For a film festival to be good, it has to show good films. For a film festival to be big, it has to show a lot of films. But for a film festival to be romantic, it has to spring out of the romantic impulse to gather, witness, and testify. Of all the Northwest film festivals, the Olympia Film Festival is the most romantic, largely because it is centered around a place. That place is the Capitol Theater, a palace of the Northwest, standing proud amidst the architectural time warp of downtown Oly. In addition to being an old-guard monument to cinephilia (balconies, single screen, and all), the Capitol is a thrillingly functional cultural locus, alive with the residual energy of countless punk and indierock shows, plays, and film series. And every year, the Olympia Film Society calls upon the theater's shabby majesty to preside over a festival that reflects the best side of the industrious, DIY spirit of the town that contains it.
The most conspicuous evidence of this is All Freakin' Night, the midnight-to-dawn horror movie showcase that comes on the first Saturday of OFF. Even on the sliding scale of cheese horror, the films are of varying quality--sometimes Argento, sometimes Romero, sometimes Troma. But the spirit of the event--a sort of cinematic camp out--is ecstatic. You don't know what you're going to get, but you stay because it's an adventure just to be there.
That spirit of discovery, of "you've got to see this," follows throughout the nine days of programming, which doesn't focus on world premieres, but on idiosyncratic combinations. This year's schedule offers new and old works by the likes of Peter Bogdanovich, Jim McKay, Jay Rosenblatt, Jeff Krulik, and Portland's own Lance Bangs, as well as documentaries, low-budget independent finds, archival fetishes, local works, and panel discussions with visiting filmmakers. On paper, it sounds a lot like another film festival; many of the films will also play in Portland in the coming weeks, or are available on video. In person, however, the Oly Fest is a whole other kind of experience--part relic, part innovation--resolutely of its city, and singular right down to the smell of the room.
A few highlights from week one:
(All events at the Capitol Theater, 206 E 5th Avenue, except where noted.)
* The Cat's Meow--Peter Bogdanovich finally gets to indulge his Orson Welles fetish with this all-star tale of a scandal aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht in 1924. With Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies and Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin. Huh? 8:30 pm.
* The Bruce Conner Compendium--A screening of works by the renowned experimental constructionist. 2pm (at the Midnight Sun).
* Djomeh--The Northwest Premiere of this story about an Afghani expat looking for love in all the wrong places (Iran, primarily). 4:30 pm.
* ALL FREAKIN' NIGHT!--From midnight till the sun comes up, OFF brings you a slumber party pu pu platter of the weird, the funny, and the scary. This year's schedule includes It Came From Outer Space (in 3-D), John Landis' classic An American Werewolf in London (new print), Bio-Zombie, Return of the Living Dead, and more. Midnight.
* A Sunday Afternoon with Lance Bangs--Recent works by the mega-talented film and video maker, including his behind-the-scenes docs for Being John Malkovich and Run Ronnie Run. 3:30 pm.
* In the Bathtub of the World--Caveh Zahedi's video diary of 1999, with entries from every single day (including his visit to the '99 Olympia Film Festival). 8 pm at the Midnight Sun (113 N. Columbia St.)
* Borgnine, Blassie and Link--Ernest Borgnine on the Bus, Mr. Blassie Goes to Washington, and I Created Lancelot Link... as they were meant to be seen! 10:30 pm.
Panel Discussion: Pop Culture Documentarians--Jeff Krulik, Lance Bangs, and Russ Forster address the challenges of capturing the eternal ephemera of pop culture. 7:00 pm at the Midnight Sun.
* A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake--Documentary about the tragic songwriter whose fragile folk beauty wasn't enough to keep him alive. 8 pm.
* Group--A locally-produced, partially improvised feature about eight women in group therapy. 8:15 pm.