Movies made by women are not the same thing as "chick flicks." That's made refreshingly clear from the roster of the fifth annual Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival, which pinballs from lush sports docs like the Indonesian lady mountain bikers in Darcy Turenne's The Eighth Parallel to clever, locally produced shorts like Courtenay Hameister's escape-to-the-circus confection, Stella's Flight. There's even a screening of Amy Heckerling's wry 1982 classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Cameron Crowe just wrote it), with the director on hand to introduce the movie at 9:15 pm Friday, March 9. Score one for feminism.
My Best Day
Critic's Score: 84
Earnest small-town redhead Karen searches for her long-lost dad, refrigerator repairwoman Meagan considers trading in her caustic girlfriend for a motorcycle, and middle-schooler Ray wrestles with love and bullies. It would be easy to dismiss writer-director Erin Greenwell's quirky Fourth of July comedy as Napoleon Dynamite's less affected, gay cousin. But that gives short shrift to all the deft touches that make this ensemble flick such a charmer. Greenwell depicts her slice of rural Americana as poor but not trash, and its inhabitants—from harried cops to gambling addicts—as confused but not necessarily racist or stupid. It's a place where the lesbian community parties in the local trailer park, but asking for "meatless meat products" will still earn you the stink-eye from the town grocer. Ashlie Atkinson steals every scene as schlumpy-yet-swaggering Meagan. 7 pm Friday, March 9.
Sisters in Arms
Critic's Score: 61 Around 250 of the Canadian Army's engineers, medics, infantry grunts and other combat personnel come with a special piece of nonstandard gear: a pair of ovaries. Beth Freeman's short doc follows her sister, Cpl. Tamar Freeman, and three other women on their way to fight in Afghanistan (Canada is among 10 countries that allows women to serve in combat roles; America not so much). The bare-bones film isn't an emotional bombshell by any means, but it's notable for its desire to illuminate what makes women want to take on dangerous military roles (excitement, power, pride) and the hard choices a new generation of military families have started to face as both Dad and Mom ship out for active duty. Noon Sunday, March 11.
Critic's Score: 70 Austin knew he was supposed to be a boy ever since he was a little girl. He peed standing up, went topless, wore a tux to the prom. He's saying all this with his hands—signing a mile a minute—because in addition to being transsexual, the Portlander is also deaf. After years of biweekly testosterone shots and hiding his breasts beneath a painful binder, the determined local lad (who already looks like a bearded, baby-faced Greshamite) makes a road trip to San Francisco in Eliza Greenwood's short slip of a doc to lop off his chest "tumors." More of a grainy video love letter than a proper film, it's still a happy-making thing to watch. "You're flat!" exclaims Austin's grandma when he shows off his post-op chest, a little taken aback but genuinely delighted. "Well, that's something, isn't it?" she marvels. Indeed. 5 pm Sunday, March 11.
SEE IT: POW Fest runs Thursday through Sunday, March 8-11, at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd. Schedule and ticket information at powfest.com.