FILM

Joanna Priestley: Discovering where the magic is

The Portland filmmaker, a spring resident at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, calls animation a “fascinating combination of art and science”

Joanna Priestley’s animated film, “Jung & Restless,” was scheduled to premiere this weekend at the Bijou Theatre in Lincoln City, but fell victim to the COVID-19 outbreak when the showing was canceled. Priestley, a spring resident at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology near Otis, promises she will eventually make it happen. We talked with her about her work as an animator.

Joanna Priestley began her animation career by making films using rubber stamps and index cards.  Photo by: Tim Sugden
Joanna Priestley began her animation career by making films using rubber stamps and index cards. Photo by: Tim Sugden

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Priestley: I was born in Portland, a third-generation Oregonian. I spent some time away, but I always come back to Oregon because Oregon is the best. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, got my undergraduate from Berkeley, and in my 30s, went back to get a masters at the California Institute of the Arts. That’s the school Walt Disney founded.

Did you go to school knowing you were going to be a filmmaker?

I always really, really loved films. I watched everything I could. In high school, I connected to the Multnomah library system and they had a fabulous collection of animated films.

How did you discover it?

My teacher showed them in school. That’s where I was first exposed to animation as an art form.

I’m guessing animation has changed by leaps and bounds since?

It has and it hasn’t. It’s changed technically. People have much more sophisticated technology and techniques of creating animation. But the basic way you create animation is the same. It was invented in late 1880s. It’s been refined, but still, the basic idea is the same.

What is the basic idea?

The basic idea is you study and learn how movement is created. Animation is this really fascinating combination of art and science. You have to understand both. If you look at sports, for example, you see loads of interesting movement. Like in boxing, there’s a preparatory action where you pull your arm back and clench your fist and then you push your fist and arm forward and slam into something, and then there’s a reaction where your hand snaps back a little bit. As you study that motion you can begin to understand how to break it down into individual drawings — or sculpture, if you are doing stop-motion animation.

A forest of hands is among the stream-of-consciousness images in Joanna Priestley’s new film, “Jung & Restless.”

That seems like it would take so many, many drawings.

You just decide how many drawings a second you are going to do to create your motion. You use 12 drawings a second, or 24 a second, if you are a Disney studio. I use 12 drawings a second. Some use eight drawings a second, some, in what we call limited animation, use four. You decide at the beginning what you are going to use. So then, you just go about calculating how far to move things with the drawings. If you’re using stop-motion animation with puppets or sculpture, you have to figure out how far to move the puppet or sculpture. And that’s where the magic is.

Continues…

Film fest preview: PIFF hits fast-forward at 43

New Northwest Film Center Director Amy Dotson brings a new emphasis and a new energy to Portland’s premiere cinematic event

“It’s not going to be robots and lasers!”

That’s Amy Dotson’s way of reassuring fans of film art—and of the Portland International Film Festival in particular—that the 43rd incarnation of the event is staying true to its mission. Since 1977, that mission has been to expose Portland audiences to a cornucopia of global cinema, allowing those with flexible schedules and insatiable appetites to gorge themselves on a diverse menu of movies. And so it remains.

Amy Dotson, the director of the Northwest Film Center

But while some things never change, others do. Dotson took over as the Director of the Northwest Film Center last year, following the 2018 retirement of Bill Foster after nearly four decades at the organization’s helm. Rising to the challenge of putting her own stamp on the Film Center and the Festival, while retaining the core appeal of each, Dotson’s approach can be encapsulated by PIFF’s 2020 motto (and new URL), “Cinema Unbound.” She spoke with ArtsWatch during the run up to PIFF, which kicks off Friday, March 6.

