My life as a PIFF-goer

I stumbled out of the rain and into the Guild theatre. It was confusing and I felt disoriented, yet there were moments when I felt short of breath from immersion in adventure. An employee spoke to the assembled press: “All I know is exactly what is written on this sheet.” She continued with information about pending screenings, contingent on customs rituals and subsequent possible show times.

February 16, 11 a.m.

“The Story Of The Weeping Camel”

Byambasuren Davaa, Luigi Falorni


When I found my seat, I still didn’t know what film I was about to view. After the picture started rolling, I didn’t know what genre of film I was watching. Were the people onscreen actors? Their movements had such grace, their ignorance of the camera was so totally-convincing and their story was told so lucidly that I suspected fiction had a hand in things. But as time went by, reality butted in its head. The traditional Mongolian garb and homestead revealed New World effects. A scrub brush with a plastic handle, wire-framed eyeglasses, stainless steel cookware and, eventually -the West’s kiss of death – television sets, all found their way on to the screen.

But the central conflict of the “narrative-documentary” film, “The Story Of The Weeping Camel,” was Old World. The last colt of the season had been born but the labor had been two days of agony, so the mother spurned her brood. She kicked him away as he tried to suckle. The people were gentle and distraught. They looked to one of the two grandfathers and asked him what he thought. He issued a perplexed sigh. Soon thereafter, the people sent the youths, Ugba and Dude, to a nearby and semi-urban community to ask a violinist to come play at a religious ceremony designed to assuage the mother’s damaged affections.

The two sons of the protagonist family had thought that a TV would cost too many sheep, and that electricity would cost a whole flock. But in the parting shots we saw Ugba and Dude watching cartoons in their own home. The camel had succumbed to the charms of a woman’s voice (accompanied by the violinist from the nearby community) and suckled her colt. The footage of the fully convalesced mother nursing her large, white son were silent and touching. This film took a little bit of patience to watch, but left me with a feeling of total fulfillment. Music’s charms had been beautifully documented. More importantly, the family’s warmth, tenderness and sincerity were preserved delicately by the filmmakers.

February 15, 8:45 p.m.

“Goodbye Dragon Inn”

Tsai Ming-Liang


As I bought my ticket, I had to ask the name of the film. The punk in the box office mumbled, “Dragon … something or other. ‘Dragon’ is in the title.”

This air of confusion characterized my slip-shod and latent attendance of the festival. The film “Goodbye Dragon Inn” reflected the image of a movie theater falling from grace but, in the Taiwanese film, the theater was drastically more decrepit than the one in downtown Portland that I visited last Sunday evening.

The central conflict of “Goodbye Dragon Inn” was a shyness of confrontation. A young man wandered through the Dragon Inn theater on its last night in business (while the samurai film Dragon Inn was screened in the fictional theater) and searched in vain for peace and quiet, social contact and a light for his cigarette.

One audience member from our real theater in Portland commented, “I could have just been doing those day to day things, instead of watching somebody do them.”

Sometimes the experiments of a film demand a patient audience, and this film was a good example. Although plenty of thoughtful material was presented, staring at a motionless, grunge-y movie theater for 30 seconds felt more uncomfortable than thoughtful by the time the cut finally rolled around.

People coughed and murmured, and the worlds on and off the screen seemed somehow to merge. Despite the stigma of self-indulgence that this film helped bring to art-house movies, the story was told with humor and sensitivity.

February 17, 2 p.m.

“Free Radicals”

Barbara Albert


The exposition in this film was revealed with a brutally dark edge. The characters seemed to lean towards pariah-ship of their own accord, but the presence of fate was also acknowledged. Manuela survived an airplane crash, lived six more years, raised a six-year old daughter and remained deeply moral, but then was killed by a swerving carload of intoxicated teenagers (who were enmeshed in the somewhat “Shortcuts”-esque plot of “Free Radicals”) on a desolate night highway in a cruel twist of fate.

The characters were drawn from a pool of people related in some way to Manu, and the relationships were sometimes tenuous. One scene portrayed a church choir at a bar table singing behind a troubled couple who sat at the bar.

The tears of the woman comingled with the strands of song that the now-Greek-satyr-chorus contributed to the scene. The chorus and the couple at the bar were not acquainted with each other but we, as an audience, were acquainted with all of them.

Chaos theory was presented through Manu’s brother, a college professor who awkwardly courted a young black woman while mumbling about books about Africa and how he’d never been there and … (awkward pause) … He apologized and she cood, “Oh, no, it’s ok,” and then they avoided eye contact for a few seconds before resuming forced conversation. The acting here was immaculate, as it was with the teenage girl we saw trying to communicate with her dead acquaintance via Ouija board.

On The Program

This was a useful and important document, and should be thoroughly reviewed in conjunction with film viewing if possible. The programmatic arts sometimes demand patience, but I am employed to write about this stuff, and I still learn things from those more film-literate than myself about complicated flicks which elude elucidation. One reviewer thought that “Free Radicals'” overhead shots (accompanied by post-Soderbergh ambient music, 퀌� la “Traffic”) indicated the lingering spiritual presence of Manu. Another noticed that “Goodbye Dragon Inn’s” limping cashier carried out a frustrated romantic pursuit of the decrepit theater’s always-absent projectionist, a storyline which enhanced the theme of characters deprived of confrontation.

But, in the end, people with all levels of film literacy could attend and enjoy the sometimes bizarre and often deeply moving films that the NW Film Center has collected for this event. Also contained in the program was a list of show times and relevant locations (the festival makes use of three different theaters) too lengthy to reproduce here. You’ve still got another week to get down there. So go! Go to the movies!