When Portland filmmaker Ali Godil was working on his short film, the close-to-home Americanistan, he didn’t expect to immortalize the final days of one of the area’s most iconic institutions: a McDonald's on Swan Island.
“We filmed out front, the workers didn’t care,” Godil told the Mercury. “A month later that McDonald’s shut down.”
The front of a McDonald's may not sound like the most exciting place for a shoot, but Godil said he choose the place purposefully—both because it looked old, which was appropriate for his '80s-set film, and as a symbol of American imperialism. The later aspect was important to Godil, a first-generation Pakistani-American. He based the film on a story his parents told him about their early days in the US where his father humorously took his mother on a date to the fast-food establishment.
“My mom still complains about that to this day,” Godil recounted with a laugh. “I think, with the film, I alchemized it in a way that made it feel more entertaining, interesting, and philosophical.”
Americanistan is one of six shorts that will be shown at the upcoming first annual CINE / SEEN Film Festival at the Hollywood Theatre. The festival—which Godil helped to organize—was designed to include not just films, but stand-up sets from comedians. Well-known Portland comic Shain Brenden will open the event, and Katie Nguyen will host. The latter of the two also stars in one of the night's shorts, Crouching Comic, which the Mercury featured in its 2022 Spring Arts Guide.
CINE / SEEN's organizers have been planning the single night fest for more than a year and whittled down nearly 60 submissions to six shorts, which they think best highlight underrepresented local filmmakers from the Pacific Northwest.
Festival co-organizer Annie Tonsiengsom stressed that the night is about more than just sitting and watching films. It's about building connection through art. “You create community in this really personal way at a film festival," she explained.
Tonsiengsom has deep ties to production in Portland, having been a producer on Crouching Comic and serving as Co-Chair for the Diversity Equity Inclusion Committee of the Oregon Media Production Association (OMPA).
“I think about filmmakers or artists, perhaps undiscovered, that are wanting to tell these stories,” Tonsiengsom said. “We need to bring more people into this industry, rather than just those that have always had the access, privilege, and means to do so.”
Alberta Poon, writer-director of Crouching Comic, noted a similar drive as her reason for co-organizing CINE / SEEN. She wanted people to be able to come together and see the work of local artists on the big screen.
“I wanted to do this right,” Poon said. “For me, I finally get to see my film with my community, with my crew members, with my cast, in the city that we made it in, and I get to experience the joy of what it’s like to see the reaction. That’s super exciting.”
Godil echoed that he saw the in-person dynamic as a fundamental part of experiencing art.
“People want stuff like this,” Godil said. “It’s something you have to experience—not just sensory, but also physically being there. It’s like the difference between going to a live concert versus listening to Spotify or iTunes.”
As Portlanders gradually feel more confident in theaters and indoor spaces, the CINE / SEEN team expressed excitement that Portland’s art scene can stage a comeback with underrepresented artists at the forefront. Godil said he hopes to see more opportunities like this in the future, treating the festival as a potential launching point for other, similar events.
“To be able to see the beauty, humanity, creativity, and excellence of brown, Black, and minority people in Portland,” Godil explained. “The festival does a good job of highlighting that with the films and the comics. It’s just really going to be a dope night to showcase the talents in the area and show—if we’re given center stage—how beautiful we can be.”
The inaugural CINE / SEEN festival kicks off at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy, Fri April 1, 7:30 pm, $10, tickets here.