FILM

Act globally, view vocally: PIFF’s Portland ties

The Portland International Film Festival's second week is dotted with Oregon-sourced cinema

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.

Greg Hamilton, director of “Thou Shall Not Tailgate.”

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.”

One of the creations of the subject of the documentary “Thou Shall Not Tailgate.”

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.)

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41st Portland International Film Festival features hidden gems from Tunisia, Spain, Romania

Not every movie worth seeing at this year's PIFF stars Juliette Binoche or Isabelle Huppert

I recently wrote a piece for The Oregonian listing the ten most anticipated films of this year’s Portland International Film Festival. This made sense because (a) people likes lists; (b) the early deadline for the piece meant there was precious little opportunity to actually see the films; and (c) it’s a relatively easy way to concoct a PIFF primer for casual movie buffs.

By “casual movie buffs” I mean folks who might dip their toes into subtitled waters once in a while if the film was made someplace they’d like to visit, but who won’t necessarily be trying to sneak chocolate bars into the latest Polish zombie flick or avant-garde effort from Iran. Don’t get me wrong: anyone who patronizes PIFF (or pays money to see a foreign-language film under any circumstances) is a cut or three above the typical American moviegoer in terms of sophistication.

But Portland’s true connoisseurs of cinema know a couple things that normal people don’t.

First, they know that most of those hotly “anticipated” titles, starring Juliette Binoche or Steve Buscemi or whoever, will most likely be returning to a local arthouse screen at some point in the next few months, whether it’s the Hollywood, Cinema 21, the Living Room, or (shudder) the Regal Fox Tower (a place I always refer to by its full corporate name just to invoke the image of a haughty vulpine monarch perched on the pinnacle of an antiseptic office building).

Second, PIFF veterans know that, quite frequently, the true joys of the festival come from those under-the-radar oddities you only go see because everything else is sold out, or because you lost a bet. It used to be that anything from outside Western Europe, Japan and maybe South America was officially cinema exotica, but these days the borders of middlebrow taste are drawn more along lines of genre than geography. For every familiar, universal story of familial reconciliation from Nepal, there’s a thrash-metal musical based on Joan of Arc. For every potent tale of a mother’s love and dedication from The Congo, there’s a button-pushing story about racial epithet-filled rap battles from California, USA.

With that in mind, I’ve started burrowing through the overwhelming number of advance screeners, trying to focus on the stuff that wouldn’t ordinarily jump out at me. I’m dying to see the final film from Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, or the new documentary by the indefatigable Alex Gibney, or the documentary about Mister Rogers, or (especially) the movie based on Willy Vlautin’s novel “Lean on Pete.” And I’ll get to all of them. (To be honest, I would have already watched those last two if they were available, but alas…)

One great example of a film worthy of discovery but at risk of getting lost in the vast ocean of PIFF is Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s fiction feature debut, “Beauty and the Dogs.” It catches the eye with an opening scene at a party that begins with two friends in a bathroom and ends with one, Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani), leaving with a guy she just met. This all unfolds over the course of one seven-minute shot, as do each of the next eight scenes in the film. The second chapter starts with Mariam and her new friend at a clinic trying to obtain medical certification of the rape she has just endured at the hands of the police.

From there, Ben Hania’s formal gambit pays off as it enhances both the tension and the dread of Mariam’s efforts to report the crime over one long night. “Beauty and the Dogs” depicts Tunisian society’s relative cosmopolitanism as well as its persistent misogyny, and features a powerful central performance by Al Ferjani. Ben Hania’s previous film, “The Blade of Tunis,” was a fake documentary in which she tried to track down a criminal infamous for slashing random women’s buttocks, so she’s clearly not afraid of engaging in critiques that require extra bravery even in the more Westernized parts of the Arab world.

Different in almost every way from “Beauty and the Dogs,” the Spanish animated feature “Birdboy: The Forgotten Children,” fairly matches it in intensity despite being a cartoon featuring a bunch of talking animals on a journey. This isn’t a family-friendly romp, though—it’s set in a dreary post-apocalyptic world, and in an early scene our young mouse-eared protagonist’s verbally abusive father accuses him of being on cocaine. But neither is it some Ralph Bakshi-esque exercise in raunchy subversion: there’s real pathos in the quest of Dinki and her friends, a rabbit and a fox, to track down her old friend Birdboy, a reclusive junky and quasi-folk hero who lives in the middle of a vast wasteland. Co-director Alberto Vázquez based this visually original, tonally unique tale on his own graphic novel, which he initially made into a short film that played at the Northwest Film Center in 2015.

For a more conventional experience, and one with at least a little bit less existential foreboding, check out “6.9 on the Richter Scale,” a Romanian romantic comedy (Romromcom?), centered on a seismophobic actor in Bucharest experiencing crises both domestic and professional. He’s terrified that the apartment he shares with his depressed, jealous-minded wife won’t survive the earthquake he’s sure is imminent. He’s playing Orpheus in a stage production opposite a pretty but talentless Eurydice. And then the father he hasn’t seen since he was five shows back up in his life, trailing carnal chaos in his wake. A far cry from the dour films (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”) its home country is known for, this wry and charming movie culminates in a bizarre musical fantasia.

