CHANCES ARE you aren't familiar with the Portland Film Festival (pronounced "pff," by me), but you should be. Now in its second year, the festival is endorsed by the mayor’s office, has secured a slew of notable venues, and could represent a considerable chunk of Portland’s film cred in the future.
Right now, however, the festival’s programming is schizophrenic—offering a vast, seemingly anything-goes variety of shorts, mid-tier festival regulars, director Q&As, and workshops. While that means some underdog films might gain exposure, a higher emphasis on curation would allow viewers to distinguish the vanity projects from the worthwhile ones.
For example: Have you ever wondered if Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones and Ronon Dex on Stargate: Atlantis) has chops as a feature film director? You probably haven’t! His Road to Paloma (screening Mon Sept 1 at the Mission Theater, director in attendance) is a laconic, grimy Mojave-noir. The cast is solid (Wes Studi is a national treasure, and I'm never mad to see Lisa Bonet), but the pacing will likely turn off anyone who doesn’t hold Easy Rider in high esteem.
The locally produced Veeps (Sat Aug 30 at Cinema 21) focuses on Bill Kelter and Wayne Shellabarger's book about vice presidents—and feels like a feature-length book commercial. It's not a bad book commercial, but unless you really enjoy meta-textual goofery and are already familiar with the source material, it'll likely leave you cold.
The film you absolutely should see is the festival’s opening night selection, Sex Ed (Tues Aug 26, Crystal Ballroom, director and cast in attendance). It's genuine, funny, and not the least bit precious about its material, which involves inner-city students and an indisputably adult Haley Joel Osment as their plucky sex ed teacher. This is exactly the sort of movie you want to stumble across on the festival circuit.
That's the high-profile stuff—you're on your own when it comes to scouting for other gems. Here's hoping that in the coming years, PFF narrows its focus a bit so we don't have to spend quite so much time scouting.