Film festivals don't happen in Portland.
Okay, okay, they do—sort of. There are the usual suspects: the Portland International Film Festival (PIFF), the Portland Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, the Portland Underground Film Festival (PUFF). And then there are the billion or so miniature film festivals that are constantly happening somewhere in our fair city (most of which confuse "film festival" with "showing some DVDs somebody likes at a rented-out theater or a coffee shop"). Thanks to a dedicated filmmaking community and more than a few film buffs, Portland's never suffered a cinematic draught.
So let's get back to that apparently contradictory part about film festivals, and how they don't happen here. The film festivals I'm talking about? They're the kind that happen in New York and Los Angeles, not Portland. They're the kind that screen anticipated and buzzed-about films, submitted from all over the world. They're the kind that premiere films before anyone else has gotten to see them. They're the kind that boast juries made up of ridiculously qualified individuals—individuals who then decide which filmmakers get fat checks and sweet prizes. And they're the kind that fly in filmmakers from all over the world, allowing them to introduce their work, talk on panels, give lectures, and answer viewers' questions.
Here's the kickass part: All of those things are part of the Platform International Animation Festival, a brand-spankin'-new fest that's picked Portland as its home. From June 25 to June 30, Platform's going to be making a name for itself. For Portlanders used to PIFF and PUFF, Platform is gonna be a whole new bag. And for Portland as a whole, Platform is gonna be a huge deal.
A HUGE DEAL (ALSO: WALLACE and GROMMIT!)
There are two reasons Platform's going to be unlike anything Portland's seen before. The first one's pretty easy to guess: A staggering level of both passion and experience from those putting on the fest. Reason number two's equally predictable: They've got money.
"The world is full of small festivals, and that's not what I'm interested in doing," Irene Kotlarz tells me, speaking from Platform's Los Angeles offices. "[Platform isn't] a grassroots festival that started in someone's garage; it's really aiming to hit the ground running."
Kotlarz is Platform's festival director, and damn, she knows her stuff. She was also the festival director of Britain's Cambridge Animation Festival (where she premiered two seminal works from Oscar-winning animator Nick Park—one being the debut of Wallace and Grommit, Park's now legendary stop-motion stars) before she moved to the US in 1997, where she assisted with the now-defunct Los Angeles International Animation Celebration. Her reason for devoting the past few years of her life to starting up Platform? It's simple, she says: "There's no major animation event in this country right now."
"I happened to be having dinner with a senior executive of Cartoon Network three years ago," Kotlarz continues. "And I just happened to say, 'Isn't it strange there's no animation festival?' He said Cartoon Network might be interested in putting up the money for something like that, and [asked] would I be interested in exploring the idea."
Kotlarz decided the event should be on the West Coast ("probably the biggest concentration of animators in the world [is] up and down the West Coast"), but not in Los Angeles ("it would just get lost in a big city"). Enter Portland. Portland's "great animation community," she says, is "really important for a festival. Plus, it had these great facilities. It's a very pleasant place to be, Portland."
Having worked in non-competitive festivals, Kotlarz also knew she wanted this one to have prizes, which would encourage the best filmmakers to submit their best works, in hopes of getting both attention and cash. In other words—and unlike Portland's usual non-competitive, laidback film fests—Platform's jurors will be closely examining the fest's impressive lineup before doling out over $50,000 in cash prizes.
"[The festival] I did in Britain was not [competitive]," she says. "We found it much harder to be taken seriously on the festival circuit and to get filmmakers to send us their work. I felt it had to be competitive, and if you're going to have a competitive festival, that really ramps up the amount of money—because you have to have judges, you have to have selection panels, and you have to pay [filmmakers'] expenses. Ideally, you want to pay some sort of contribution to filmmakers so they attend to represent their films. That takes you to a whole extra level."
That whole extra level doesn't come cheap—luckily, someone was willing to foot the bill. "I came up with a budget for the whole thing and presented it to Cartoon Network," Kotlarz says. "They felt that they wanted the festival to be kind of clean and non-commercial—they didn't want a huge roster of sponsors and logos festooned everywhere—so they decided to sponsor the whole thing. To my surprise!"
FACT: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TOO MANY CARTOONS
"I always have rather grand ideas for what I want to achieve in a festival," Kotlarz says, and she's not kidding: Platform's website bills the fest as "the newest and most ambitious animation festival in the US," and that's pretty much dead on.
Kotlarz and Platform's staff put the word out about the fledgling festival a while ago, seeking out films and filmmakers in proven spots (like film festivals) and newer areas (like the internet, which bulges with indie animation). It paid off—deluged with submissions from both known and unknown creators, Platform was able to take its pick from a slew of entries. "I was very, very pleased by how many entries we got," Kotlarz says. "We got like 2,000 entries. For a first year, that's pretty amazing."
