World Cinema Pounces on Portland
by Jeffrey Winograd
The Portland International Film Festival has come and gone with a few
flurries of brilliance and a fair amount of mediocrity. Dedicated to
international films rather than "independent films", the fest shows a
large collection of strong foreign works with challenging storylines and
original plots. Several of the films represented their countries in the
race for the Academy Awards, but a great deal of others were smaller in
The films getting their country's nod for the Academy Award competition
include "The Unfish" (Austria), "My Life in Pink" (Belgium), "The
Perfect Circle" (Bosnia), "Vertical Love" (Cuba), "A Forgotten Light"
(Czech Republic), "The Whitman Boys" (Hungary), "Junk Mail" (Norway),
and "Love Stories" (Poland). One drawback to the festival is the lack
of films which are fresh out of the printing room. Many of the films
shown have played the festival circuit for some time, like Eric Rohmer's
"A Summer's Tale" which played at Cannes way back in '96. There is
little, if any, deals going down in Portland, but moreover, it is an
opportunity for residents and visiting attendees to view a wide variety
of films that might otherwise be unavailable to them.
The festival consists of 92 films over fourteen days with screenings at
night and on the weekends. Each film gets two screenings except in a
few circumstances where a film receives an additional, "To Be Announced"
screening. All screenings take place in three theaters within a small
range of city blocks and it is possible to walk from one to the next in
relatively short time. One of the strongest aspects of the Portland
Festival is the large selection, 20 are by first time directors.
Portland also offers a couple of spectacular film history events with
the showing of Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" with live accompaniment
and a classic Jacques Tati film, "Jour de Fete". These events stress
the dedication that this festival has to the art of film making as well
as the experience of watching film.
Festival favorites included "Junk Mail", "My Life in Pink", and
Argentina's "Wake Up Love". There was also some critical acclaim for
Miramax's "Artemesia" (France), "The Cherry Pick" (Netherlands), "The
Emperor's Shadow" (China), "Little Dieter Learns to Fly" (Germany), "A
Summer's Tale" (France), "Tokyo Lullaby" (Japan), and October's "TwentyFourSeven". Quite a few films felt the pressure of varying degrees of
mixed reviews. Notable disappointments were "This is the Sea" (Ireland)
and James Toback's "Two Girls and a Guy". The latter was a complete
waste of talent as well as a waste of the audience's precious festival
The shorts programs was filled with much animation, including South
Park's predecessor, "The Spirit of Christmas". Many of the short film
choices grabbed at audiences rather than pursuing art. There's little
wrong with this approach except that the few short films that were
attempting something greater were often lost amidst the laughs and
giggles at Wallace and Grommit, Aardman Animation, etc.
All in all it was two weeks filled with interesting films. What it
lacked in cutting edge independent cinema, it seemed to regain in
mindful choices of artistically challenging films from more than 30
different countries. It is almost refreshing, in a festival circuit so
hell bent on premiering the latest Hollywood spectacle or the hottest
young director, that Portland's International Festival has remained a
showcase for good films from around the world. For films produced
outside the United States, the Portland International Film Festival is
a good venue, which should come as no surprise in a city known for its
strong support of independent and art house cinema.
[Jeffrey Winograd, from Hawk Productions, is a Portland based writer and