Kaddish for Bernie Madoff

One year after: Waking up to the slow thaw

ArtsWatch Weekly: A year into shutdown, signs of revival: Stimulus aid for the arts, museums reopening, a theater with an audience of 1 to 5

A YEAR AGO TODAY I PARKED MY CAR IN FRONT OF MY HOUSE, tossed the key in a drawer, and began to shelter in. Suddenly I was home (if not, thank goodness, home alone), away from the concerts, theater and dance performances, museum visits, coffee-shop conversations with artists and writers, and other rounds that had made up my peregrinations around Portland and the Pacific Northwest going back deep into the previous century. The day before, I’d been at the Portland Art Museum, walking with curator Dawson Carr through Volcano!, the big exhibition of artworks relating to the 1980 eruptions of Mount St. Helens. Scant days later, the museum shut down. As “ordinary” life began to crumble I was also putting the finishing touches on an essay about revivals of two retro plays I’d recently seen – Blood Brothers at Triangle Productions and The Odd Couple at Lakewood Theatre. That piece never went beyond my computer files: Both shows were quickly canceled as Covid-19 restrictions hit Oregon, and the nation, and the world, full force. 

The world had tipped upside down, and the arts & cultural world, which in the intervening twelve months has been devastated economically by shutdowns, tipped with it. Now, after more than half a million deaths in the United States (including more than 2,300 in Oregon) and more than 2.6 million globally, the world is cautiously trying to tip itself back up again. It has a long way to go. Many millions of people in the U.S., and billions globally, are awaiting inoculation, and a new wave of infections is only a few indiscretions, mask-burnings, or rogue viral variants away. But vaccines are being manufactured much more quickly and on a much bigger scale, and delivery systems are improving. Cautious hope, perhaps crossed with reckless impatience, is beginning to rise.                     

Unknown Russian artist, Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign (Platytera) with beaded riza, c. 1800–1850, tempera on wood panel and glass beads, 9” x 8”; Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art; among the featured works as the museum reopens March 15.

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Streamers: PIFF lineup, “What Happened Was,” and more

A sneak peek at this year's Portland International Film Fest, plus the "Citizen Kane" of awkward first-date movies

44th Portland International Film Festival

When the emergent pandemic forced last year’s Portland International Film Festival, like the rest of the country, to abruptly shut down, the idea that this year’s festival would also be impacted by the coronavirus was so absurd that it hardly bore contemplation. And yet, here we are, contemplating a mostly virtual, socially distanced event, some details of which were recently announced by the Portland Art Museum and the Northwest Film Center.

A scene from Alicia Rose and Alicia Jo Rabins’ “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff”

The interruption of last year’s PIFF must have been especially frustrating for Amy Dotson, the Film Center’s Director, who was overseeing her first PIFF after taking over for longtime director Bill Foster. Dotson had overhauled the event in many ways, instituting the Cinema Unbound Awards and attempting to both expand the festival’s reach to incorporate nontraditional sorts of cinematic experiences, and to increase its regional focus by absorbing the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. An opportunity to assess how those changes work in the context of a real-live, in-person film festival will have to wait another year, but this year’s PIFF will still offer almost 80 films (including 45 features) over a ten-day period, March 5th to 14th, as well as the second annual Cinema Unbound Awards, the recipients of which will be announced next week.

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