My first year as a Portland International Film Festival volunteer has come and gone, and it’s time to do the math.
6 movies + 3 theaters + 4 jobs = 1 positive experience.
As a new retiree, I wanted to do something new and fun this year, something that appealed to my interests and would fit easily into my “schedule.” Volunteering at PIFF struck me as an ideal situation, considering that movies rank high on my list of favorite activities. All the better that I could choose from among films produced in 48 countries, ranging from Albania to Kyrgystan to Venezuela.
In exchange for volunteering my services on days and nights that I chose, I would see a handful of films for free and maybe meet a few new people.
Well, that’s just how it turned out.
I saw six films at three venues — World Trade Center, Moreland Theater and Cinema 21 — in three parts of town.
I did four jobs: line control, seating, ticket-taking and tallying (tracking the number of people who entered with festival passes or smartphone tickets). All were completely manageable tasks and gave me a new window on the PIFF experience.
The festival, in its 39th year, offered 97 feature-length films and 62 short features during a 17-day run from Feb. 11-27.
Under the guidance of PIFF staff members who sold tickets and managed each screening, I worked alongside fellow Portlanders, some of whom were rookies like me and others who were veteran volunteers accustomed to making the most of free admission. One woman said she anticipated seeing at least 34 films this year.
I can’t say I made any new friends, but I can say I enjoyed two or three conversations with other volunteers, including one a couple nights ago with a fellow parent I met years ago when our kids were attending Grant High School. Like any group of people, you have some folks who are outgoing and others who are more private. No one made introductions at any of the venues, so it was up to you to engage or not.
Last night at Cinema 21, the experience seemed to capture Portland’s essence — a mid-sized city with a friendly vibe where odds are high you might run into someone you know.
Two quick anecdotes:
— A guy entered the lobby, approached the cashiers and said he had an extra ticket he wouldn’t be able to use. He wanted to leave it with them to give to someone else.
“That happens a lot,” said Rebecca, who was in charge of the PIFF crew that night. Once, a man took a free ticket but insisted on buying another so he could pay it forward.
— I was holding a clipboard and chatting with a woman from France named Gigi, who like me was awaiting the start of a Mexican film, when the audience began exiting from the earlier screening of a movie made in Italy. Sure enough, I spotted two of my neighbors, one of them German-born and accompanied by her daughter-in-law. It was a PIFF moment, for sure.
As for the movies I saw?
Four thumbs up. Two thumbs down.
My favorite: “The Thin Yellow Line” (Mexico), which won the Audience Award at the Guadalajara International Film Festival. It’s a lovely story about five misfits who are hired to paint the center stripe of a rural road connecting two villages.
Thrown together as strangers in the sweltering summer sun, they battle heat, isolation, each other and their own demons as they walk the entire 130-mile route. Along the way, they deal with issues of trust, respect, forgiveness and acceptance. In my book, this film by Celso Garcia was every bit as good as any of this year’s Oscar-nominated movies.
“Sonita” is the story of a teenage Afghan refugee who uses rap to speak out against her country’s tradition of forced marriage. (See previous post.) “Landfill Harmonic” is the uplifting story of children who are given the gift of music, playing instruments made from recycled materials taken from the landfill near their home. “Fatima” offers a window in the struggles faced by a single mother, an Algerian immigrant living in France with her two daughters.
Not so good: “Nahid” (Iran) and “Schneider vs. Bax” (The Netherlands).
Looking ahead to PIFF 40, I anticipate I’ll be volunteering again.