More amazing is the final lineup that Platform promises—a jaw-dropping list of must-see films and big-name animators, with events spanning from the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium to the Portland Center for the Performing Arts to Sauvie Island, with the fest's screenings, installations, and events encompassing everything from short films to a feature-length anime to toys, music videos, the internet, and a screening of animation for mobile devices that'll be screened on cell phones. The events at Platform are, quite frankly, too plentiful and too varied to list here. But check out the sidebar for our top picks, and take a deep breath before diving into a quick sampling of what the fest has to offer.
Things kick off on Monday (June 25) with a screening, a panel featuring Portland animators Bill Plympton and Joanna Priestley, and an opening night party. Tuesday has more screenings, plus panels on everything from "TV in the Age of New Media" to how to make animation for mobile devices. Wednesday there'll be a picnic on Sauvie Island, a special edition of Don Hertzfeldt and Mike Judge's The Animation Show (presented by Hertzfeldt himself), and a showcase of Portland's own animators (REPRESENT!).
Thursday: Pixar's Gary Rydstrom visits from the studio in Emeryville, California, to offer a retrospective of Pixar's revolutionary short films, while bigwigs from the Cartoon Network talk about their hip Adult Swim programming block (those jerkhole Mooninites are so not invited). Friday and Saturday: More screenings (including a rare, big screen showing of Disney's 1937 classic Snow White), a panel on Mad cartoonist Basil Wolverton, a tribute to the still-hilarious cartoons of Hanna-Barbera, shorts from Walt Disney Animation Studios, a presentation from Portland's own Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick, an episode of Aardman Animation's new TV show, Creature Comforts, and presentations on the brilliant Aardman from Aardman's co-founders, visiting from England. Oh, and PS: On Sunday, July 1, it all wraps up with a "Best of Platform" screening that'll either remind you of all the great stuff you saw or make you feel bad for missing out on it the first time.
Phew. See? Told you this was a big deal.
AND SO IT BEGINS
"I hope lots of people will come," Kotlarz says when I ask what her hopes are for Platform. "You don't want to throw a big party and not have people turn up! One of the big attractions of a festival for people is seeing the films—but for the filmmakers, it's seeing and experiencing the films with an actual audience. That's kind of number one—for people to come, and enjoy what they're seeing." (That's important, yeah—but it also bears noting that attendance this year will determine if Platform becomes a regular fixture in Portland.)
According to Kotlarz, one of Platform's chief goals is "really to provoke discussion. We've got a lot of panel discussion and debates. It should really stimulate people. It should stimulate artists; they should come away feeling like they've really gained something from being there. They've got renewed excitement about the work."
But maybe the best thing about excitement? It's contagious. After a press screening of some of the diverse, impressive, gorgeous, and fun films that'll be competing at Platform, I came away stoked—yeah, I was eager to attend the festival, but I also couldn't stop thinking it was pretty damn cool that a fest of Platform's ambition has chosen Portland as its home.
BEST OF THE FEST
Platform has so many cool-sounding screenings, panels, and events that it's impossible to list all of 'em here. Here are your best bets.
This anime from Japan's Studio 4ºC isn't slated for an American release yet, but goddamn, it looks beautiful. Tues June 26, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 7 pm
Adult Swim: The Past, Present, and Future
Fancy-pants bosses from Adult Swim show off their current projects. Thurs June 28, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 10 am
With films like Toy Story and The Incredibles, Pixar Animation Studios has changed the face of animation. Pixar director Gary Rydstrom hosts this event, in which Pixar's early shorts are screened, along with Rydstrom's Oscar-nominated short Lifted. Thurs June 28, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 4 pm
The smart, funny McCloud is the go-to guy when it comes to explaining comics and graphic storytelling. Thurs June 28, Wieden + Kennedy, 224 NW 13th, 7 pm, (pnca.edu, for tickets call 821-8903 or buy them online)
Aardman: Genesis to Revelations and Aardman: Soft Clay, Hard Work, Lucky Breaks
With Genesis, Aardman co-founder David Sproxton explains how the studio creates their films; with Soft Clay, another Aardman co-founder, Peter Lord "presents a portrait of this uniquely British animation studio." Genesis to Revelations: Thurs June 29, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 2 pm; Soft Clay: Sat June 30, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park, 11:30 am
Best of Platform
Here's your CliffsNotes version of the fest, you lazy bastard. Sunday July 1, Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park, 11 am
Hit platformfestival.com for a complete schedule, more info, and passes for the fest. (Expect to drop $175 for full festival passes, $50 for day passes, or $10 for individual screenings.)