Portland Film Festival returns, albeit digitally
This is part of a series of articles on the 2021 Portland Film Festival. Click here for more coverage.
Joshua Leake, founder and executive director of the Portland Film Festival, has always enjoys going to the theater to watch a movie.
"Movies are so much a part of our culture," Leake said.
But, Leake and other cinephiles have had to face the facts: The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing government restrictions have changed the way everybody views movies. Theaters were closed for weeks. On-demand and streaming services became even more popular as people stayed home and watched. And, moviegoers may be wary about going into a theater with others around — even if vaccinated and masked — or they simply want to watch something on their home screen.
With the movie experience changed, the Portland Film Festival has changed as well. Partnering with Comcast for the fifth year in a row, the Portland Film Festival will be exclusively digital for the first time.
The festival, which opens Wednesday, Oct. 6, runs through Nov. 8.
The opening night film, "Women Is Losers," just got picked up by HBO Max, but the Portland Film Festival will be allowed to screen it before HBO does. It's directed by Lissette Feliciano.
It also co-stars Simu Liu, who recently starred in "Marvel's Shang-Chi & The Legend of the Ten Rings."
"He's the biggest actor in the world right now," Leake said of Liu.
The story is based on a Janis Joplin song. In 1960s San Francisco, bright and talented Catholic school girl Celina Guerrera (Lorenza Izzo, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood") survives a difficult home life by following the rules. That is until an indiscretion creates a series of devastating consequences. As Celina faces the compounded obstacles of being young and alone, she sets out to rise above the oppression of poverty and invest in a future that sets new precedents for the time.
How to watch
Want to experience the festival? Comcast customers can say "Portland Film Festival" into their Xfinity voice remote for access to the to the festival's 200 movies — including feature length films and shorts. The festival will also host livestream events, director's chats, networking events, educational workshops and panels on its own channel.
For non-Comcast customers, each movie will be available at www.portlandfilm.org. Digital tickets are $10-$15 per film or festivalgoers can purchase an all-access pass for $100.
Last year, the festival put on a scaled-down in-person version of the festival, holding screenings in hotel rooms. Comcast also provided the festival with its own TV channel. It was unique and different, Leake said, but it wouldn't have worked the same way in 2021. Virtual/digital is the way to go.
"We wouldn't feel happy if there was any opportunity to experience any harm or anything" from COVID-19, Leake said.
Because of the large amount of film entries, the festival has collected several of the films into groups, called "tracks" to highlight voices and address themes. Here are few worth checking out.
• The festival's "Voices of Portland," track profiles films made by local filmmakers, including the short "See Me" by award-winning queer writer/director Dawn Jones Redstone.
Redstone's films focus on women of color and resistance, feminism and transformation. "See Me" is about three Black Portlanders going about their days during the COVID-19 shutdown. It was made by an all-minority cast and crew through Artists Repertory Theatre.
• Actress Rosario Dawson serves as executive producer on "This is Not a War Story," in the festival's veteran's track, which profiles films made by veterans
"Anything we can do to support veterans — they do a lot of stuff and are not recognized," Leake said. "We found so many good movies coming from veterans. Their stories can be dark, but inspiring."
• The festival's "Black Voices," track will showcase stories detailing the Black experience. "Africa and I," directed by Othmane Zolati and Chris Green, shows Zolati as he travels the continent for adventure and education, facing deserts, armed conflicts, malaria, breakdowns, arrests and hunger, and returns home a changed man.
• In the festival's "Women's Voices," track, "Street Heroines," directed/produced by Alexandra Henry, is a feature about women who are an integral part of the graffiti and street art movement, focusing on artists in New York City, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
• The festival will once again showcase future filmmakers by partnering with K-12 youth, some from Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland Metro, who will produce short monster movies, which will be showcased during the festival.
For more, visit monstermovieworkshop.com.
• "Death of a Ladies Man," the closing night film by director Matthew Bissonnette, stars Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, who currently appears on the French television show "War of the Worlds."
"He has so much soul, and it's such a great film," Leake said. "Being able to support independent voices is what we're about."
The story: Samuel O'Shea (Gabriel Byrne), a hard-drinking womanizer, has seen better days. His second marriage is ending, and his first wife and two grown children have turned against him. More problemmatic, he has begun seeing things: Frankenstein sidles to the bar; strangers sing and dance to Leonard Cohen tunes; and his much-missed father Ben O'Shea (Brian Gleeson), who died when Samuel was just a boy, pops up for chats.
Looking for answers, Samuel discovers he has a terminal brain tumor, which may be causing these odd visions, or he may just be going crazy. Samuel retreats to his family shack in remote Ireland, where he begins work on that great novel he always meant to write, and generally to take stock. Surprisingly, or not, he meets and falls in love with Charlotte (Jessica Pare), a woman who is full of unexpected surprises. All this leads Samuel to an utterly unforeseeable, but surprisingly happy ending.
Check it out
Portland Film Festival
When: Oct. 6-Nov. 8
Where: portlandfilm.org. Comcast Xfinity voice remote users can say "Portland Film Festival"
Reviews: Pamplin Media Group is a sponsor of this year's Portland Film Festival and will cover the festival over the next few weeks, , including reviews and some features.
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