A Review of The 32nd Portland Int’l Film Festival

22 02 2009

It’s Finally Over

The 32nd Portland International Film Festival ran an exhausting eighty films playing over a period of eighteen days, or longer if you count the press screenings open to all NW Film Center Silver Screen members.  By design, PIFF is very much a by rote film festival which lacks imagination in its programming and doesn’t attract international premieres.  The festival plays on the heels of The Academy Awards and subsequently casts a broad net over all international films submitted to the Academy with the hope that the films programmed will be nominated.  Of the eighty films programmed this year, twenty-eight were submitted to the Oscars.  Although this is less than half, this approach is somewhat pedestrian and yields a fairly conventional program.  The remaining films have already had lives on the festival circuit or are due for domestic release by major distributors.  A common theme among the films programmed is aging (O’Horten, Beaches of Agnes, The Window, Cherry Blossoms, Of Time and the City, Captain Abu Raed, Modern Life) or period pieces (Dean Spanley, The Necessities of Life, Seraphine, Nightwatching, Katyn, The Rest is Silence, Blind Sunflowers, Everlasting Moments), which draw in the aged retirees with disposable income and nothing but time.  Consequently, PIFF has never been much of a life force, despite the fact that when films for a young audience are programmed (Mermaid, The Baader Meinhof Complex, Eldorado, The Chaser), the films always sell out.  PIFF could and should be programmed for a broader demographic, except that The Northwest Film Center uses the festival the same way public television programs during their pledge drive, with the hope of attracting people able to spend $250 on an annual membership, and that’s rarely college students.  The reason for this could be that students, or at least those attending Portland State University, can attend films at the NW Film Center for free all year round provided that they have a valid student ID.  Unfortunately, this is a benefit about which the Film Center isn’t very vocal and so goes ignored.

My main complaint with this kind of festival programming has less to do with the quality of the films, as many I mentioned listed above were quite good, but that the elderly audience is consistently mannerless, entitled and ill-spirited making the festival atmosphere stressful and  joyless.  Last year, I had seats taken from me by retirees without an ounce of remorse.  This year, on the second day of the festival, an older man sat next to me and tried to muscle the armrest from me, and when I refused to budge, he moved to another seat.  The next day, I was checking my bag at The Whitsell Auditorium, which took about five seconds, and two older gentlemen cut in front of me so they could get to the seat they wanted.  In fact, they started to race to the front row and when I beat them to it, complained that they’d have to sit four seats down.  Later that week, another retiree, who didn’t have the privileges of being a Silver Screen member, snuck in with her ticket and camped out in the third row.  She saved a seat next to her which she had no intention of sharing and when the place was packed, she refused to give up her empty seat.  At another screening, I was third in line and they announced that we could start heading into the theater and so I started walking NEXT TO the other two people ahead of me.  The very large old woman snipped loudly, “Could you PLEASE WAIT YOUR TURN!?”  I said, “Well, go!”  Her husband said back, “There’s no need to be rude…you FUCKIN’ ASSHOLE!”  And then yesterday, at The Beaches of Agnes, a man was saving two seats by standing in front of them and an older woman ran up to him and bullied him out of both seats even though she only needed one and argued that they had both arrived at the seats at the same time.  The man conceded despite the other people in the audience telling her to let him have the seats for him and his wife.

Who can stand this sort of stress?  Why does the Baby Boomer generation act so selfishly about their space?  Anyone under 45 who attends the festival is there to have fun in a communal way and try to accommodate the others around them. I ended up seeing about half of the films I had intended to see because I just didn’t have the energy to fight old people every two hours every day for eighteen days.   Sadly, I know that none of the octogenarians will ever learn about my experience because most of them are not internet savvy enough to read about this.  I don’t mean to chastise a whole generation, but really…LIGHTEN UP.

The Films

After all the conflicts and stress, looking back on the festival it was one of the best in terms of volume of quality films.  Previous years have had maybe three films that pack an emotional or formal wallop, and though this year had no films that were particularly cathartic, it reigned with formal acumen.  Here were the best of the lot (and a lot of  ’em!), so be sure you keep this list handy over the next year because you won’t want to miss them when they play in Portland:


Hunger (Steve McQueen, UK)

Il Divo (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)

Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda, France)

Mermaid (Anna Melikyan, Russia)

Revanche (Götz Spielmann, Austria)

Treeless Mountain (So Yong Kim, South Korea)

The Chaser (Hong-jin Na, South Korea)

Nightwatching (Peter Greenaway, UK)

Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel, Germany)

Seraphine (Martin Provost, France)

Of Time and the City (Terrence Davies, UK)

Lorna’s Silence (Dardenne Bros, Belgium)







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