PIFF

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 continued, plus new discoveries on disc

'Bernie Madoff' and more fresh picks from the virtual Portland International Film Fest; classic rediscoveries worth seeking out

The first ever mostly-virtual Portland International Film Festival continues through March 14, and hopefully it’s the last virtual version ever.

That’s not a dig at the functionality of the online interface the Northwest Film Center has employed, nor is it a criticism of the quality of cinema offered up. I’ve not noticed any of the features become unavailable due to its maximum viewings allotment being reached, although I haven’t done an exhaustive search. The online portal is generally self-explanatory, and it even remembers where you are in a film if you have to pause and switch between devices, à la Netflix or Hulu, as long as you’re logged into your festival account on both of them.

There is, of course, as when viewing any streaming-on-demand content, the ever-present temptation to pause in order to answer the phone or the doorbell, or to finish the film the next day. I’ve always maintained that, along with the communal experience and the size of the projected image, the enforced maintenance of focus is one of the biggest losses when cinema is experienced at home and on demand. (Which is not to say that it can’t also be convenient at times to pause and resume later…) This enforced focus is especially valuable when the film in question isn’t the sort of typical Hollywood narrative that leads its audience by the nose, or the kind of Netflix programming that people admit to watching while folding laundry, but a cohesive audio-visual experience that can only be appreciated in its entirety.

That said, here are some PIFF titles worth investigating during its last weekend:

A scene from “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff”

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Women on the move: These are the days, again

ArtsWatch Weekly: History moves into the forefront, a new series on Indigenous resilience, it's film fest time, a month of culture

ON SATURDAY THE DOOR BETWEEN THE PAST AND PRESENT CREAKS OPEN JUST A LITTLE BIT: After months of coronavirus shutdown and a couple of bouts of vandalism during protests in the South Park Blocks, the Oregon Historical Society reopens its downtown Portland center to visitors on a limited basis, joining such other Oregon museums and historical sites as Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Bend’s High Desert Museum, the Grants Pass Museum of Art, and Portland’s Pittock Mansion, which has also just reopened on a limited basis. The historical society will be open noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until further notice: Know the rules before you go

Abigail Scott Duniway voting for the first time, May 5, 1913, in Portland. The sister of Harvey Scott, the conservative editor of The Oregonian, she was a leading early suffragist and his political foil. Photo: Oregon Historical Society

MARCH IS WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH, and one of the big exhibits you’ll find at OHS is Nevertheless, They Persisted: Voting Rights and the 19th Amendment, which tells the story of the fight by women to win the right to vote. One of the movement’s prime figures in Oregon was Abigail Scott Duniway, a Portland suffragist and the sister of the stolidly conservative Harvey Scott, longtime editor of The Oregonian, whose statue in Mt. Tabor Park was torn down from its pedestal in October and recently, in a mysterious guerrilla art action, replaced by a handsome bust of York, the Black man who was a slave of William Clark and traveled with Clark and Meriwether Lewis on their expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1805. Among other things, Scott was a steadfast opponent of women’s suffrage. Sometimes, what goes around comes around.

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Spotlighting the lives of Black Portlanders in the pandemic

The short film "See Me," the first project from Artist Rep’s DNA: Oxygen, is premiering at the Portland International Film Festival

During the climax of Artist Repertory Theatre’s new short film See Me, CL (Treasure Lunan), an agoraphobe, imagines stepping through their front door.

“CL has a glimpse of what it’s like to be outside without worrying,” says Kisha Jarrett, a writer and an executive producer on the film. “To have the pressure on you of not feeling like you can do that and then throw on a pandemic and then throw on that Black people are dying, that is a lot … when you’re trying to walk out of the door.”

Treasure Lunan in a still from the film “See Me.”

See Me, which is premiering virtually on Friday, March 5, at the Portland International Film Festival, chronicles the lives of three Black Portlanders surviving the pandemic. It’s a movie for this moment (it is haunted by the protests that swept Portland in the wake of George Floyd’s murder), but it is as personal as it is universal. The film’s characters face racism and micro-aggressions, but they also battle mundane evils like interminable Zoom meetings and burnt toast.

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Portland International Film Festival preview: 5 picks to click from (virtual) PIFF

Marc Mohan picks a handful of favorites from this year's 44th annual festival, much of which is online

Last year’s Portland International Film Festival was among the first cultural events truncated by the spread of COVID-19, and at the time it seemed impossible that the pandemic would continue to be inhibiting normal life when the 2021 edition rolled around. Nevertheless, here we are, albeit with more than a glimmer of hope that seeing movies in public with strangers might once again be possible relatively soon. Then again, that’s what we thought 11 ½ months ago…

“Minari” screens as part of PIFF’s opening-night celebration

In any event, the Northwest Film Center has made PIFF, like many other film festivals, a mostly online experience. Unlike most other film festivals, PIFF has a ready-made, pandemic-friendly resource at its disposal—namely, the Drive-In Theatre at Zidell Yards, where it has hosted popular outdoor screenings over the last several summers. With any luck, fickle March weather won’t put too much of a damper as Zidell Yards hosts both the fest’s opening-night Cinema Unbound Awards on Friday and a diverse lineup of crowd-pleasers for the duration, March 5-14.

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Making music, symphonic & Black

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oregon Symphony picks a new leader; we begin a Black-music column; finale for Fertile Ground

THE BIG NEWS IN OREGON ARTS THIS WEEK WAS VERY BIG: The Oregon Symphony has picked its new music director. The Austrian conductor David Dansmayr will assume the artistic post at Oregon’s largest musical organization for the 2021/22 season, becoming only the third musical director for the symphony since 1980. He’ll replace Carlos Kalmar, who led the orchestra from 2003 until this season; Kalmar replaced James DePriest, who had held the top job for 23 years. 
 

The Austrian conductor David Dansmayr takes over the top artistic spot at the Oregon Symphony. Photo courtesy Oregon Symphony Orchestra.

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The big news this week was the announcement that, as of Friday, February 12, Portland’s movie theaters, like its restaurants, will be able to reopen on a limited basis. None of the metro area theaters have announced plans to sell tickets or rentals to the public immediately, but it is at least a small symbolic step back toward normalcy. Let’s not screw it up this time, eh?

Cinema Unbound Awards

With the 44th Portland International Film Festival on the virtual horizon, the Northwest Film Center has announced the recipients of the second annual Cinema Unbound Awards, which will be presented at a drive-in ceremony on March 4 (which will also be streamed live online). Gus Van Sant, the director who put Portland on the independent cinema map, will get one. So will British filmmaker and artist Steve McQueen (“Small Axe,” “12 Years a Slave”), filmmaker and artist Garrett Bradley (whose “Time” is one of the best documentaries of the year), producer Mollye Asher (the Oscar contender “Nomadland”), and animation producer Alex Bulkley (currently overseeing Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion, Portland-shot “Pinocchio”). Presenters will include del Toro, “Nomadland” director Chloe Zhao, and Portland icons Walt Curtis and Thomas Lauderdale (gee, I wonder who they’ll be presenting to?).

‘Two of Us’

Martine Chevallier and Barbara Sukowa in “Two of Us”

This Golden Globe nominee, Oscar contender, and late-career highlight for star Barbara Sukowa centers on two women who’ve been neighbors, and secret lovers, for decades. Now that Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) has been widowed, they have a chance to move from Paris to Rome and live out their lives together. But Madeleine, despite pressure from Nina (Sukowa), hesitates to reveal the truth to her adult children. When she suffers a debilitating stroke, Nina undertakes a bittersweet masquerade to remain close to the woman she loves, and who she knows loves her.

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