A Festival for the Rest of Us

PIFF 2007 Woos Portland's Youth


For me, February is the hardest month to be a Portlander. The winter feels as though it's gone on long enough, thanks, and something about the short month consistently throws a wrench into my financial rhythm. One way I cope is by going on a self-imposed monastic program involving the rejection of alcohol and most types of food—thereby staving off at least a portion of my bank account's standard pummeling. And once canoodling over cocktails and dishing at favorite restaurants are taken out of the equation, entertainment finds refuge in the increased hours available for books and movies.

In recent history, this February arrangement has dovetailed pretty perfectly with the onset of press screenings for the films showing at the Northwest Film Center's annual Portland International Film Festival (PIFF). Whatever anyone may say about work at an entertainment-based publication, watching movies as part of the workweek is downright privileged—and with PIFF, the screenings come fast and furious, twice daily for weeks. And while I haven't adored every PIFF film I've seen, I've found that the standards are consistently respectable, with a smattering of the truly outstanding.

But like many instances during monkish February where I feel out of step with my society, few of my peers seem to clamor for PIFF like I do. It's not that the festival has a bad reputation; the city's film community seems almost wholly benign in their treatment of what should be a vital cultural event, accepting it—not infrequently fondly—but rarely demanding or challenging it.

Last year, my colleague and the Mercury's film editor, Erik Henriksen, wrote a piece that criticized the festival's selection ["The PIFF Test," Film, Feb 9, 2006], positing that the films selected were most appropriate for the retirement-age community. He and I have had friendly spars over PIFF, especially once this year's screenings got underway. And while good films, the first two screenings I attended did little to disprove Henriksen's point—they were Days of Glory, a WWII movie, and Away from Her, about romance in the face of Alzheimer's (although it should be noted that Away from Her is the directorial debut of Sarah Polley, who is my age).

I'm beginning to suspect that I'm simply amenable to the cinematic tastes of my elders—perhaps a side effect of teetotalin' and Depression-era nutrition. Whether the result of Henriksen's (and perhaps others'?) complaints, this year's festival (the 30th!) shows evidence of a concerted effort to include films that seem aimed at younger audiences. Whether that's enough to galvanize this little film town to widespread enthusiasm remains to be seen, but it's an outreach that deserves acknowledgement and gratitude, on behalf of an event that deserves to be enjoyed and supported by the film-going community at large.

In the interest of encouraging those in the Mercury's 18-35 demographic (hi kids!) to give PIFF a shot, we've picked out a few promising entries that stand out from the more sedate fare. Zombies, for instance, make what's probably their PIFF debut in Canada's Fido, and China's The Banquet features murderous 10th century Chinese emperors. The British Severance appears to be an honest-to-god slasher flick, and the decadent musical from Hong Kong, Perhaps Love, has already scooped up a tidy slew of awards. Another Hong Kong production, Triad Election, brings violence and mobsters, and India's Rang de Basanti promises "Bollywood meets hiphop." A film from South Korea, The Host, riffs on sci-fi monster B-movies, and Zoo, a US film about the Pacific Northwest horse farm where men went to have receive anal sex from horses (and which made headlines in '05 when one man died from a perforated colon), is probably not your grandmother's usual steez.

PIFF is your festival too, youth of Portland—claim it, critique it, propel it.

See Film Shorts on pg. 60 for the Mercury's reviews of PIFF's films, and Movie Times on pg. 63 for times and theaters.


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