As vaccines continue to make their way into the arms of more and more Oregonians, and the state in general dares to look forward to the resumption of some version of normality, it’s a good time to check in on Portland movie theaters and their plans. It should go without saying that these plans are extremely subject to change: Both Clackamas and Multnomah Counties are moving from Moderate Risk back to a High Risk status on Friday, April 9, which means that maximum allowance at theaters will move from 50% of capacity back to 25%, while Washington County will remain in the Moderate Risk category for the time being. That said, here’s a rundown of announced reopening plans.
Several independent Portland-area theaters have already reopened, including the six-screen Living Room Theaters, Cinemagic, the Moreland, Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre, and the Liberty Theatre in Camas. Among the titles showing on their big screens are Oscar nominees Nomadland and Minari, as well as more mainstream fare such as the Bob Odenkirk action flick Nobody and the monster mash Godzilla vs. Kong. The venerable Clinton Street Theater is resuming its traditional Saturday night Rocky Horror Picture Show events, although at 9 p.m. instead of midnight due to county restrictions.
One mainstay of Portland’s movie scene, Cinema 21, recently announced plans to open to the public for the first time in over a year on April 23 with a pair of documentaries: Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street and The Truffle Hunters. Another, the Hollywood Theatre, has yet to indicate a timeline, although it continues to offer remote programming, including an upcoming remote master class on the films of director Richard Linklater. The Northwest Film Center at the Portland Art Museum remains closed to the public as well, although it is opening experimental filmmaker Sky Hopinka’s poetic debut feature Małni—Towards the Ocean, Towards the Shore virtually on Friday, April 9.
Two chains operate theaters in Portland. Century Cinemas have opened their multiplexes at Eastport Plaza and Cedar Hills Crossing, while the screens at Clackamas Town Center remain dark for the time being. Regal Cinemas is planning a phased reopening. Bridgeport Village will begin on April 23, with the bulk of its Portland screens to follow on May 14. (The Pioneer Place theaters will wait until the following week, May 21.) Obviously, the summer movie season beckons, and these places are understandably eager to welcome paying customers once again. Personally, I don’t plan on setting foot in an indoor theater until, at the very earliest, I’m fully vaccinated, but once it seems safe to do so, I plan on making up for lost time with a vengeance.
IN THE MEANTIME, many Portland-area theaters continue to offer expansive selections in their virtual cinemas, and will presumably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. They provide a great way not only to help support exhibitors during this disastrous time, but also to keep abreast of exciting cinema that doesn’t necessarily get showcased on Netflix or Disney+.
It can also help you in your Oscar pool: The Hollywood, the Kiggins, and Cinema 21 are showing the 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films in separate programs for Documentary Shorts, Live-Action Shorts, and Animated Shorts. If actually viewing these generally hard-to-find films gives one an advantage in predicting the winners (a debatable proposition), that’s a bonus, since each is a fascinating compilation of styles and subject matter. The documentary category, while sometimes harrowing, is a great example. Portland-based filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald’s Hunger Ward, which recently showed in the Portland International Film Festival, is a gut-wrenching look at a hospital in Yemen that strives valiantly to help the youngest victims of the famine caused by Saudi Arabia’s ongoing, American-backed military offensive. It’s among the most difficult films to watch I’ve encountered, and, local bias aside, it damn sure better win.
The other nominees are worthy as well, however. Do Not Split captures, from street level, the Hong Kong protests of 2019-2020 against Chinese-imposed laws, and contains plenty of footage that will look familiar to anyone who witnessed last summer’s protests against police brutality in America. A Love Song for Latasha pays poignant tribute to Latasha Harlins, a Black teenaged girl who was shot and killed by a Korean store owner in Los Angeles in 1991, an event that has been overshadowed in memory by the Rodney King beating 13 days earlier, but which contributed to the urban uprising the following year. A Concerto Is a Conversation captures a dialogue between Black American composer Kris Bowers and his grandfather, whose efforts and struggles during the Jim Crow era inform their family’s history. Last but not least, Colette follows World War II French Resistance fighter Colette Marin-Catherine as she embarks on a visit to the concentration camp where her brother was killed.
One very interesting aspect of these films is that they were financed by entities such as MTV Films, Netflix, Oculus, and The New York Times. Perhaps these nontraditional funding sources can raise the profile of the generally neglected cinematic art of saying more with less.
AT FIRST, THE FRENCH DRAMA SLALOM seems like it’ll be another entry in the limited genre of skiing films, alongside Downhill Racer, The Heroes of Telemark, and, of course, Aspen Extreme. But before long, it becomes clear that the real subject of director Charlene Favier’s debut feature is the dysfunctional power dynamic between 15-year-old prodigy Lyz Lopez (Noée Abita) and her instructor at an elite ski academy, Fred (longtime Dardennes brothers’ collaborator Jérémie Renier).
Initially stern, Fred soon begins to groom Lyz, whose totally absent father and largely absent mother aren’t around to protect her. It would have been easy to make this a strident, black-and-white morality tale (and, make no mistake, Fred is a villain), but the film sticks closely to Lyz’s point of view, capturing her ambivalence and adolescent confusion as she, indeed, becomes a champion skier, perhaps in part due to the intimate relationship she has with her coach. The storyline is sadly familiar, after the revelations regarding abusive behavior in women’s gymnastics and other sports. But the incredible performances by Renier and especially Abita make this a human story as much as a #MeToo call to action. The film will be available to stream from April 9 through May 15 at the website of Alliance Française Portland.