Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Portland Film Fest - Opening Night Movie & Party

The cinema lights dim and the movie begins...

First up is a short film called A PASSION OF GOLD AND FIRE, a documentary about an aging beekeeper in France who has been searching for someone to take over his business... but every young person he takes on as an apprentice decides beekeeping is boring and they move on. The film is kind of a visual tone poem with beautiful shots of bees and smoke... and the old beekeeper, of course. It shows you how beautiful and meditative beekeeping is, and why this job *could* be interesting. It’s becoming one with nature, taking care of the bees who in turn take care of you (they give you honey). The old beekeeper worries who will take care of his bees once he’s gone?

Now to the feature, and we are told by Josh (Mr. Portland Film Fest) that there will be Q&A with the cast and crew when the film ends.

The film is BIRDS OF NEPTUNE, homegrown in Portland. The story is about two sisters who live in their deceased parent’s old house. Older sister Mona (Molly Elizabeth Parker) works at a stripper in some artsie place that makes the stip acts in FLASHDANCE seem smutty. She is all about the *art*. Um, okay. Younger sister Rachel (Britt Harris who actually looks older, but plays a high school senior), smokes weed all day and hangs out with her friend Shay (Lauren Luiz) in the old house. The house is completely as it was when their parents were alive, nothing has changed.

When Mona brings home a dude from a bar the bearded Zach (Kurt Conroyd) he becomes curious about some of the strange things in the house (just as we are) and the past of these two sisters. For instance: the upstairs bathroom is off limits, and seems to have not been touched for years after someone used it... there are a boy’s underpants hanging on a rack and everything is covered in years worth of dust. What? There’s an old family photo showing the two sisters as girls with their parents... but all dressed in robes like monks or something. What? There’s an empty bird cage in the living room. What? Both sisters are a little weird and offputting... is there some weird tragedy in their past? Just as we want to know the secrets, so does Zach.

Oh, the opening scene was Rachel in a clinic waiting room holding a “Wait To be Called Ticket” that’s #29, but when they call her number she leaves the clinic, gets in her car, and tries to wreck it. What?

While Rachel and her pal Shay are smoking weed on the porch one day, a 15 year old boy crashes his bicycle and they go down to see if he’s okay... this is Thor (Christian Blair) who Rachel and Shay take under their wing. Thor spends most of the movie just sitting on the sofa watching what happens.

As the story goes on, the two sisters just become weirder and weirder, and completely impossible to understand. Mona wear porcelain masks and talks to herself. Rachel locks herself in the basement and plays odd music on an electric guitar which consists of chords reverbed into sounds (she claims to be a musical genius who hopes to be accepted into Juliard, but... electric guitar chords?) or she’s in the garden where she has hundreds of garden fairies and gnomes and a weird shrine in the back she blows pot smoke at. They have so much mystery they are just strange.

Zach says he is a psychology student, then calls psychology a pseudo science... making me wonder if *Zach* was a fraud or if this was filmmaker editorializing. But whichever way, Zach becomes weird and has sex with both sisters and not only uncovers the family secrets but then uses them against the sister in some sort of controlling and evil way.

The film was beautifully shot and the acting was great all the way through... but the film was detached and sterile. The problem is: both of the sisters are *mysteries* so we can not identify with them. Zach seems to be our identification character, since he begins by uncovering the mysteries... but then he turns downright evil... and now there is no one to identify with at all. So instead of being taken inside the story and inside the lives of these characters, we remain outside the story peering in. *Everyone* is a mystery. No one is opened up to the audience so that we can care about them. It’s clinical. Stuff happening to those people up on screen that we can not care about because we are never allowed to understand them and know what motivates them. So we watch, detached, great acting a great cinematography. But we don’t care.

After the film, Josh does not return for Q&A and everyone gets up and leaves until one of the film’s crew grabs the microphone and asks if there was going to be Q&A and ends up moderating it. Maybe a quarter of the audience hadn’t already left.

In the Q&A I discover:
A) The guy who wrote the music’s mom was in the audience and wanted to make sure her son got mentioned.
B) Though the film wasn’t improvised there was a *year* of rehearsals and actors figuring out backstories for their characters which were then incorporated into the script.
C) The Director and co-writer Steve Richter said the film was autobiographical and he was “Thor”...

Which explains a lot.

I think this film would have worked had it been told from the Thor characters’ point of view. But there was *no* point of view, and that’s what made it seem detached. If it's your story, tell it as your story.

After the Q&A, it was off to the afterparty....


Every year I mention the festival map, which is designed for people from Portland, but those of us who are out of towners (filmmakers) have no idea where anything is. It’s not a street map, it’s just a little map of the whole city with numbers on it which correspond to locations which have the street address. But you have no idea where the streets are, except maybe in the north west quarter of the city. That’s a lot of territory.

So I start walking to the afterparty. And discover some streets vanish for a block (etc) and soon come to realize that I am lost in Portrland and have no idea where this party is... I’m in a residential section. Not here. So I backtrack, deciding to just call it a night and go back to the hotel... when the star of the movie, Britt Harris, and her boyfriend turn the corner with a small group of people (including a cute young woman on a bicycle). They know the city and know where the party is, so I follow them. Hey, I was one street off!

Now we get to the party and I do not have my VIP Badge, and they won’t let me in. But I *do* have the Fest Program with my name all over it and *do* have my drivers license. That gets me in. There is free beer and some waitpeople with trays of horsdoeurves that get snatches away before they come close to me. The two ales they have are great ( and I try each a couple of times to make sure. I can see food, real food, in the VIP section... but I can not get past the bouncer.

Then I spot Michael Dunaway who I met last year (we were on panels) and he has great news: he’s shooting a feature film with Peter Bogdanovich in the cast. He tells me the story and it sounds great. Meanwhile, the brisk walk and beer have made me sweaty, which means and attractive woman will now want to hug me!

And that’s what happens.

The beautiful and talented Kelly Richardson shows up and hugs me. I met Kelly at Raindance (London) a few years back where she was showing her *awesome* documentary WITHOUT A NET about a guy in the favelas of Rio who teaches street kids acrobatics and tries to get them jobs with Cirque Du Soleil. This was one of my favorite films that year, and Kelly brought her *dad* to London as her “date”. It was so cool for her to bring a proud parent to the film fest. When we were talking I discovered she is from the East Bay Area like me, so we’re kind of homies.

Her film was selected for the Portland Film Fest 2 years ago, and somewhere I have a picture of us walking the red carpet together (she didn’t bring her dad). She told me she was moving to Los Angeles and looking for work as a stuntperson (oh, she made her documentary because *she* is an acrobat, and found out about this program). I was going to introduce her to some of my stuntmen friends... but some are, um, horndogs, so it seemed like it might be a bad idea. She’s been living in Los Angeles for well over a year and the first time I talk to her is in *Portland*. I’m a moron.

Why is she in Portland? Well, she was in Vancouver working on a TV show... she’s Rebecca Romijn’s stunt double in THE LIBRARIANS and has worked on 16 TV series and movies in the short time she’s been in Los Angeles. Watch for her in WESTWORLD where she’s not just doing stunts, she plays a recurring character! I'm proud and excited! She's doing great!

Anyway, I was sweaty.

After another beer and a chicken skewer thingie (the waitperson made it all the way to us and still had some food on the tray) I said my goodnights and headed back to the hotel, because my first class is tomorrow *morning*. I don’t really do mornings.

- Bill

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