These options only scratch the surface, of course, of an event that includes nearly 90 features and eight programs of shorts. But they serve as a useful reminder that in Portland’s annual cinematic cornucopia, some of the most delectable treats can be found almost by accident.

 

“Beauty and the Dogs” screens at 8:45 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16, at the Laurelhurst Theater, and 4:15 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18, at Cinemagic.

“Birdboy: The Forgotten Children” screens at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, at Cinemagic, and at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 17, at the Empirical Theater at OMSI.

“6.9 on the Richter Scale” screens at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Whitsell Auditorium, and at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Regal Fox Tower.

For a full schedule and details, visit https://nwfilm.org/festivals/piff41/

 

‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire

Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio 'Voices of Light' with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'

Even the flames couldn’t destroy Joan of Arc. The 15th-century teenage revolutionary was infamously burned at the stake for leading a revolution, but her memory survived. Ultimately, she achieved sainthood and became a symbol of France itself.

Centuries after her immolation, Danish film director Carl Dreyer, a titan of silent cinema, made a magnificent 1928 movie, The Passion of Joan of Arc. After receiving rapturous acclaim, though, like Joan, the film fell victim to flame — all known copies were destroyed in a warehouse fire.

French stage actress Reneé Jeanne Falconetti portrayed Joan in Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’

Once again, Joan rose from the flames, when Dreyer assembled a second version from outtake negatives. And yet again, that version burned in a second warehouse fire. Devastated, Dreyer gave up on Joan, but went on to make a series of film classics.

In 1981, workers cleaning out a hospital storeroom in Norway found some old tape reels that turned out to hold a pristine copy of Dreyer’s original The Passion of Joan Arc. Its re-release won worldwide acclaim all over again for its stark, striking depiction of Joan’s ordeal.

When New York composer Richard Einhorn discovered the film, it so enraptured him that he created his own musical response. His oratorio Voices of Light earned its own abundant accolades and a classical chart-topping 1995 Sony recording featuring acclaimed early music ensemble Anonymous 4. On Friday, Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus vocal ensemble, three Portland State University choirs and some of the city’s finest classical singers will perform Einhorn’s oratorio to accompany the Northwest Film Center’s screening of Dreyer’s film classic.

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Fin de Cinema’s “Beauty and the Beast”: spirit of discovery

Latest mix of classic film and Portland contemporary music captures Cocteau creation's mix of beauty and grit

by DOUGLAS DETRICK

Seeing a film with a new score played by live musicians — who, just like the audience, have their eyes on the screen as they play — is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. A musician working in service of a film changes the currency being traded — the artist gives up some creative freedom, and in exchange the film offers a narrative that the audience would normally need to imagine on its own. In some ways the job for both is harder, since the audience must take in a film and new music at the same time, but the rewards can be great when both parties take the deal in the spirit of discovery.

That’s what happened at the January 11 screening of the film in the ongoing Fin de Cinema series curated by Gina Altamura at Portland club Holocene. Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film Beauty and the Beast floats like a cotton candy cloud through a dream world that is both strikingly gorgeous and alarmingly fragile. But for all the astounding visuals and innocent love between the two title characters, the film is driven by the greed and jealousy of the rest of the colorful cast of characters.

Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

This screening divided the film into three parts, with different musicians scoring each section in live performance: EDM-inspired loops and beats by Patricia Wolf, Like a Villain’s voice and effects pedals, and an ad hoc grouping of John Niekrasz on drums, Amenta Abioto on voice and mbira, Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet, and Noah Bernstein on alto saxophone. Each soloist and group captured both the film’s beauty and its underlying grit, without overplaying either element. Though the music had a sharp contemporary edge, the film still landed softly, like snowflakes on the eyelashes of its charmed audience like the filmmaker might have intended, more than half a century after it was made.

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‘The Last Hot Lick’: American quirk

Filmmaker Mahalia Cohen reached back to her Portland roots to make a film based on the life of Portland musician and former Hot Lick Jaime Leopold

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

Award-winning director Mahalia Cohen developed The Last Hot Lick while trying to fund another film she had written. “In 2015, for awhile I’d been trying to get a movie made, get funding,” the Portland-born, New York-based filmmaker said about Thinner Than Water. (You can watch the charming visual study she shot for it in Oregon right here.) “Money comes and goes and falls through, so I decided I just wanted to make something and thought about what I could make that would be accessible. I came up with three options, and working with Jaime was one of ‘em.”

“Jaime” is Jaime Leopold: star of The Last Hot Lick, original bass player for cult crossover band Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, and for the last several years the primary singer-songwriter behind the local “Folk / Country / Acid Memory” band Jaime Leopold and the Short Stories. Cohen reached back to her Portland roots to make The Last Hot Lick, screening Saturday in the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium as part of Reel Music 35, the Northwest Film Center’s annual celebration of music in film.

