions make this one rank among Suzuki’s most surreal and entertaining efforts. Released by Arrow Video. MSRP: $69.95