Continues…

Coast calendar: The light shines on youth

The work of young filmmakers, stories inspired by Cinderella and Dr. Suess, and a documentary about Anne Frank are among coastal offerings

It’s film festival time in Manzanita, and the light is shining on young filmmakers from around the world. Each of the short films to be screened Friday was honored last year at the Gateway Film Festival, organized and hosted by students and Media Arts Department faculty at Pacific University in Forest Grove. Professor Jennifer Hardacker, who has shown her own films at the Hoffman Center for the Arts, will attend the screening to discuss the films. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Hoffman Center. Admission is $7. Films to be shown are:

  • Let.Go.Before.Trying, by Anna Mendes of Ashland
  • Istanbul: Home Away From Home, by Selin Tiryakioglu of Florida
  • Double Vida, by Sharlany Gonzalez of the Dominican Republic and Maryland
  • 63 Miles Away, by Emma Josephson of Portland
  • Writer’s Block Party, by Gabriella Sipe of Olympia
  • The Quiet, by Radheya Jegatheva of Australia
  • She, by Felix Koble of South Africa
  • Beacons of Portland, by David Pascual-Matias of Portland
  • Irony, by Radheya Jegatheva of Australia
Mel Brown
Mel Brown will lead his jazz quartet in a concert during Nehalem Winterfest.

NEHALEM IS PREPARING for the annual Nehalem Winterfest March 6-8. Performers are: the Marlin James Band, a country/rock group with influences ranging from Eddie Van Halen to George Strait, at 7 p.m. Friday; Eagles tribute band Eagle Eyes at 7 p.m. Saturday; and legendary Portland jazz band the Mel Brown Quartet at 2 p.m. Sunday. Performances are in North Country Recreation District Performing Arts Center. Tickets range from $18 to $29 and are available here.

Continues…

Nine short takes on 85 short films

With subjects ranging from Indian relay horse-racing to Newberg's own 99W drive-in, there's a lot to like in this weekend's McMinnville Short Film Festival

The McMinnville Short Film Festival will unveil more than 80 films this weekend, beginning Friday night, and even the very limited sneak preview I got — “only” a couple dozen films — was enough to leave a variety of impressions along with a few thoughts about the state of cinema as an art form and the cultural health of Yamhill County.

In the spirit of the event, I’ll present these random thoughts, observations, and impressions in a series of easily digestible short takes.

“Eat the Rainbow,” in the Experimental/A Bit Strange block Sunday, is a musical fable about an odd-yet-kind man who becomes a disruptive force when he moves into a conservative suburban neighborhood.

THE FESTIVAL IS A SIGNIFICANT YAMHILL COUNTY EVENT. Just shy of a decade old, it has emerged as one of the more ambitious cultural undertakings in the area, arguably in the same league with infrastructure projects such as Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center as well as the more recently launched Aquilon Music Festival, which runs several weeks. The film festival started small and rather anonymously with a few screenings and has  blossomed into a three-day extravaganza that fills McMinnville Cinema 10’s largest auditorium with often-breathtaking work from around Oregon, the United States, and the world. Founders Dan and Nancy Morrow set out to make it a filmmaker-friendly event. If the testimonials of film artists (many of whom come to talk about their work) are any indication, it is indeed that. But it’s also something that ought to have mass appeal to mainstream audiences (not just cinephiles) and those who perhaps don’t get to the theater as much as they used to. Bottom line, locals haven’t really discovered this thing yet in large numbers. They need to.

“Word on the Street” is a one-joke comedy in the style of film noir that dazzles with a clever, rhyming, linguistic hook. One might say it’s an interesting presentation of cinematic experimentation that’s likely to win your admiration.

THERE’S NOTHING NEW HERE. By that I mean: Cinema started as a short-format medium. When the National Film Preservation Foundation released the first of its many American Treasures collections in 1997, the package squeezed 50 films from the earliest days of filmmaking onto four DVDs. Most ran 10 minutes or less and some ran little more than a minute or two. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded its first film-short Oscar in 1932 — to The Music Box, a Laurel and Hardy flick about the pair trying to move a piano up a flight of stairs. Under one name or another, live-action short films have had their own category at the Oscars since 1957. Thanks to a variety of streaming services, it’s never been easier to see them.

SO MANY CHOICES, BUT SO EASY TO CHOOSE. The single best thing about this year’s festival is that it’s easy to see precisely what you want. For three days starting Friday at Linfield College, 85 films will be shown in nine screening blocks organized by theme. Documentary-lovers need not be subjected to horror films; animation fans will find their thing in a Saturday afternoon block; those with an interest in the environment or Indigenous stories and issues will find most of those films in separate screening blocks.

Continues…

Coming attractions: McMinnville Short Film Festival

The Yamhill County calendar also includes three new gallery shows and a jazz performance by the Christopher Brown Quartet

We begin this week’s column with a quick run through the essential news-you-can-use for the McMinnville Short Film Festival, set for Feb. 21-23. In recent years, it’s emerged as yet another tent-pole cultural event in Yamhill County. Next week I’ll have a deep dive into some of the films that will be screened.

