Sunday, February 06, 2005


After assiduous in-depth research, I finally determined which movies I’ll be seeing at the Portland International Film Festival (PIFF), which runs February 11 to 26.

The PIFF is not a big name festival like Cannes or Sundance, and it certainly is not the place to go if you want to watch helium-head celebrities like Brad Pitt and Paris Hilton cavort.* It's such small potatoes as festivals go, that it's probably not even on the radar screen for at least half of Portland’s population, despite the fact that it’s been held each year for the past 28 years.

Nevertheless, the PIFF gets a tremendous variety of high-quality films, many of which will screen in Portland only two or three times during the fest and then vanish for good. B and I are a bit cinemaniacal, so we really look forward to the PIFF every year. For some reason, I've always found it thrilling to trek downtown night after night in the February drizzle to see a film from, say, the republic of Georgia or Ecuador. It’s just great to get that sort of visual and narrative exposure to other cultures and to countries I’ll probably never have the opportunity to visit. I also have to admit that it’s kind of cool to think that, in many cases, I get to see films that only a couple thousand other Americans will see.

Here’s what I’m going to see this year:
  • Hari Om (India) Romantic comedy set in Rajasthan about a rickshaw driver and some French tourists. Includes obligatory love triangle. I have to see at least one Bollywood musical a year. As it happens, this isn’t a musical but as was once pointed out to me, Indian musicals have 10-12 musical numbers; non-musicals have 5-6. It’s true!
  • Turtles Can Fly (Iraq/Iran) A film about orphaned Kurdish children in a refugee camp on the Turkey-Iraq border just before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Directed by Bahman Ghobadi, “the poet laureate of Kurdish cinema.” Upbeat, no? Actually, I chose this film because I’ve always been interested in the plight of the Kurds and also because I usually tend to shy away from films that may be disturbing. This isn’t a documentary, but it might as well be.
  • The World (China) This film is set in a gargantuan theme park in Beijing and focuses on a young couple who seem almost entirely unaware of the world beyond the theme park. Sounds surreal.
  • Moolaade (Senegal) A film about female genital mutilation, which is still practiced in more than 30 African countries. Another upbeat choice. It’s definitely outside of my comfort zone, but I saw a scene from this movie on "Ebert and Roeper" (or whatever that show is called) and I knew I had to see it. It’s gotten lots of critical acclaim.
  • Insaat: Under Construction (Turkey) A black comedy about two guys who accidentally end up with a bunch of dead bodies on their hands. An antidote to some of the heavier stuff I’m going to see.
  • Reel Paradise (United States) What? Isn’t this supposed to be an international festival? The film is set in Fiji, so I guess that's how it slipped in. It’s a documentary about Indie filmmaker John Pierson (author of Spike, Mike Slackers, and Dykes [about working with Spike Lee, Michael Moore, Kevin Smith, and Richard Linklater]) and what happens when he and his family move to Fiji to run a movie theater.
  • Tell Them Who You Are (United States) I don’t know what the international angle on this is--it’s a documentary about legendary cinematographer and malcontent Haskell Wexler who worked on such decidedly non-international films as American Graffitti and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s directed by his son, so I'm expecting some "Daddy Dearest" moments.
  • Ladies in Lavender (Great Britain) Set in Cornwall in 1936, starring Judi Dench and the divine Maggie Smith. That’s all I need to know.
Portlanders take note: There’s way more that sounds great, too, but it’s going to be quite a feat just to fit these eight movies into my schedule. I was relieved to find out that the following movies that are showing at the festival are also going to be released at a later date in Portland.

  • Born into Brothels:Calcuttta’s Red Light Kids (United States, but shot in India--obviously) Documentary. Self-explanatory.
  • Kontroll (Hungary) Thriller set in the Budapest subway system.
  • Nobody Knows (Japan) A film about four kids who have to fend for themselves after their dotty mom leaves them.
  • Travellers and Magicians (Bhutan) I want to see this simply because it’s set in Bhutan, supposedly one of the most beautiful places in the world.
  • Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (United States) Directed by John Cassavetes and Gena Rowland's daughter, Xan Cassavetes.

*It is the place to go if you want to see low-wattage celebrities such as John Sayles and Sherman Alexie--both of whom spoke at past festivals. Or you might be lucky enough, as B and I were, to buy tickets from the Hilary Swank lookalike, but that's about all you can hope for.


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