Leopold, right, with Short Stories.

Leopold plays Jack Willits, a 60-something singer-storyteller playing “a never-ending tour of small gigs in Eastern Oregon,” which sounds pretty great to me and just about right for the founder of Portland’s favorite “American QuirkTM” band. Short Stories vocalist Jennifer Smieja evokes The Muse as a mystery woman Willits puts his hopes in, and both will perform at the screening. Director Cohen will be in attendance to talk about her film with Smieja and Leopold, whom she’s known since childhood.

Mahalia Cohen: Natural Filmmaker

Cohen got her start as a filmmaker right here, not just in Portland but at NWFC. “I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker from a very early age,” she recalls. “I started saying I wanted to be a director when I was about 10, and I took my first classes at Northwest Film Center when I was 13.”

In 1998 Cohen left Portland for New York City and film school. “I loved the nature and the landscape in Oregon growing up, but had a real feeling that I wanted to get away, go to New York, someplace bigger,” she remembers. “[Oregon] became embedded in my imagination and my artistic life; even though I’ve lived away half my life, it’s grown in importance. It’s always been there. It’s in my brain.” One of the various scripts she has in development takes place in ‘90s Portland, although Cohen notes that it “couldn’t be shot in Portland anymore, [because] the Portland of the ‘90s doesn’t exist anymore.”

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‘Queer Horror’ preview: season of the witch

Halloween installment in Hollywood Theatre's film series celebrates the infernal feminine

by ANTHONY HUDSON

The witches are coming. No longer are they meeting just in thunder, lightning, or in rain, dancing at the Sabbat’s fire and clothed only by its flickering glow. No longer do they tap their claws against bedroom windows hungry for a feast, tethered to the pagan holidays of old or the worship of Yahweh’s prosecutor-turned-nemesis. Witches today emerge from the dirt and the swamps, from your schools and grocery stores and homes; no longer green and hooknosed, they approach in all shapes, sizes, and colors. From Lady Gaga’s sorceress in American Horror Story to Kristen J. Sollee’s sociological text Witches, Sluts, and Feminists and a whole canon of modern women-centric horror films, the witches are here, and they are legion.

Lady Gaga in ‘American Horror Story.’

These witches aren’t exactly the “perfect love and perfect trust” neopagans who combine ceremonial magic with New Age appropriations like smudging while protesting “negative” stereotypes of witches. No, these are satanic feminist witches – and yet not entirely capital-S Satanists, either. Just as the horror genre is experiencing a retro-throwback in media like ItIt Followsand Stranger Things, so too is witchcraft – the satanic feminist earth witch is a resurrection of the classic witch-used-against-women, the haggard crone thrown to the fire and dropped from the gallows.

W.I.T.C.H. PDX at the PDX Women’s March. Photo: Leigh Richards.

The witches are even making their way to Portland, and they’re ready for justice. Recently the whitest city in America has been treated to pop-up rituals and protests by W.I.T.C.H. (or the Witches’ International Troublemaker Conspiracy from Hell), itself a reboot of a 1960s feminist protest group of the same name. First appearing at the Portland Women’s March in January, Portland’s W.I.T.C.H. chapter has spawned a resurgence of similar covens across the country, all acting anonymously and championing an intersectional feminist code of protest from behind black veils. And on October 27, Portland’s Hollywood Theatre and its bimonthly program Queer Horror will launch a short-film festival of satanic feminist films as a Halloween tribute to these wild women and a new order of witchcraft.

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Northwest Screendance Exposition preview: moving shadows on the wall

Third annual Eugene-based festival celebrates the collaborative artistic efforts of filmmakers, choreographers and sound artists

by GARY FERRINGTON

A quintet of ballerinas in a kitchen fling clouds of flour into the air in choreographed harmony. A cadre of dancers create a percussive soundscape by pounding their feet against a warehouse wall. These and many other moving images and sounds appear onscreen this weekend in the University of Oregon’s Dougherty Dance Theater when the third annual Northwest Screendance Exposition takes center stage October 13 and 14 in Eugene.

Screendances aren’t mere recordings of stage performances but instead a distinctive art form in which cinemagraphic techniques that manipulate time and space are woven together with the techniques of dance choreography. The result: a unique visual and audio time-based arts experience in which dance and cinematography are equal partners.

Still from student film “Camatori.” Photo: Angela Challis.

The movement of the human body through time and space has been the subject of filmmakers dating back to the origins of cinema, including early experimental films such as painter Emlen Etting’s Oramunde (1933) or Maya Deren’s A Study in Choreography For Camera (1946). Unlike in decades past, today’s filmmakers and dancers have access to relatively inexpensive digital technologies that facilitate screendance productions at all levels of capability. A celebration of this evolving form of collaborative expression, this year’s festival, sponsored by the UO School of Music and Dance’s Dance Department, includes 24 films by filmmakers living in Canada, China,  Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, UK and the USA were selected for screening, chosen from 57 films submitted from 17 countries.

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