Filmmaker Scott Ballard will be keynote speaker at the McMinnville Short Film Festival.

By every measure, the event — founded by Dan and Nancy Morrow of McMinnville in 2011 — has grown considerably from very humble beginnings. The festival next week expands to three days to accommodate a whopping 85 films from the United States, Canada, and the international film community. A second venue has been added: Along with booking the largest auditorium at McMinnville Cinema 10, organizers have arranged for an opening-night screening in Linfield College’s Ice Auditorium.

The festival is for everybody, even those who don’t think of themselves as cinephiles or who watch movies infrequently. Nine categories are arranged by genre and include two narrative viewing blocks. Besides offering documentaries and environmental films, horror and “experimental” works, the festival has two new categories this year. It is partnering with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde on a Native American block, and with McMinnville Kiwanis and Sunrise Rotary on a Student Showcase block that will feature work by students in grades 6-12 and college.

The awards dinner is Feb. 23 on the Chemeketa Community College campus in McMinnville, next to the theater. Portland filmmaker Scott Ballard is the keynote speaker.

Check out the website, peruse the titles and screening blocks, and plan on a weekend of interesting, thoughtful work that’s as good as or better than anything Hollywood spits up these days. Purchase tickets here for as few or as many screenings as you like.

Kathleen Buck’s abstract paintings are among the works in a new show in McMinnville’s Currents Gallery.

YAMHILL COUNTY’S GALLERY scene has three new shows open or coming up fast. Two are in McMinnville: Currents Gallery downtown offers More Glorious Gourds and Powerful Paintings, by local artists Claudia Herber and Kathleen Buck. Both artists are award-winners in their fields. Herber has won in the annual Wertz Gourd Festival; Buck has long been active with the Watercolor Society of Oregon and has won her share of awards. Both will present abstract work in the show, which runs Feb. 17 through March 15. An opening reception will be held Friday, Feb. 21, during the 3rd Friday on 3rd Street Art & Wine Walk.

Continues…

Land and Water: By Necessity

A gathering of Native American activists and allies and an Oregon-produced film join the battle against pipelines and other climate threats


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


TIMES ARE HARROWING for people trying to protect Indigenous ancestral land and prevent accidents from pipeline spillage that would poison and pollute the regions’ land and water. The movement is taking place on many fronts, several of them cultural and artistic, including an Oregon-produced documentary film, Necessity: Oil, Water, and Climate Resistance, that focuses on the work of climate activists on the front lines and movement lawyers involved in supporting that struggle. And last week a group of Native American leaders and community allies in Portland gathered at the Port of Vancouver to protest the dangers of the continued use and expansion of pipelines, and alert us to what is going on farther north.

The Wet’suwet’en people in northern British Columbia, trying to stop construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline (CGL), were arrested by Canadian police and tactical teams in the dark of night by militarized police with night vision and automatic weapons, their camps destroyed and media hindered from filming and reporting the police action. The BC Supreme Court granted the company behind the Coastal GasLink project, TC Energy, an injunction to continue construction activities, and issued an enforcement order for the RCMP to clear the area.

Continues…

Vision 2020: Yulia Arakelyan and Erik Ferguson

Beyond the arts bubble, the Wobbly duo see a dangerous world: "Hate based crime directed against people with disabilities has gone up."

“From a choreographer’s point of view,” Portland choreographer Yulia Arakelyan told ArtsWatch in 2015, “the more body diversity there is, the more opportunity for creativity and uniqueness.” Arakelyan and her artistic and life partner Erik Ferguson have spent the last decade and a half contributing their unique creativity to Portland’s dance and film scenes, in multifaceted, sometimes whimsical performances whose movement and imagery resemble nothing else in Oregon.

Erik Ferguson and Yulia Arakelyan, at work and play.

In 2006 the pair, both of whom use wheelchairs, created Wobbly, a Portland multidisciplinary performance company influenced by improvisational dance and Butoh. Their work focuses on “the unavoidable exploration of the body weathered by life,” according to its website. “Wobbly is a way of life, an expression of the belief that disability is a natural variation of the human form and in this variation there is art.”

Continues…