With March arriving, we approach yet another year of the Portland International Film Festival. This year’s lineup contains a slate of foreign releases, regional premieres, as well as a handful of world premieres for local Oregon-made films. With every film at the festival fighting for your tickets, it can be helpful to have a guide for some specific must-see films. Here are 6 of the most notable films to look forward to at this year’s festival.
Clementine dir. Lara Jean Gallagher
Oregon – Oscilloscope
One of the primary goals of the Portland International Film Festival is to promote locally made films from Oregon directors. One of this year’s notable highlights is Lara Jean Gallagher’s Clementine—a psychological thriller meets coming-of-age lesbian romance—straight out of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Starring breakout star Otmara Marrero (Start-Up) and Sydney Sweeney (Euphoria, Sharp Objects), the film is a Pacific Northwest-set drama about a woman, Karen (Marrero), who breaks into a lakeside cabin and gets discovered by the ex-girlfriend of the cabin’s previous owner, Lana (Sweeney). Serving as the opening film for PIFF, Clementine is sure to be one of the most talked-about films throughout the festival.
March 6 7:15 p.m. @ Whitsell Auditorium
March 14 8:45 p.m. @ Cinema 21
The Climb dir. Michael Angelo Covino
United States – Sony Pictures Classics
Michael Angelo Covino’s The Climb has been touring the festival circuit for the past year, appearing at Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Telluride and Toronto, drawing incredible acclaim at all. The Climb has mostly been noted for its small scope yet strong execution—Covino and his friend/co-writer Kyle Marvin play the lead roles in the film. It’s reminiscent of Jim Cummings’ 2018 film Thunder Road which Cummings solely directed, wrote, scored and starred in. The core strength of the film relies on its high production quality, with many scenes being staged as a single take, elevating the appearance of the film to a level of professionalism not common in debut filmmaking.
March 6 7 p.m. @ Cinema 21
First Cow dir. Kelly Reichardt
Oregon – A24
Minimalist slice-of-life director Kelly Reichardt has spent most of the past 14 years of her career building her reputation as the Oregonian director. With the exception of 2016’s Certain Women, all of her last six films have been shot and set in Oregon, following working-class members throughout all periods of history from the Oregon Trail (Meek’s Cutoff) to modern-day Oregon (Wendy and Lucy). First Cow represents Reichardt’s return to both Oregon and to the 19th century, chronicling two fur trappers in the west who steal milk from the first cow to arrive in Oregon on a nearby estate. This milk grants them both opportunity as well as danger, threatening their quaint livelihoods. It’s reminiscent of Reichardt’s Old Joy, a heartful portrait of male friendship set in the rural farmland of Oregon. First Cow is PIFF’s closing weekend centerpiece, hot off the trails of its premieres at the New York and Telluride film festivals, as well as an appearance in competition at this year’s Berlinale.
March 13 8:30 p.m. @ Cinema 21
Frank and Zed dir. Jesse Blanchard
Oregon – Puppetcore
Frank and Zed devolves into utter chaos within the span of its last half-hour—eyeballs torn out and chewed up, bones jutting out of legs, disemboweled guts hanging out of windows, and heads flying throughout the halls of a castle eroded by the elements. This may sound absolutely horrifying rather than gleefully comedic, but the action is performed entirely by puppets. It’s Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal with a splash of Ferrell & Reilly’s Step-Brothers, with the dry and cantankerous comedy of the Muppets’ Statler and Waldorf. It’s a playful mashup of classic fantasy with the monster movie genre-film, all blended up with gloriously gratuitous puppet violence. The incredible puppet design and stellar physical sets make Frank and Zed a must-see at PIFF.
March 8 8:30 p.m. @ Cinema 21
Marona’s Fantastic Tale dir. Anca Damian
France/Romania/Belgium – GKids
True “adult” animation is rare—that is, to explore truly human themes through the medium of animation is rarely seen in a genre full of franchise sequels and films intended for younger audiences. Marona’s Fantastic Tale is one of the most heartfelt animated films in recent years, recounting the entire life of a dog and the story of her owners at the moment of her death. Although not a wholly original idea, Romanian director Anca Damian utilizes this perspective to tell not just the story of a life of a dog, but the life of humans too and the story of the universe itself. It’s part Terrence Malick, part Tomm Moore and part Hayao Miyazaki, mixing philosophy and spirituality with piercing animation that further blends multiple art styles together throughout its story. Hauntingly gorgeous and painfully bittersweet, Marona’s Fantastic Tale is another triumph for foreign-language animation.
March 7 3 p.m. @ Cinema 21
March 14 12:30 p.m. @ Cinema 21
To the Ends of the Earth dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Japan/Uzbekistan/Qatar – KimStim
Although Japanese auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa gained heavy acclaim for his horror/crime thrillers Cure and Pulse, he has spent most of his recent years melding that human horror with sincere storytelling. This results in somewhat terrifying and anxiety-inducing, yet sincere films, such as To the Ends of the Earth. Kurosawa’s film follows the career of a Japanese travel writer, Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), far away to Uzbekistan, to create a travel guide for the country. The film was commissioned to celebrate 25 years of unity and peace between Japan and Uzbekistan and, as such, feels incredibly celebratory of both cultures. It’s comfortable, but also examines the dissociation of being in a foreign country, not speaking the local language—stuck in a limbo of loneliness despite being surrounded by the business of the world around you. Longtime collaborator Akiko Ashizawa provides warmth and color to the film with beautiful cinematography, making this a must-see on the big screen at the festival.
March 12 8:30 p.m. @ Cinema 21
March 15 5:45 p.m. @ Cinema 21