Thurs. Oct 26, 9:15 pm, Cinema 21

Spotlight on Vanessa Renwick
by Camela

It's dark outside, and my left leg turns into a jerky pendulum before the sign on Vanessa Renwick's front gate that says "Dog On Duty." She comes to the front door wearing a pink T-shirt scrawled with "Beaver Fever"--an allusion to our state's mascot or to parts of the female anatomy, this double phonetic pairing of bilabial and labiodental consonants? "Afraid of dogs?" she asks, shooing one out the door. I see she's retro-fitted her kitchen with a tree trunk, a ladder leading to a hole in the ceiling (a couple of children are climbing through), and a dangling gymnastics bar. As she makes jasmine tea, I glimpse more unprocessed forest product and a second, much larger dog in her living room. Tea in hand, we descend to her basement studio to look at some of her work.

At age 39, with 23 years of filmmaking experience, Renwick is the reigning queen of Portland's film underground. Her films, videos, and installations reflect an interest in place, urban transformation, and relationships between bodies and landscapes. On October 26th, Cinema 21 will host a collection of Renwick's recent works and release party for her new compilation video, Nature's Assistant. The featured work-in-progress: Lovejoy, a documentary about Rigga Architectural Collective's on-going effort to preserve the whimsical murals that were painted in the '40s by Greek immigrant Tom Stefopoulos beneath the now-razed Lovejoy Ramp. The video tracks Rigga's surrealist methods of resuscitating the murals symbolically and physically. Also playing will be several older films (don't miss the popular The Yodeling Lesson, about a naked woman on a dangerous bike ride) and trailers for two upcoming projects, including Canis Lupus Lupus, about people's responses to the reintroduction of wolves in eastern Oregon. Here's what Vanessa has to say...

...About saving the murals.

I was so blown away that Rigga is putting in thousands of hours for no money at all, just because it has to be done. It seems like an absurd, dada thing that they're saving this part of an old highway. But it was a space that attracted a lot of people. Gus Van Sant used the space in his movie; and that movie about the teenage girl-witch [Foxfire] shot under there; and almost every photographer in Portland will say, "Oh, I have pictures of those murals." One time I was walking through there at night, and I saw five pairs of embroidered Chinese shoes lined up under one of the pillars, like some weird ritual. That whole area was the biggest, emptiest space that I knew of inside Portland, and now it's gone.

...About support for independent film in Portland.

I think it's the best place in the United States to be an experimental filmmaker. I can't believe how many screenings there are, how many new filmmakers, and how supportive people are. I hear this frequently from filmmakers who tour from other cities too. Even though lots of the screenings, I think, are terribly curated and go on forever with terrible stuff--tons of people still show up.

...About her work being rooted in Oregon.

I really do feel this huge sense of place here and a connection to its history. [Local painter] Mike Brophy and I have this joke that we're starting an Oregon nationalist movement.

...About Britney Spears' London concert, when she prompted fans to vie for her favor by imitating animals including a dog, a suffocating fish, and a chicken.

It makes me wet just thinking about it.