5 IS THE operative number as the Astoria International Film Festival returns for its 5th year, and, for the first time as a 5-day festival. To commemorate the occasion, festival director Ron Craig has scheduled 5 Oregon films to screen at the LightBox Photographic Gallery as a sidebar to the regular screenings at the Liberty Theater. As always, Craig covers all bases with his Northwest film offerings, an expanded Young People’s Film Festival, a selecton of socially significant docs including an Academy Award winner, and dollop of Hollywood glitz with a tribute to the late Elizabeth Taylor.
The festival kicks off with renowned independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s pioneer story Meek’s Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Bruce Greenwood. A period Western with a feminist bent, Meek’s Cutoff tells the story of three families heading west in covered wagons who have left the Oregon Trail in search of a shortcut, their guide, the bearded, blustery Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), insists is there. But as weeks go by in desolate country and water runs short, Meek declares: “We’re not lost, we’re finding our way.” Story is told from the point of view of the wives, who walk behind the wagons and are excluded from decisions. Of the wives, Emily Tetherow (Williams) is the most outspoken and distrustful of Meek. With Indian sightings increasing, when Meek captures an Indian scout and threatens to kill him, mistrust and conflict within the party rises to a head and Emily becomes the Indians protector. Based on a true story, $1M film lensed in eastern Oregon near Burns.
Festival highlights include Charles Ferguson’s Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job, a devastating exposé of the financial crisis of 2008. Narrated by Matt Damon, the film does an exemplary job of explaining complex economic issues in simple, easy-to-understand, even humorous ways. Covering close to 30 years of U.S. economic history, basic premise is that the global economic meltdown was “not an accident.” Investment banking firms, loosening of regulatory process by several administrations, predatory lending practices and just plain greed all contributed to the global disaster. Dozens of government and private villains are adroitly grilled by Ferguson, to the point that several ask for the cameras to be turned off. Not all of those interviewed are from the financial industry. Ferguson also talks to a Wall Street madam who supplies high-class call girls to flush clients and a therapist who analyzes investment bankers “blatant disregard for the consequences of their actions.” Movie also boasts a “rock video” credit montage featuring Peter Gabriel’s song “Big Time.” True to the theme of the movie, the rights to the song cost Ferguson close to $100,000.
On a lighter note is Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s delicious doc Kings of Pastry, in which sixteen of France’s top pastry chefs compete against each other for the ultimate honor of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (best craftsmen of France). The importance of the right to wear the blue, white and red collar and the competition itself is underscored by one of its supporters – French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Held every four years, the MOF requires the contestants to create 40 recipes over three nerve-wracking days. The filmmakers’ camera follows several contestants as they create everything from perfect cream puffs to fantastic dessert sculptures, all the while under the microscope of the judges who grade their creations for taste and artistry. The cameras also capture the human toll of the event, as the chefs are pushed to the brink, mentally, physically and emotionally. When things go wrong in the kitchen, as they do for nearly all the contestants, the tragedy of the moment literally brings the chefs to tears. In the end, the desserts speak for themselves as Pennebaker’s camera glides over the fantastic creations. Even for non-foodies Kings of Pastry is an absorbing peek into the world of high-stakes dessert crafting.
The AFF pays tribute to screen legend Elizabeth Taylor with two of her classic performances in Butterfield 8 and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s Taylor was at her career peak. She was nominated for four consecutive Academy Awards from 1957-1960 and for Cleopatra (1960) she was the first actress to earn a $1M salary. In her Academy Award-winning performance in Butterfield 8, Taylor plays Gloria Wandrous, a loose woman having an affair with wealthy executive Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey), a married man. As their tumultuous affair unfolds, Wandrous and Liggett are pulled in opposite directions as their mutual attraction conflicts with moral standards, leading to a dramatic finale. Trying to have it both ways, the movie is both an overheated melodrama and cautionary tale. Perhaps the most fun moment is when Taylor confronts her mother with the information that “I was the slut of all time!” In another classic performance Taylor plays Maggie the Cat in the movie version of the Tennessee Williams classic Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958). A family melodrama with the subtext of repressed homosexuality, Brick Politt (Paul Newman) is an alcoholic ex-athlete in an unhappy marriage with the sexually frustrated Maggie. Visiting the family home in Mississippi to celebrate the birthday of Brick’s dominating father, Big Daddy (Burl Ives), Brick and Maggie must deal with insinuations about their marriage, particularly their lack of children. When the moody Brick continues to drink, leading to friction with Big Daddy, Maggie, the emotional sparkplug of the movie, reveals that she set out to ruin the relationship of Brick and his close friend Skipper, who committed suicide. As in many Tennessee Williams plays, the story is a long night of secrets revealed. Emotional wounds are re-opened, but healing begins. Taylor again has a great line with her declaration that “Maggie the Cat is alive!”
The 5th Astoria International Film Festival runs from October 20-24. Screenings will take place at the historic Liberty Theater and the LightBox Photographic gallery. For a complete festival schedule go to the festival website: http://www.goaiff.com/.
Astoria International Film Festival At LightBox Photographic Gallery and the Exceptional Film Society
LightBox Photographic Gallery will host showings of the five featured films of the Astoria International Film Festival at the gallery theatre from Thursday October 20th thorough Monday October 24th. This provides an alternative to view films in the intimate setting of the gallery theatre, which seats 25 people. The screenings at LightBox will begin a 7pm. They will be shown upstairs in the gallery for $3 throughout the festival.
The first performance at LightBox, on Oct. 20, will be Meek’s Cutoff, based on the actual diaries of women crossing the Oregon Trail. Filmed a few miles from Burns and Hines in eastern Oregon, “This is not your Hollywood wagon train,” said Craig.
Stuff filmed largely in Portland, will be aired at the LightBox on Oct. 21. The documentary focuses on the filmmaker’s odyssey following the loss of his parents.
Hood to Coast will be shown Oct. 22. As the title implies, it looks at the iconic 197-mile relay race from Timberline Lodge to Seaside, the longest in the U.S.
Cold Weather plays Oct. 23, a thriller shot in Portland following a forensic science student’s hunt for his missing ex-girlfriend.
The LightBox fares end Oct. 24 with The Best of the 37th-Annual Northwest Film and Video Festival, featuring the November 2010 event.Seating for showings at LightBox are limited to 25 people, please call the gallery for info and reservations at 503-468-0238.
LightBox will be establishing the Exceptional Film Society starting in November. The Society will consist of individuals wishing to share classic films at the gallery, showings on every Friday evening, concentrating on a social occasion for those interested in sharing the finer aspects and details of a new film every week. Please contact LightBox with interest and more info on the Film Society at 503-468-0238. LightBox Photographic is located at 1045 Marine Drive in Astoria. Hours are Tuesday–Friday 11-5:30, Saturday 11-5. Visit their website at lightbox-photographic.com.