Portland International Film Festival offers moviegoers a new world view

'Love, Maryilyn'Little ol’ Portland, minus the red carpet and Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake and such, plays host to its own movie event for the 36th time this month, the Portland International Film Festival.

It’d be cool if Hollywood stars showed up, but it’s really a film festival for movie buffs and ex-patriots who want to see something from their home country, says Jessica Lyness, PIFF public relations and marketing manager.

“This is sort of the pinnacle, that moment when all the people come together,” Lyness says of PIFF, which opens next week. “It’s really a kind of meshing of the communities taking part in that culture. People feel like they’re getting out of Portland enjoying other parts of the world.

“Portland is a big film town. There’s not only an audience that loves to go see films, but we have so many movie theaters and art houses. It’s a concentrated area of cinephiles, an established group of people keeping these movie theaters alive.”

Bill Foster, director of Northwest Film Center, which administers the event, works hard every year to select films with international appeal, many of them world premieres, as well as under-the-radar films and works by new directors. There’ll be films with 21 first-time directors, and 19 films have been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, including the opening-night feature “Blancanieves” (Spain), 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7 at Newmark Theatre.

Like all festivals that try to be pertinent and cutting-edge, Lyness says, PIFF “holds out to get the good ones, it’s why people often comment that PIFF is really programmed well. It’s all down-to-the-wire.”

Portland, like Sundance, Cinequest, Seattle and Tribeca, attracts the avid festival-goer, she adds.

“People like the experience of a festival, the community, the buzz. They’ll hop around to different cities,” she says. “We’re not a market festival like Sundance, a place where you’re going to see celebrities.”

‘Love, Marilyn’

The festival takes place at seven venues around the city, Feb. 7 to 23. Complete information can be found at Emphasized for the first time, Global Classroom works with teachers to bring student classes to the film festival, including to movies that feature visiting directors, to enjoy the entire movie experience.

As with every year, PIFF has Oregon appeal, as two of the United States category films have story lines ripped from the Portland headlines.

“Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse,” directed by Brian Lindstrom, examines the high-profile case of the schizophrenic man severely injured in a confrontation with Portland police on Sept. 17, 2006. Chasse died in police custody, touching off community outrage on the handling of the mentally ill by police. It’ll be shown at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15 at Cinema 21.

Lindstrom wanted to examine the facts of the story, and relied on eyewitnesses and police accounts.

“These incidents happen, and they kind of fly by and become a blur of headlines,” says Lindstrom, a graduate of Parkrose High and Lewis & Clark College. “My overall thought was that Jim didn’t pose a threat, that he could have been encountered with kindness and understanding, and things would have been vastly different than they turned out. ... It’s not an anti-cop film. I didn’t go in with any ill-conceived notion.”

By Joe and Harry Gantz, “American Winter” follows eight Portland families battling financial challenges and a shrinking social safety net amid the country’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It’ll hit the big screen at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at Whitsell Auditorium and 7:30 p.m Monday, Feb. 18, at Cinemagic.

There’ll be full-length features from 44 countries, and several “Short Cuts” (about 20 minutes or less).

“Blancanieves” gets things going. It’s a 1920 silent-set reworking of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Snow White,” offset by punchy Flamenco rhythms and full of imagination. The screening will be part of opening night festivities at Newmark; tickets are $30 for general admission.

Among the other highlights:

“Lore,” by Australian director Cate Shortland, examines the tribulations facing the young in post-World War II Germany, as five siblings from Nazi SS parents encounter guilt, forgiveness and survival. Screenings: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, Whitsell; 5:45 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, Regal Lloyd Center 10.

The Chilean narrative “No,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, is a cross between “Mad Men” and “Argo” in style about a clever ad exec who spearheads a 1988 campaign against Augusto Pinochet, intent on revealing Pinochet’s human rights atrocities. Screenings: 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, Whistell; 4:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, Regal Lloyd Center 10.

The all-time movie starlet comes to life in “Love, Marilyn.” The U.S. documentary about Marilyn Monroe is based on her never-before-revealed diaries, read by an all-star cast. Screenings: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, Regal Lloyd Center 4; 4:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, Cinema 21; 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, Whitsell.

'Nairobi Half Life'The Kenyan narrative “Nairobi Half Life” is directed by David Tosh Gitonga, and about a young man who wants to be an actor breaking from his Kenyan village for the promise of life in the capital city. Screenings: 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, Regal Fox Tower 6; 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, Regal Lloyd Center 10.

“80 Million” is a Polish heist thriller narrative, set in the autumn of 1981, 10 days before the proclamation of martial law in Poland — it’s less a political film, more of a thriller and dark comedy. Screenings: 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, Whitsell; 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, Regal Lloyd Center 10; 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, Regal Fox Tower 6.

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