Ah, Portland. Who doesn’t love it? Certainly not its happy, artsy residents, who frequently wax lyrical about their beloved hometown to the jealous ears of the rest of the country. On better days the city can seem like a giant artist colony – a kind of modern-day creative communist Russia, if communist Russia offered free films and Spanish coffee in a park. After all, the city hosts an astounding 20 film festivals a year.
Our conversation with PFF director-founder Joshua Leake reflects this winsome, generous spirit of cooperation: “Instead of competing against each other,” he enthuses, “Portlanders collaborate and support everybody’s projects.” The festival programming, too, seems to welcome an all-inclusive and varied approach to the nature of art-making: with a reading yesterday by local author Chuck Palahniuk, who spoke of his new project (a graphic-novel sequel to Fight Club!), and a special effects make-up panel with Emmy and Oscar-winning make-up artists.
PFF screens 83 films in its first year (whittled down from 600), including the features Without A Net, Mon Ami, Forev, and Growing Cities. We wish we were there to party with the likes of (surprise guests) KD Lang and John Malkovich – maybe next year!
MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Can you tell us a little about the history of the Portland Film Festival?
Joshua Leake (JL): Portland Film Festival is my brainchild – I spent the last year traveling to film festivals around the world after my documentary, Emptys, won the world’s largest short film festival, Tropfest. Portland resident and seasoned TV/Film producer and director, Jay Cornelius, is in charge of festival programming. With more than 15 years experience in the industry, he has shot and edited shows for National Geographic, the History Channel, A&E, PBS, HGTV, and the Discovery-Times Channel.
MM: Portland definitely is an artists’ Mecca peopled with foodies, film lovers, writers and the like. What is it about Portland that attracts all these variations of artists, big and small?
JL: It’s a small town with a big city population. People are friendly, supportive and encouraging of the arts. Why do people love Portland? At our opening night film festivities and after-party this year, we had KD Lang and John Malkovich slip in. What makes Portland such an artist’s mecca? Maybe the rain causes people to hunker down and make something creative. It seems like every other person here is an artist, maker, creator or filmmaker. People come to Portland to get away from the rat race of cities like New York and Los Angeles—instead of competing against each other, Portlanders collaborate and support everybody’s projects.
MM: Portland’s film scene has been steadily growing for a number of years. What is the film scene like today? How does the film scene affect PFF’s programming?
JL: Portland’s film scene today is fueled by a new generation of filmmakers. We have had a recent influx of network television production, from Portlandia to Grimm to Leverage. But Portland’s filmmakers are also excited to generate their own film movement and create content that originates from within Portland. We should also say that Portlandia’s executive producer, David Allen Cress, is one of our judges, so there is a lot of cross support here.
MM: How many submissions did PFF receive this year? What is the selection process like?
JL: We received over 600 submissions including withoutabox, direct submission and film invitations. We had over 54 screeners view these submissions (comprised of Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning film industry members, film lovers and film addicts alike). Each film was reviewed at least three times. Every film selected was reviewed by our executive panel and programmed by our Director of Programming, Jay Cornelius.
MM: PFF has 54 hours of programming in films, workshops, and networking events. What are you most looking forward to this week? What films are you excited about?
JL: The outdoor screenings are unique to film festivals. We want to bring new cinema to the people and make it a social event. Come on down to the Fields Park for food carts, flaming Spanish coffees, a beer garden, live music, and of course, free movies. We’re expecting a crowd of over a thousand for our Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night outdoor screenings.
MM: There’s a myriad of films screening from narratives to documentaries, but PFF also features extensive blocks of shorts. There’s even a short film on Chuck Palahniuk’s funny short story, “Romance.” Can you tell us about PFF’s dedication to short filmmaking?
JL: Shorts blocks are about throwing a bunch of filmmakers into a theater together and making them interact and exchange ideas—it’s about community building and celebrating each others’ accomplishments. The shorts filmmakers of today are also the future feature filmmakers of tomorrow. Also, we have a bunch of literature fanatics here in Portland. It says something about a town when you can pack a 600 seat theater for a short movie because of the author.
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