WHEN IT COMES to quality vs. quantity, the Portland Film Festival chooses the latter. This year boasts 80 features and 134 shorts—which, on paper, seems like it'd give a bunch of independent, up-and-coming talent an opportunity to shine. But the reality is that without better curation, few films have a chance to stand out. PFF seems to assume audiences are more interested in mingling with mid-range celebrities at after-parties than in actually watching any movies à la carte.
Of the six features I watched from this year's offerings, nothing struck me as the sort of thing you should get a ticket for ($5-15), much less a festival pass ($49-349). Batkid Begins (about the Make-a-Wish kid who got to be Batman for a day, screening Sun Sept 6) and The Resurrection of Jake the Snake Roberts (about one aging professional wrestler rehabilitating another, Wed Sept 2) are both competent, uplifting documentaries with TV production values—they certainly aren't bad, but unless you specifically want to support the people involved, there's no reason to see them in a theater.
Meanwhile, GRU-PDX (a Brazilian survey of the Portland music scene, featuring the Thermals and the Dandy Warhols, Tues Sept 1) and Audition (a minimalist urban romance featuring 100 actors competing for the two leads, Fri Sept 4 and Sat Sept 5) prove disappointing in their scope: GRU-PDX spends two hours rehashing every conversation you've ever had on the porch of a Portland house show (did you know La Luna was an institution?), while Audition proves it's difficult to distinguish between "minimalist urban romance" and "softcore porn."
Divine Access (Thurs Sept 3 and Sat Sept 5) and Birds of Neptune (Tues Sept 1) are the kind of indie movies that will drive you nuts unless you're really, really, really into indie movies (you know the drill: weirdly paced, mumbly, and packed with high-concept nudity). The cinematography is solid all around, and both pictures flirt with some intriguing ideas, but if profundity is the goal, it's never achieved.
This is PFF's fourth year, but the theme seems much the same as when the fest began: It's nearly impossible to pick out the unsung gems from all the vanity projects. An indie festival like this should be about discovering new voices and talent—not panning through a ton of silt, hoping to find an ounce of gold.
OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: A short film Ben Coleman worked on is included in "The Best of the 48-Hour Film Project," which screens as part of PFF.