Women writers and directors dominate Portland Film Festival

How does the Portland Film Festival program 59 percent of its films with women writers and directors?  It’s easy…they screen films blindly and just play the better films. Filmmaker Josh Leake, founder and director whose staff comprises more than 70 percent women and has screening panelists from all over the world, all with diverse backgrounds explained, “We have a blind screening process so we didn’t know if the films screened were from men or women. This year it just happened to be a higher ratio…we’re playing the better films.”  Now, that’s a true representation of equity.

Leake, keenly aware of what’s happening in Hollywood and other industries regarding women and harassment, described the PFF as possessing integrity and safety for everyone.  Leake shared that this year, like every year, they hoped to have high-profile celebrities attend.  One such “A-Lister” was on the schedule, but due to inappropriate statements, Leake and the Leadership Team met and revoked their invitation to this celebrity.  As Leake said, “…he comes with something that just isn’t a part of who we are…and we just basically took him off.”  Leake continued, “That was tough to go through because we always want the big names, but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter.  It’s about the work.  It’s about the artistry.”

Programming great work from independent filmmakers is the artistry he and his fellow programmers are looking to achieve. Receiving close to 3,000 submissions, more than 90 diverse panelists screened films this year.  These individuals are from Portland as well as all over the world, some are past filmmakers and industry members as well as friends of the fest who all “get a pass at [screening films].  We all have different opinions as to what good movies are [and] I think that we try to support different voices…”  He passionately continued, “Independent film is like independent thinking…if you are truly interested in hearing different types of voices, then independent film is really the way to go.”

Many voices are heard at PFF.  In fact, with the 152 films showing, more than 40 countries are represented.  That means that close to 90 of these films are written and/or directed by women.  I asked Leake if he saw a trend among these female filmmakers.  He replied, “I can tell you that dialogue tends to be really good…I do see that films directed by women, and great men directors do this as well, they just treat their characters as people, not as sex objects.”  

Dialogue is integral in independent films and PFF will be featuring veteran writer and producer Leslie Dixon at this year’s festival.  Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Overboard which Dixon wrote and produced, she will teach three classes and present a special screening of her timeless film.  

Panel discussions and unique programs such as the Future Filmmakers which gives students a chance at creating a short film with the help of mentors are also a part of the PFF.  These student short films will make their world premiere at the festival and the youngsters will walk the red carpet.  In addition, PFF grants scholarships to filmmakers and supports two charitable causes:  The Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland and the Wild Salmon Center.   It’s obvious that the PFF, known as “The Storytellers’ Film Festival” is also a festival with heart.

Leake was humble, stating that the staff at PFF is more like a family and quickly acknowledging that the success of the PFF is “…a team effort so there’s not one person that should get more recognition than another,” it is encouraging to hear from supportive men like Leake that there is equity and fairness  in this festival.  Remember, the screening process was a blind one, resulting in “…playing the better films.”  

The PFF runs from October 30th through November 5th.  For a complete list of workshops, special events, guest speakers, and the film program, go to www.portlandfilmfestival.com

© Pamela Powell (10/30/17) FF2 Media


Photos: 2016 Portland Film Festival

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New York native film critic and film critic Pamela Powell now resides near Chicago, interviewing screenwriters and directors of big blockbusters and independent gems as an Associate for FF2 Media. With a graduate degree from Northwestern in Speech-Language Pathology, she has tailored her writing, observational, and evaluative skills to encompass all aspects of film. With a focus on women in film, Pamela also gravitates toward films that are eye-opening, educational, and entertaining with the hopes of making this world a better place. 
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