PERHAPS IT'S BECAUSE Portland is a city with an embarrassingly low African American population. Or maybe it's because there's a folksy naïveté to some Portlanders that can make them sound like idiots or unintentional racists. Either way, it's been said quite a bit: "I don't know if I can go to the Portland Black Film Festival, because I'm white." To which I respond, "Don't worry, it all translates pretty easily."
I built the Portland Black Film Festival around three primary desires. First, I wanted the chance to see The Last Dragon and Krush Groove on the big screen again, with director Michael Schultz in attendance to talk about his career. Schultz is an unsung hero of black cinema, with a list of credits that includes everything from films like Car Wash to television shows like Arrow. Second, I wanted an opportunity to present the work of Portland filmmakers like Elijah Hasan, Liz Vice, and Chris Witherspoon, which is exactly what will happen in the festival's shorts program. (Hasan is a master of stop-motion filmmaking, Witherspoon has become internationally celebrated for his work, and Vice will make you cry.) And finally, I wanted to see the blaxploitation classic Across 110th Street projected in 35mm. Everything else at the PBFF—from the subversive comedy Putney Swope, to the brilliant Nothing But a Man, to the "Rap City" showcase of old-school hiphop—is icing on the cake.
Anyone who's concerned about being white and going to a black film festival can rest assured: There's nothing overly radical to be found in the PBFF, and nothing is so steeped in the African diaspora that it requires subtitles, or having a black person sit next to you to explain what's going on. The Portland Black Film Festival is about having fun and bringing some diversity to our cinematic landscape and, if you're really lucky, you might get to meet some black people!
In addition to curating the Portland Black Film Festival, David Walker is a local filmmaker, writer, and film historian.