Eve’s Bayou. Courtesy of 5th Avenue Cinema

 Find it at 5th: Eve’s Bayou

A classic of Black cinema and a behind the scenes look at the 35mm film process

This week at 5th Avenue Cinema—Portland’s only student-ran theater—students can catch a free showing of Eve’s Bayou in 35mm.

Eve’s Bayou is a 1997 drama film written and directed by Kasi Lemmons. Even though the film was Lemmons’ first feature, its cast has several well-known actors, including Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Meagan Good.


The film takes place in the Louisiana Bayou and follows the life of a 10-year-old girl named Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett) during the summer of 1962. The story revolves around the struggles of the Batiste family and the secrets they keep, leading to a series of events that profoundly impact Eve’s life. The film is considered a classic of Black cinema and has received critical acclaim for its writing, direction and performances.

The film was chosen for screening by one of the two projectionists at 5th Avenue Cinema, Cadie Godula. She has been with the theater for nearly two years and will leave when she graduates from Portland State next term.


The theater is known for its eclectic selection of films. “We have our genre ‘scale’ here at 5th Ave,” Godula said. “We program a lot of sad stuff, it seems—not necessarily this term—but we have in the past.”


When searching for a film, she said she was looking for something more dramatic than sad, even though there is a fine line between the two. “It’s directed by Kasi Lemmons, this was her first feature film, and it’s very dramatic—one might say too dramatic,” Godula said. “But it fits the bill and definitely has the vibes of a late ‘90s drama.”


At the time, very few movies would be noticed—let alone created—by women of color. “It’s like one of the few feature films of the ‘90s to be directed by a Black woman,” Godula said. “There weren’t a lot of Black women getting a lot of attention, and their films would go by the wayside as ‘independent’ films. But to my knowledge, this film did pretty okay.”


Lemmons was able to gain credibility through previous film work, leading her to be able to work with such talent in this film. “There were a lot of movies directed by people of color, and they just weren’t getting as much praise, so I think this one is important because it kind of was able to crack through that a little bit and got some recognition at the time,” Godula said. Eve’s Bayou is now considered a notable film of the time.


Godula emphasized the distinctness of ‘90s dramas. “Everything feels very over the top just because it was the feel of the whole genre of drama,” she said. “There’s a lot of musical interludes throughout that just accents it.” She thought this film has more going on than contemporary dramas, calling the editing interesting and fun. “I feel like these days, dramas are just a little more subdued, but this one is definitely not subdued,” she said.


If you do not like drama, maybe this film is not for you. Godula had a whole list of people that may not like this film: “People who don’t like drama. People who don’t like movies that are set in Louisiana. People who don’t like swamps. People who don’t like voodoo, and people who don’t like men cheating on their wives—that too.”


Godula really enjoyed the performance of the young girl that played Eve, Jurnee Smollett. She reflected on a scene in the movie where the girl was frightened running through the market. “She gets scared, and it’s just very good,” Godula said. “I was like, ‘wow, this little girl can act!’ She makes a lot of very expressive expressions if that makes sense… and it just makes the film feel even more dramatic than it already is.” As an adult actress, Smollett is known for her more recent work, but Eve’s Bayou remains one of her most notable performances.


Originally, Godula had thought of programming a film called Drylongso by Cauleen Smith. “It’s similar—’90s film directed by a Black woman that just looked fucking awesome,” Godula said. “But you could not find it anywhere.” So, when the theater cannot find a distributor for a film, they have to hunt for other great films. Luckily, they found Eve’s Bayou in 35mm.


5th Avenue Cinema is one of the very few cinemas in the city that screens films on 35mm. “It’s cool,” Godula said. “It’s cool as hell. We try to play it a lot because, you know, it’s 35—it used to be everywhere, man.”


She talked about how analog film began to die as digital film came around. “The art of projecting film is still slowly dying, but also kind of not at the same time,” Godula said. There are whole communities of people that adore film and make sure that it does not die. “We appreciate it over here, and there’s something about viewing a print of a film, even if it’s, like, a dog shit print, scratched up and terrible, it’s still fun to watch,” Godula said. “It’s a physical thing that you’re watching, light is being shined through this piece of plastic—it’s moving. It’s just fun.”


Godula has a very different job weekly depending on whether they’re screening digital or analog format. With digital, she presses play and turns down the lights. If they are screening an analog film, like this week’s Eve’s Bayou, she says it can be a little nerve-wracking. “There’s so many things that could go wrong,” Godula said. “There are a lot of very small things that need to be right, or else it won’t work.”


She said that things can go awry with any kind of technology, but it’s especially difficult with analog technology. Projectionists need to make sure to thread the film through the projector properly to make it work, requiring their attention during the entire film.


“The projectionist is kind of a ghost job,” Godula said. “If everything goes well and people watch the movie, and they don’t think somebody was over there making this work, then it was a success.”


During the screening, the projectionist has to make sure that the film stays appropriately focused and that the many changeovers during the film are as clean as possible—without breaking any of the delicate equipment. “You don’t want people to think about you when you’re projecting movies,” Godula said. “There’s just a lot of juggling and paying attention to what’s going on in the environment and paying attention to details of the film, and it’s just nerve-wracking sometimes—but it’s fun!”


Inside of 5th Avenue Cinema, you may have noticed a large table with lots of dials and disks sitting to the side. “That’s a flatbed,” Godula explained. “It’s an editing table for 35.” They received the piece from a local film organization that did not want it anymore. “It doesn’t work, but we just wanted to make a little bit of an educational space,” she said.


Students can go to the 5th Avenue Cinema this weekend to attend a free showing of Eve’s Bayou. The film can be seen this Friday or Saturday at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., or Sunday at 3 p.m.