The Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival is in its third year, but it really shattered its own glass ceiling last July, when it scored a benefit screening of The Hurt Locker with Kathryn Bigelow, nine months before she became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar. This year, POW Fest is showcasing the next hot prospects among female filmmakers.
"We are only civilians." Such is the bleak reality voiced by the mother of Tat Marina, a young karaoke singer who was publicly beaten and had acid thrown in her face by a Cambodian government official's jealous wife, causing such extensive burning and disfigurement that she is still unrecognizable after 12 surgeries. Her story, as told by directors Patti Duncan and Skye Fitzgerald, will devastate your belief in justice for such silent victims, whose scars are considered a source of disgrace. Marina's slow, sad narration rings like a haunted poem, accompanied by an array of photographs that words should never have to describe. NATALIE BAKER.
Libby Spears' documentary gets right to the horrifying point: an estimated 300,000 American children are forced into the sex trade each year. Kidnapped, videotaped or manipulated into hooking, their stories vary; the damage done is the same.
bombards you with interviews and statistics about the overwhelming presence of the trade. Spears weaves in conversations with social workers, police officers and adolescents working the streets with the story of Michelle, an 11-year-old girl dragged underground 10 years ago. She's still missing. The hardest part of seeing this will not be the haunting stories of children selling their bodies; its true stomach punch comes from recognizing Portland's streets on the screen, realizing that this is happening around us every day. NATALIE BAKER.
The Meerkat Media Collective—a gaggle of collaborating, New York-based filmmakers, musicians, writers and artists—brings a simple, stark edge to the ever-growing "Old People Do Surprisingly Youthful Things That Kind of Make Me Sad but in an Uplifting Way" docu genre. How? They add inner-city teens. The collective followed two NYC community theater groups—one of poor, elderly, mostly Puerto Rican women and the other of high-school kids—as they each created a short play based on their experiences, to be performed back to back. The weekly meetings provide a surprisingly vibrant slice of life at two ends of the same path—the kids drawing pictures of "Me at 70" while the cackling old ladies crack jokes in broken English about what lookers they were at age 16. KELLY CLARKE.
Richard E. Grant once played Withnail in
—an alcoholic fraught and desperate enough to swig a bottle of lighter fluid. More than two decades later, Grant looks like a thinner Christopher Walken, his eyes hollowed and haunted by horrors you and I will never understand. Like this movie. It's a limp sitcom, directed by Barra Grant and starring the unrelated actor Grant as a newly single doctor hitting the town. Through it all—drunkenly sashaying in a scarf, feigning terror of sushi, clapping madly at karaoke—Grant performs with a clown's honor. It's like watching your brother uphold a $100 bet by running naked through a children's birthday party: You're proud that he kept his end of the bargain, but you wish he hadn't. AARON MESH.
Seeking a steamy dose of softcore
lady porn? Keep moving. POW's
program uses sexuality, profanity and general nakedness to explore darker themes with varied success. The program's bizarro award goes to filmmaker-designer Liz Toonkel's campy
a goofy bonbon set in a dystopian kingdom where a style-challenged queen has outlawed fashion. It looks and feels like
reimagined by John Waters circa
—complete with lisping revolutionary designers, a pointy-boobed fashion messiah, naked design orgies, and what I'm guessing is the first case of "death by scrunchie." KELLY CLARKE.
POW Fest screens at the Hollywood Theatre on Thursday-Sunday, March 18-21. See the full lineup at powfest.com.