'Sing To Me Sylvie'/Portland Film Fest

The autumn guide to local cinema-going

How to enjoy a season of film out-and-about or on your couch

As the crisp weather of the autumn front rolls in over the Pacific Northwest, we all find ourselves settling into the habits and comforts of the fall season. For some, that means pulling out their favorite gourds and harvest vegetables for carving and cooking; for others, it’s finding comfort in their home or in a theater enveloping themselves in a tidal wave of horror classics and the onslaught of new autumn releases. 


As October passes into November, the theater marquees and streaming services burst with a smattering of new films, hopeful for awards contention come the following year. While this fall is full of tent-pole blockbusters like Dune and Eternals, new entries from renowned modern directors like Last Night in Soho or Nightmare Alley, and a fresh batch of foreign-language contenders making their way overseas, such as Titane and Benedetta, the autumn months are also home to a cornucopia of local film festivals and thriving late-night horror showings fit for an October evening. Some of these offerings are online and some are at the cinema, allowing anyone to find an option suitable for them.


Slay Film Fest


For admirers of short films, the Slay Film Fest is one of many local festivals devoted not just to showcasing short films but also to placing a highlight on local short film makers. This year’s edition is the second year the Portland Mercury-organized festival has been put on, following the success of last year’s inaugural festival. 


The lineup of films consists entirely of eight-minute-or-less short horror films from independent directors making up a myriad of different horror genres, from the gothic horror of Edgar Allen Poe to grotesque, visceral body horror. Although the 2020 edition was entirely online, this year’s festival is offering a hybrid option. In-person screenings are being held at 8 p.m. on Oct. 29 and 30 at Seattle’s Egyptian Theater and Portland’s Clinton St. Theater, with online livestreams being held on those same dates, as well as on Oct. 22, 23, and 31 at varying times. Passes to the fest are $25 including ticket fees. For those interested in viewing the list of films or learning more about the festival, you can check out their website.


Portland Dance Film Festival


Another festival making a return to in-person screenings this year is the Portland Dance Film Festival, which is now in its fifth year of operation.The title of the festival is relatively self-explanatory, hosting a selection of over 30 hand-picked shorts. Every short surrounds dance as a medium in some way or another, with choreography and kineticism playing an important role in each of them. 


Alongside the shorts are two feature-length documentaries: Khadifa Wong’s Uprooted – The Journey of Jazz Dance, which is a celebration and examination of the history of jazz dance and its culture, and AJ Wone’s DiaTribe: From the Village to the Streets, which follows Wone’s relationship with renowned Ghanaian drummer and Oregon artist Obo Addy. The festival is separated into three sets of short films and a documentary pass. Tickets for each section of the festival operate at a suggested pricing tier in order to support those with a lower income who still want to watch the festival. Although the in-person screenings at Clinton St. Theater ran only through the weekend of Oct. 15–17, you can still get tickets and watch any of the festival’s films on their website up through Oct. 24.


Portland Film Festival


The lesser-known and oft-mistaken counterpart to March’s Portland International Film Festival (PIFF) is the yearly Portland Film Festival (PFF), which takes place each fall. PFF focuses a lot more on national and local films than PIFF does, with this year’s selection containing almost two dozen films just from local filmmakers. Though this year’s edition of PFF is entirely online, it runs through Nov. 8, allowing ample time for anyone interested in this year’s offerings. You can buy individual tickets for most films at $10, but a $100 pass will enable you access to every film, panel and workshop throughout the entirety of the festival. This year’s festival has also been supported by Comcast, so users with an Xfinity X1 or Flex streaming box can access a selection of free festival films as detailed on the fest’s website.


Akira Kurosawa Film Festival


For devotees of the classics, the cinema of esteemed master Akira Kurosawa is making a return to theaters with Clinton St. Theater’s Akira Kurosawa Film Festival running throughout next month. The festival takes place in-person only between Nov. 6 and Nov. 20, presenting seven of the maestro’s films with a ticket price of $12 for each showing. Clinton St.’s website is unclear if these films will be recent restorations or older masters, but, regardless, any opportunity to witness one of Kurosawa’s films on the big screen is not to be missed. Opening the festival is Stray Dog, one of Kurosawa’s earliest successes, followed up by the Ryūnosuke Akutagawa adaptation Rashomon and Kurosawa’s humanist masterpiece Ikiru. Making up the second week of the festival are four of Kurosawa’s most acclaimed samurai films—Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, and one of his final films, the Shakespearean epic Ran. The Akira Kurosawa Film Festival is not to be missed for connoisseurs of his work.


Other Showings


Outside of the selection of different film festivals, some of Portland’s historic theaters are conducting various other showings fit for the Halloween season. For those on the West side, Cinema 21 is showing Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein on Oct. 30, as well as bringing back their frequently popular late-night showing of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on Oct. 29. Leading up to Halloween, the Clinton Street Theater is screening several horror flicks like Mandy, The Return of the Living Dead, Eraserhead, The Hunger and Videodrome, as well as their famous weekly showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The historic Hollywood Theatre also has a packed slate of horror classics this year, including Dario Argento’s Deep Red on 35mm, The Night of the Living Dead, Halloween and the original Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera with a live score from the Hollywood’s famous Wurlitzer pipe organ. And, of course, for PSU students, 5th Ave Cinema will be screening Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue for free on the weekend of Halloween. After a year and a half of isolation, a season of spooks, scares and cinema is finally upon us.