Fifth Avenue Cinema loves film

An unassuming building plastered with homemade movie posters covers the ground floor of Ondine on Hall Street.

An unassuming building plastered with homemade movie posters covers the ground floor of Ondine on Hall Street. Historic and falling apart, it sits quietly until the weekend, when it opens to a handful of diverse people gathering to watch a foreign, black and white film about gangsters.

The Fifth Avenue Cinema, with its drab decor and worn out interior, fits right in with the rest of the low-budget, independent theaters in Portland. But, according to Caitlin Porter, the cinema’s student coordinator, some of the films shown here have never been shown in Portland, at least as long as she’s been around. Last weekend’s screening of Rififi was the final show of the summer season. Rififi is about as popular as a black and white French film noir from 1955 can be, yet only ten people were in attendance Friday night at the 9:30 showing. “We don’t make money,” Porter says half-regretful, half-pleased.

She’s pleased because Portland State’s on-campus movie theater will be running no matter how much money it makes; it is run entirely on student fees, which means PSU students can attend any screening for free. Though it doesn’t have the accouterments of a Regal or a Cinemark theater, Fifth Avenue compensates through a connoisseur’s selection of films. The summer season featured big names like Total Recall and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, but some may be less familiar with Haskell Wexler’s docu-fiction hybrid Medium Cool or the merciless cinema of Todd Solondz.

Each of the four students who run the cinema, known as the Film Committee, has a wish list of films they want to project scrawled on a white board in their back office. A quick glance at the titles yields no English words. The Film Committee’s goal is plain: get the best films they know of on a big screen in Portland. Though the cinema’s fall schedule was not finalized as of this printing, Porter was able to inform the Vanguard that they plan to start a Director’s Series, with November being devoted to French firebrand Jean-Luc Godard. The movies she can confirm for that month are Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Weekend and Hail Mary.

The Fifth Avenue Cinema’s main function is to project movies for students and the public, but it has other events as well. Twice each year the Cinema holds a student film festival called Visuals that gives student filmmakers a place to show their work on the big screen. Last year the Committee also attempted a Film Appreciation Club for PSU students, which featured a weekly film screening and discussion, but attendance was low. Porter intends to try again this year, encouraging interested students to not only attend the weekly club meetings but also volunteer to help the Film Committee operate the Fifth Avenue Cinema; every job at Fifth Avenue, from box office worker to projectionist, is performed by students. The theater has also formed bonds with the Hollywood Theater with the hopes of strengthening the operations of both organizations. Any student interested in film has many opportunities at PSU, and the Fifth Avenue Cinema is the place to start.

Porter’s goals for Fifth Avenue include forming relationships with more distributors to expand the cinema’s film selection, adding more positions to the Film Committee, and improving attendance. The Friday night screening of Rififi was.Porter’s first chance to see the film, and she loved it. “I thought it was totally accessible,” she remarked afterward, wondering why more people don’t watch films they’ve never heard of. As for the current state of movies, the Film Committee intends to do its part on the PSU campus by continuing to show those films that Portland may not otherwise get to see.

Screenings cost $2 for children, seniors and students from other schools, $3 for everyone else, and are free for PSU students. The weekly Film Committee meetings are open to PSU students only. The Fifth Avenue Cinema is located in the Ondine building, between Southwest Fifth and Sixth avenues on Hall Street. Anyone interested in the Film Appreciation Club or volunteering at the cinema can e-mail the Film Committee at [email protected] For more information you can visit their website at