Portland International Film Festival:

Face it: we’re all getting older. Don’t you ever find yourself thinking, "I’m too old to be getting this drunk on Pabst, and I don’t even know this person I’m sharing tongue space with right now"?

Put the Hamm’s back and go see some movies. PIFF is only here for a couple more days, so take a break from being a tramp and soak up some culture. It’ll give you something to talk about during happy hour.

Thursday, Feb. 24
Regal Broadway Cinemas, 1000 S.W. Broadway Ave.
"Or" (Israel) 6:00 p.m.
"Cr퀌_nicas" (Ecuador/Mexico) 6:30 p.m.

Guild Theatre, 829 S.W. Ninth Ave.
"Deep Blue" (Great Britain/Germany) 6:15 p.m.
Short Cuts IV 8:30 p.m.

Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 S.W. Park Ave.
"Porco Rosso" (Japan) 5:45 p.m.
"Nobody Knows" (Japan) 8:15 p.m.

"Z Channel" (United States, Xan Cassavetes, 2004)
Daniel Krow
I would have liked to have Jerry Harvey’s job. As programmer of the Los Angeles-based cable network Z Channel, Harvey got to show whatever movies he wanted, whenever he wanted, without any commercial interruption whatsoever. If Harvey wanted to show the softcore classic "Emmanuelle" right after Ingmar Bergman’s fairytale "Fanny and Alexander," he did. The audience for the Z Channel loved movies, from art films to girl gang B-movies, so when they flicked on Z Channel, they put themselves in Harvey’s hands, trusting there was always a method to his madness.

Which there was, up until, as the documentary tells us early on, Harvey lost his method of coping with a crippling mental illness and murdered his wife and killed himself.

Before Harvey started programming for Z Channel, he was a UCLA film student and fledging screenwriter. Along with his writing partner Douglas Venturelli, Harvey wrote the script for the 1978 spaghetti western "China 9, Liberty 37," which featured Harvey’s close friend, legendary director Sam Peckinpah, in a starring role. Harvey and Venturelli traveled to Rome to visit the set of the movie, and by all accounts had some of the greatest times of their lives. Unfortunately, while he was in Rome, Harvey’s sister, described by friends as Harvey’s "anchor," took her own life. The impact of his sister’s death resulted in Harvey spiraling into depression and abandoning screenwriting as a career. It wasn’t until Harvey was offered a job as assistant programmer at Z Channel that he once again found purpose in his life.

Within a week of beginning work as assistant programmer, the head programmer of Z Channel left and never returned, leaving Harvey to take his place. Harvey immediately began to obsessively hunt down rare movies and program director tributes that featured programming blocks of as many films as Harvey could find of one certain director. With the help of film critic F.X. Tooley, Harvey also created a Z Channel magazine, a publication that served both as a guide to what Z was showing and a forum for film criticism. Interviewed in the film, director Alexander Payne remembers that he once wrote a letter to the magazine complaining about the aspect ratio used when Z Channel showed Akira Kurosawa’s "Throne of Blood." And Payne isn’t the only director who was in love with the Z Channel. Quentin Tarantino, Penelope Spheeris, Jim Jarmusch and Robert Altman were all huge Z Channel fans, many of them crediting Z Channel with helping them see films they otherwise never would have seen.

But Harvey didn’t just expose future film auteurs to obscure movies; he also helped working directors, often using the channel to highlight films that were misunderstood by critics or weren’t able to find an audience when they were first released. By showing the director’s cut of Michael Cimino’s infamous western epic "Heaven’s Gate," Harvey helped restore the reputation of a film that most critics had deemed an overly expensive, poorly edited mess. Thanks to Harvey’s intervention, many who had dismissed the film in its drastically shortened form had a chance to reconsider it in the version the director intended. Harvey did the same for Sergio Leone’s "Once Upon A Time In America," broadcasting the film in its full three-hour length, and also helped James Woods get an Oscar nomination for Oliver Stone’s "Salvador" by showing the film months after it had died at the box office.

Of course, what overshadows all of Harvey’s achievements and programming genius was that he didn’t just take his own life, but his wife’s too.

Friends and colleagues interviewed in the film are ambivalent about a film being made about Harvey, worried that all the good he did would obscure the fact that he committed an even greater evil. Alexandra "Xan" Cassavetes, the film’s director, lets the viewer decide how to feel about Harvey, refusing to moralize or explain away Harvey’s actions. Though he didn’t create anything per se, Jerry Harvey was clearly an artist, and "Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession" asks whether the art someone makes redeems whatever wreckage they left behind.

"Nobody Knows" (Japan, Kore-eda, 2004)
Gregory Nipper
In five films over the course of his ten years as a writer and director of feature films (including "Maborosi" and "After Life"), Hirokazu Kore-eda has consistently shown himself to be a filmmaker of exceptional maturity and compassion. "Nobody Knows" is the story of a single mother, Keiko, and her four children, each from a different father. Keiko dedicates her life to supporting her children and hiding them from a society that rejects them. One day, their mother suddenly goes off to seek her own happiness, leaving them to take care of one another.

Several interesting things come out of what Kore-eda shows us. One is his refusal to let the film’s moral terrain be reduced to simple judgments about responsibility and wrongdoing. Keiko loves her children, and a surface reading of the film incorrectly renders her actions either wicked or incomprehensible. The film’s far-reaching insights raise some hard questions. Are we taking care of each other the way we ought to be, or is it "sink or swim"? What are we to conclude about a world in which some people’s children are considered "illegitimate," or "collateral damage," or are simply invisible?

Second, the layers of social stigma and pain create bonds between the characters as they attempt to protect one another. For example, the mother’s struggle is repeated in the faltering attempts of Akira, the oldest child, to shoulder his responsibilities, which include sheltering his siblings from the reality of their abandonment.

Third, it is astonishing how much depth Kore-eda’s characters have. Instead of revealing the characters primarily through dialogue, he shows their internal states by creating moods and through the characters’ actions as they seek consolation and acceptance. In the end there is sadness and loss – but there is also more, as we see in the film’s bright coda. The cinematography of "Nobody Knows" is warm and serene, giving the film a deliberate and meditative tone. Ultimately, the critic is largely helpless to communicate what Kore-eda has achieved – the only way to grasp it is to see it.

Note: get your tickets as early as possible. Although it is on a Thursday night, Kore-eda is one of the most beloved filmmakers showing at the festival, so there is still a chance this will sell out.