Surprisingly, there are ways to survive the Portland International Film Festival. Since its inception 24 years ago as a marketing tool for the Seattle-based Seven Gables theater chain, the festival (now sponsored by the Portland Art Museum's Northwest Film Center), continues to present an onslaught of movies that can make the avid movie fan act like a blind dog in a bacon factory. It's all too much too fast; a hectic event that inspires low-level joy when it's there and relief when it's over.

Realizing that PIFF is still a marketing tool is the first key to survival. Knowing that films offered up early in the festival by distributors such as Miramax and USA Films (including this year's excellent With a Friend Like Harry and In the Mood for Love) will be returning shortly to Fox Towers or other venues, frees you up to pursue the more obscure titles, such as the inevitable single film from Benin. Check the schedule. If the listing says something like "Print courtesy of Miramax Films"--skip it.

Lesson two: Do not let yourself be overwhelmed by choices. Naturally, there is no reason why the bookers have to show almost 100 movies. The New York Film Festival gets by with much fewer; but then, their movies are carefully selected and pre-screened. But remember, this is market research, and we're the guinea pigs. Keep watching the Mercury for weekly assistance in separating the PIFF from the PIFFle.

Another important point to bear in mind is that if this year's edition is anything like previous festivals, many, many things will go wrong. Crowd control will be lax. Prints won't arrive. Some of the info in the calendar will be dead wrong. Screenings will start upside-down or with no sound and no one will do anything about it for an eternity. But that's not the least of it. Other problems include not allowing enough time between films for people to get from one theater to another; out-of-focus films or the wrong lens on the projector; unexplained late film starts, unexplained cancellations; and a difficult-to-read festival program.

As far as we can tell, nothing will ever be done about these flaws in the system. But just consider it a fallacy of success. To its creators, the festival looks like it's working, so why change anything? The only difference is that they aren't in the trenches with the rest of us grunts and so have no idea of the chaos that can ensue.

If you can, only see screenings at the Fox, Broadway, or the Whitsell. The Guild is, of course, a nightmare. Those who remember the terrible, cramped, ungiving seats of the old Berg-Swann auditorium in the Art Museum will experience Proustian sense memories after plopping themselves into the Guild's seats. The Guild also has an air conditioning and heating system that would drown out a Boeing 747. And, if the past is any measure of the future, the projectionists are, at best, inattentive. If you have to go to this dinky theater, arrive early and sit in the back row, where there's leg room and slightly more comfortable seating.

Another secret to survival is to join the Silver Screen Club. Pricey at $350 dollars a year, the pass nevertheless pays off, especially during festival time. SS members are invited to attend press screenings at the Guild, a situation that pays off for both members and the NWFC, which then has fewer people to deal with at crowded night showings. Besides the problems inherent in the Guild, the only thing wrong with the Silver Screen option is the Silver Screen members themselves. Graying West Hills octogenarians in Patagonia windbreakers, these are Hollywood-hating snobs who mumble through the movies and laugh at inappropriate, unfunny moments, their bodies rocking forward gently with eyes lightly closed as they laugh less to evince humor than to make a statement about what sophisticated viewers they are. But they are a harmless, clubby lot, and in order to see a rare film from Chad one can put up with them.

If you are a solo attendee, other hints are: take a bus (to avoid parking problems); bring your own lunch or PowerBars to evade trendy, high-priced restaurants; and bring plenty of water.

And finally, with four auditoria and as many as eight movies a night, there's no way for the driven film fan to see everything. Therefore remember the most important thing of all: you'll have to let some movies go. It will be hard, but trust me; with this newfound Zen-like freedom from desire, PIFF will be a much more enjoyable experience for you and (more importantly) me.