The Portland International Film Festival is a thing of wonder, but it seems this year to have forgotten something: black film. While we might get a pleasant surprise when that French film Cycling With Moliere turns out to be about Miles Davis, it's not looking likely.  

12 O’Clock Boys

Whenever a festival takes such a specific programming angle, there's a tendency for filmgoers to jaw about its importance, yawn, and then leave seats empty. But in its second year, the festival has taken a pretty badass stand against middlebrow mediocrity and soapboxing to emerge with a schedule that emphasizes something so often lost in the self-aggrandizing back-patting of these fests: fun. 

"Portland loves nostalgia, and they love drinking beer," says series curator David Walker. "The Hollywood is built on people coming to see movies on the big screen that they watched on VHS when they were kids. To me, that says a lot about the audiences here. That's the attitude I had going into programming this stuff."

In his sophomore year with the festival, Walker—onetime movies editor at WW and former head of the Longbaugh Film Festival—is offering up a leaner celebration of black film than last year, when the program also included shorts, antiquated musicals and densely layered dramas. That time around, the biggest hits were films grounded in cheering and laughter, like the immortal Def Jam origin story, Krush Groove, and the Bruce Leroy action flick The Last Dragon. 

This year, Walker and his team are cutting the fat to give audiences more of what they love. That includes the 30th anniversary of the proto-hip-hop drama Beat Street (7:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 5); the little-seen, near-silent 1989 drama Sidewalk Stories, which tells the story of an artist forced to care for an abandoned child (7:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 9); a Soul Train compilation (7:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 12); and, since you can't go black without getting a little purple, a 30th anniversary screening of Purple Rain (7:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 15).

Because as Rick James (and Dave Chappelle after him) said, “It’s a celebration, bitches.” And a damn fine one. Portland Black Film Festival, Hollywood Theatre, Feb. 6-27.

Also Showing:

  • Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel With the World examines the poet’s day-to-day life and legacy. Filmed right before he died in 1963, it serves almost as a eulogy for the master. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 7:30 pm Thursday, Jan. 30.
  • Last week, a sneaky journalist may have solved the mystery of enigmatic director Tommy Wiseau’s ethnicity, claiming he’s Polish. I still say he’s from space. Watch The Room and form your own opinion accordingly. Cinema 21. 10:45 pm Friday, Jan. 31.
  • Surreal and heartbreaking, Jia Zhangke’s 2004 drama The World examines the effects of globalization through the eyes of young workers at a theme park filled with scaled-down re-creations of global landmarks they will never see. 5th Avenue Cinema. 7 and 9:30 pm Friday-Saturday and 3 pm Sunday, Jan. 31-Feb. 2.
  • Still as terrifying today as it was in 1979, no film has yet matched Alien’s masterful melding of sci-fi and horror. Mars Needs Moms came pretty close, though. Academy Theater. Jan. 31-Feb. 6.
  • Christopher Guest’s Best in Show reinvigorated the mockumentary 16 years after its closest relative, the Guest-starring This Is Spinal Tap, defined the form. Laurelhurst Theater. Jan. 31-Feb. 6.
  • Hollywood Theatre programmer Dan Halsted pays tribute to the recently deceased Run Run Shaw with a triple feature that kicks off with the King Kong knockoff Mighty Peking Man and continues with two mystery movies featuring battling wizards and neck punching. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 1.
  • Think the whole Black Friday shit surrounding Christmas is depressing today? Try it in 1982, when Reaganomics reigned and Frederick Wiseman was allowed unprecedented access to Dallas’ Neiman Marcus during the holidays for his documentary The Store. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 7 pm Sunday, Feb. 2.
  • Cobra is arguably Sylvester Stallone’s worst movie of the ’80s…and that’s saying something in the era of Nighthawks, Rhinestone and Over the Top. Which is to say, it’s awesome, and perfect fodder for B-Movie Bingo. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 4.