Portland's Picturehouses and Production Palaces
As part of our coverage of Movie City Portland, FilmInFocus looks at the some of the most important places for both filmmakers and film lovers in PDX.
Though Portland has a relatively modest population of just over 500,000, its size has never stopped it from being a potent movie city. Not only is it the home of a group of highly influential filmmakers (Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes, Todd Field), but it has a large numbers of vibrant movie houses. There Portlanders sample everything from the latest releases to some seriously leftfield movie options, and get inspired about the films they themselves might make. Then there is also an assortment of places where Portland residents can bring those cinematic visions to creative fruition. Below, we look at the most significant moviemaking and movie-watching hubs in the City of Roses.
Built in 1926, the Hollywood Theater has been a beloved Portland institution for over 80 years. In its early history as a 1500-seat cinema palace, the Hollywood Theater hosted silent films with live orchestration and vaudeville acts. In 1926, the comedy More Pay––Less Work was the theater’s first film, costing a whopping quarter for admittance (although kids were only a dime, and luxe loge seats were $.40). But in the 1950s, the theater adapted to the times by turning itself into the first Cinerama theater in the Pacific Northwest with a huge wraparound screen and additional projectors. In 1975, as the theater business changed, it restructured itself to three theaters: one 468-seat main hall, one with 180 seats and the last with 190. In 1997, the Film Action Oregon (FAO) acquired the theater; bring back live performances, as well as exhibiting and promoting independent theater. Since 1998, the theater has hosted over 400 premiers, mostly of local Oregonian filmmakers.
Founded in 2005, the Laika studio grew out of a stop-motion animation company called Will Vinton Studios which emerged in the late 70s. In 2002, Nike founder Phil Knight had become a controlling interest in Vinton Studios and renamed it Laika in 2005. The studio, which just released the Focus Features stop-motion movie Coraline, has plans to become one of the largest stop-motion animation studios in the world. Currently it is broken up between Laika (which focuses on feature films) and LAIKA/house (which serves as a commercial animation house). The main studio now is the Nob Hill section of Northwest Portland, but the company is also at work on a 30-acre animation campus south of Portland.
Cinema 21 is the little art theater that could. A premiere small cinema for arthouse movies, Cinema 21 often invites directors to present their films personally. For the recent booking of Che, Steven Soderbergh was on hand to introduce his epic political biopic. Cinema 21 has also joined the Portland trend of serving beer and wine during screenings. Unfortunately that means that the theater has a 21+ age limit after 6 pm. But for those old enough to hang around, their concession stand sports such toppings as butter, cajun spice, parmesan and, naturally, nutritional yeast.
99W Drive-In Theatre
While not exactly in Portland, the 99W Drive-In Theater is nearby in Newberg, OR, and is one of the last drive-ins in the area. The theater opened in August 1953 with a double feature of Sea Devils and Under the Sahara. In 1982, the owners built an indoor theater on the lot to allow people the chance to see films year round, but the 99W still opened every spring. Most impressively the 99W is a family-owned business, which is now in its third generation, as well as its third screen (the other two were blown over in heavy storms).
Northwest Film Center
The NW Film Center is a perfect one-stop shop for Portland filmmakers, as it focuses on making movies as well as simply screening them. The organization was founded in 1971 and uses funding from multiple arts bodies and charitable trusts (including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) to encourage filmmakers in the community through their School of Film and intensive workshops for young filmmakers from local schools and community groups. The organization additionally gives out funding and fellowships to select filmmakers. The NW Film Center is one of the most well-programmed repertory theaters in the country and also plays host to a number of film festivals, including Portland International Film Festival, the Northwest Film & Video, the Portland Jewish Film Festival, and the Young People's Film & Video Festival.
Portland Underground Film Festival
The Portland Underground Film Festival – or PUFF, as it is generally known – evolved out of the Sick Puppy Film Festival, an event which programmer Seth Sonstein first held in San Francisco before moving to Oregon. The festival, which will have its fifth incarnation this year, is now housed at the Clinton Street Theater, of which Sonstein is the owner. Describing the fest’s brief, Sonstein explains, “We try to champion films that are really good films, that otherwise might not get seen. There's a ton of good stuff out there that doesn't get played.” PUFF is the perfect place for filmmakers to push the envelope, and a notable title in the 2008 programme was Bike Porn 2.0, the sophomore edition of the fest’s annual collection of “bikesploitation.”
The Laurelhurst Theater
The Laurelhurst ably combines old school charm with modern moviegoing conveniences. The art deco movie palace was first built in 1923, but its fortunes floundered with the arrival of the multiplexes; now, however, it has been renovated, its neon sign resurrected, and its 650-seat auditorium serves as a very popular home for second run movies. In its new form, the Laurelhurst has endeared itself to Portlanders with its very modest ticket prices, its much talked about (and equally cheap) selection of microbrews, wines and pizzas, and themed programming every month.
Clinton Street Theater
The Clinton, which first started showing films in 1915, is one of the oldest continually running movie theaters in the country. Over the years, the establishment has undergone countless name changes, been a vaudeville theater and a porn cinema, survived flood and theft, and is now under the tenure of Portland Underground Film Festival programmer Seth Sonstein, who bought the theater in 2004. As well as refurbishing the Clinton, Sonstein has brought his eclectic tastes to the Clinton’s movie line-up, from the 16mm screenings of the PDX AV Club to the Grindhouse Film Festival to the Sex PDX fest. And, of course, the theater’s legendary screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show – it’s being showing it for over 30 years, a record – still take place every Saturday night without fail.
The brainchild of Portlander Matt McCormick, Peripheral Produce began life as a screening series in the city in 1996, expanded to also become a video label in 1998, and in 2001 became the driving force behind the PDX Film Festival. McCormick’s brief was to showcase and foster the work of underground and experimental filmmakers, and when the screenings took off, he was compelled to package the most popular works on a compilation video. The PDX Film Festival has all but replaced the screenings now, though occasional shows and traveling programs still take place. The most eminent PP alum is arguably Miranda July, who has had crossover success with her film Me and You and Everyone We Know and book No One Belongs Here More Than You.