Eight years in, the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival remains the only one of its kind in the country, with no sign of slowing. The 11 films this year range from political rallying cries to idiosyncratic character portraits to examinations of forgotten history. Here are five highlights.
The Case Against 8
[DIRECTORS ATTENDING] Charting the five-year effort to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriage, Ben Cotner and Ryan White's documentary is an emotionally stirring look at a complicated legal battle. Cotner and White rely on talking-head interviews, but there's none of the drudgery you might expect from such an approach. The power lies in the personal stories of the four plaintiffs as they journey from suffering silently to arguing for the legitimacy of their love in front of the country. LAURA HANSON. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. 7:30 pm Thursday, May 15.
The Abominable Crime
[SUBJECT ATTENDING] Micah Fink's affecting call to action follows two Jamaicans who flee their country's homophobic laws to seek asylum abroad. Human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson has trouble balancing his public and private lives, but it's single mother Simone Edwards who's the film's emotional core. Edwards survived an anti-gay shooting five years ago, and fearing that another attempt might render her daughter an orphan, she fled alone to the Netherlands. In tearful scenes, she tries to parent over the phone from the safe home she's prepared for the day she can be reunited with her daughter. Comments from Jamaican public officials range from reasonable to inflammatory: "I hate homosexuality because within it it has the potential for the human race to become extinct," says Bishop Herro Blair. LAURA HANSON. Kennedy School. 7 pm Friday, May 16. Maurice Tomlinson in attendance.
Regarding Susan Sontag
[DIRECTOR ATTENDING] It's a daunting proposition to capture one of the 20th century's greatest intellectuals in 100 minutes, but director Nancy Kates takes a balanced, cool-headed approach. Through readings of Susan Sontag's own words and lively interviews—Fran Lebowitz provides particularly trenchant comments about Sontag's understanding of her photogenic face—there emerges a portrait of a woman deeply committed to the work of the mind, but also prone to egotism, fierce criticism of herself, and insensitivity to those she loved. REBECCA JACOBSON. Kennedy School. 1:30 pm Saturday, May 17.
John Wojtowicz was a louse, a self-avowed "pervert," a cheater, a charmer, a thief, an early gay-rights activist, maybe a sociopath, certainly a narcissist, a ruiner of women born as either sex. He was, as his nickname and the title of this documentary suggest, a dog. He's also one of the most compelling (if not always likeable) subjects life could invent—the real guy behind Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, about a bank heist meant to pay for sex reassignment surgery. Wojtowicz makes for a very strange tour guide through early years of gay activism in New York, and his doting mother is just as fascinating. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. Kennedy School. 9 pm Saturday, May 17.
An unconventional but not altogether ineffective blend of documentary and dramatization, The Circle tells the story of the titular gay club in 1950s Zürich. Switzerland was relatively progressive for its time: Homosexuality, while not widely accepted, wasn't illegal. (In Germany, where it was banned, a Friday evening Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Zürich was known as the "Queen Hansa Express.") Director Stefan Haupt focuses his film on shy schoolteacher Ernst Ostertag, who falls in love with Röbi Rapp, a barber and drag performer. Meanwhile, Zürich's gay community is hit by a string of murders that grab headlines and police attention, in turn unraveling the club. This unfolds mostly as well-acted period drama, with occasional present-day footage from Ostertag and Rapp. These scenes make clear the two are still smitten with each other, but their comments don't much deepen the narrative. REBECCA JACOBSON. Kennedy School. 2:45 pm Sunday, May 18.
SEE IT: QDoc runs Thursday-Sunday, May 15-18. Visit queerdocfest.org for ticket info and more showtimes.