In an industry that often erroneously measures a film's value by box-office numbers rather than critical acclaim and a meaningful plot, it can sometimes feel like low- and mid-budget cinema is drowning in a sea of flashy blockbusters. Fortunately, multiday events championing independent cinema abound—if you know where to find them—and the Champs-Élysées Film Festival is the latest celebration of the art form to show up in Portland.
Originally founded in 2012 by film producer Sophie Dulac, the festival takes place annually in Paris along the titular famous avenue, drawing more than 100,000 attendees and awarding cash prizes to works in four categories. The effort to cross the Atlantic and further strengthen the bridge between French and American cinema started two years ago with this shorter touring version, and Portland is just one of six U.S. cities on the route. And unlike the larger Parisian spectacle, it's completely free.
Hosted Nov. 8-10 at Portland State University's student-run 5th Avenue Cinema for the second year in a row, the lineup consists of two French features and four shorts (with English subtitles) specially selected by PSU associate professor of French Annabelle Dolidon, as well as Champs-Élysées artistic and event director Justine Lévêque. Three films made by PSU students will screen as well. Opening night centers on the documentary Océan, which offers an intimate glimpse of the eponymous French LGBTQ+ activist's transition from female to male.
"I found Océan particularly powerful because of the closeness to the subject," Dolidon says. "He is a very famous person in France, yet he allows us to see everything about his process of transitioning."
Thanks to a grant, Océan will attend and host a conversation about trans-identity and feminism that starts at 4 pm on campus in Room 334 of Fariborz Maseeh Hall.
The second night will highlight another feature, Braquer Poitiers ("Car Wash" in English), which Dolidon describes as "a very French movie," in the sense that it has a "twisted sense of humor." The dark comedy focuses on the lonely owner of a car wash who's taken hostage in his own home during what had been a languid summer. He ends up enjoying the company, however, thereby annoying the criminals. A roundtable discussion about independent cinema with Océan, Lévêque and PSU professor and filmmaker Courtney Hermann will follow the film.
Day three promises showings of a variety of shorts, including award winners from the original Champs-Élysées: the documentary Djo, the drama Grand-père (Grandfather) and the surreal animation Je sors acheter des cigarettes (I'm Going Out for Cigarettes).
But for Dolidon, the highlight is Le Roi des démons du vent (King of the Wind Demons). Directed by Clémence Poésy, best known for playing the ethereal Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter films, this work is a deeply moving portrait of Sophie, an intern in a mental hospital, and her relationship with a mysterious young woman admitted on New Year's Eve. The PSU student film screenings and a Q&A session will close the festival.
"Sometimes the constraint of a low budget actually opens the door to more creative freedom in terms of exploring the human condition or human feelings," says Dolidon. "From what I've seen, I'd say that one of the most important aspects of independent cinema, both in the U.S. and in France, is to question the world and society."
SEE IT: The Champs-Élysées Film Festival runs at 5th Avenue Cinema, 510 SW Hall St., 5thavecinema.com. 7 pm Friday-Saturday and 3 pm Sunday, Nov. 8-10. Free.