Student screenings

Are you a filmmaker? Aspiring to see your work flickering on the silver screen? The enterprising staff of Portland State’s student-run theater could help you make that a reality this week, if you act fast.

Later this month, 5th Avenue Cinema is hosting Visuals, an annual screening of short films created by members of the PSU community. The film festival itself will show Wednesday, May 23 at 7 p.m., and will feature work submitted by students and faculty, as well as members from the greater Portland community. The cinema staff will accept submissions in digital format until Friday, May 9, and they encourage filmmakers of all skill levels to submit.

Matt Ellis, 5th Avenue Cinema coordinator, explained that all genres and styles, including art films, are welcome.

“What we’ve done in the past is open submissions,” he said. “Anyone can submit short films. We get everything from stop-motion to actual hand-drawn animation. Experimental, full-narrative. It’s really everything. Every year is kind of determined based on what we get.”

“It’s mostly involving people connected with the PSU community,” said Evan Burchfield, cinema projectionist and incoming coordinator. “It’s really our film festival, to get our students’ work out there.”

Burchfield explained that the festival is a great chance for students to get exposure, as oftentimes the cinema is able to screen a majority of the submissions. In previous years, the staff has even been able to screen everything submitted, but this is always dependent upon the number and nature of submissions.

“I think in the past few years, it’s typically been more like we play something like 75–80 percent of what gets submitted,” Burchfield said. “There’s only a little that gets lopped off.”

The film festival is not limited to film enthusiasts or film students. Ellis noted that students of all disciplines can be capable of producing strong work. He attributed it in part to the creative culture of Portland.

“That’s one of the most interesting things too,” Ellis said. “I used to expect that it would be all film students. But a lot of it involves art students, people working with the Time Arts Club, and others. Some of it is even just students who happen to have a camera. Some of the best stuff we’ve got is not from film students per se.”

Burchfield agreed. He also pointed to the increased accessibility of recording technology.

“It kind of illustrates a change in film culture, really,” he said. “Now a lot more people have access to cameras. Just about everyone on campus has access, through the school or whatever, to film and cameras. Is it just making a standard film with those new technologies, like the phone? Or is it something totally new as well?”

In addition to special events like Visuals, the cinema curates and coordinates a regular stream of weekend programming. As a committee, the student staff aims for a mix of programming to include both popular films and works that students may not have seen before. Ultimately, the staff relies on their personal tastes and film knowledge; currently much of the staff studies film as part of their curriculum.

“I think it’s more in terms of the preference of the committee,” Burchfield said. “We’ll hopefully show the best films, but also not the films that have been overly seen. We’re really riding the line, in a lot of lines, looking at the spectrum in terms of audience enjoyment and popularity, but also films that you might not have a lot of access to.”

Burchfield and Ellis also pointed to the cinema’s unique position both within the city and among campus galleries. Burchfield noted that many student-run operations host rare,
small-scale events. The 5th Avenue Cinema, to contrast, operates weekly and more like a business. The cinema is also one of few locations that currently shows films in 35-millimeter format.

“There are a few other student theaters that may live in the same space as us, but I think we’re one of the few that does the 35 millimeter, and does it as often as we do,” Burchfield said. “At least in the Northwest I think we’ve got a very solid corner on this very unique moment. One of the advantages is that it’s from the minds of students. We get to say, this is what we like and what we hope other students will like too.”

“We’re very cognizant that we’re the only 35-millimeter theater in Portland,” Ellis said. “Coming and seeing them on film, other than giving the community an opportunity to see the film, it’s a question of what would be great to actually see on film.”

The cinema staff acknowledged that the position also gives them a chance to do the work that interests them. They pointed to the film festival as a chance to use their positions to help students as well.

“We get to be the gatekeepers, and it’s interesting to do a lot of creative programming,” Burchfield said. “Visuals is a chance to do curating on a different level. The work that we do is what we’re trying to be good at. That includes getting student work on-screen, and getting the best stuff.”

Though there is only a little time left for the Visuals submission, Burchfield had a message for students all over PSU: Give it a shot, even if you’re new to the filmmaking process.

“I want to see your films, and if you haven’t ever made a film, I want to see you make one,” he said. “I would love to see something that someone made for this festival just to say they’ve made a thing and got it on the screen. If you’ve ever been thinking of something and want to put it into action, I would love to see that.”