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Film fest fetes ladies behind lens

POW! Fest enlivens local film scene

How's this for a sucker punch? POW! Fest Ñ the Portland Women's Film Festival Ñ is run by a man.

Tony Fuentes says he was inspired by the birth of his daughter, Mila, age 1.

He says, 'I want to be able to provide an opportunity to show her and other girls and women that there are some wonderful films being made by women and girls that are not going to be seen at the local cineplex.'

Mila may be barely done with her Teletubbies tapes, but her dad's going to find a grown-up audience. He's also the person behind the archly acronymed Portland International Short Short Film Festival, which first played last fall at Itisness Gallery and will again later this year.

'I wanted to do a spring film festival anyway, and this seemed like a good theme,' he says.

Fuentes, 34, is a member of Zonker Films, a loose collective of local indie filmmakers and performers. By day he's a transportation consultant, doing studies for light rail projects in places such as Bellevue, Wash., and Aspen, Colo.

So how does one become a movie festival curator?

'We put out a call for films in October 2002 on the Net and at a lot of the film schools in the U.S. and beyond,' he says. He also contacted Women in Film, a national organization. Nonreturnable tapes trickled in until just before the March deadline,when they became a torrent, totaling more than 100 films in the end. Movies will be shown over four consecutive nights at Itisness Gallery.

Sorting them was not that difficult; there were some obvious standouts to pass on to the jury, and some obvious doozies. Twenty-two made the cut, including 'Hot and Bothered: Feminist Pornography' by Becky Goldberg of Brooklyn, N.Y., and 'Bollywood Bound,' a comedy about four Indo-Canadian women.

So do women make films a certain way?

'I'm not sure you'd sense a big difference,' he says, then adds: 'There wasn't much feminist work. Subjectwise, there are a lot more female protagonists than at a coed festival and a lot more documentaries than features. On some level that reflects an adherence to storytelling, and perhaps to showing things a little more real, not seeing things as violent.'

Other common subjects included body image and abortion rights. There also are a lot of Canadian films, including 'Friendship Village,' from Vancouver, B.C., about a Vietnam veteran who tries to help children deformed by Agent Orange, and 'Bingo Ladies,' another Vancouver film.

'That's because Canada has a really good national film board that gives a lot of funding and support to filmmakers,' he explains.

A short local film to look out for is 'Transit,' a 7 1/2-minute experiment by Leslie Piper. The 42-year-old massage therapist has been making films for a couple of years. 'Transit' follows a man and a woman as they commute in from the east side on the MAX light rail train. The man appears to be muttering something about angels. He's either a prophet or a madman. A woman observes him. Facial piercings abound.

'I sent out an e-mail to everyone I know asking them to come down to the MAX station transit center and be extras,' she says. 'It seems they sent it on to their friends. A third of the 50 people who showed up were strangers.' She made sure she laid on coffee and snacks to keep the troops happy. The budget for 'Transit' was $1,400.

'In terms of making money, that'll never happen,' Piper says, laughing. 'My hope is to get grants.'

Piper is involved with a group called Fuego, which works with Latin youth. Her role is to collaborate with other artists to help youth on probation break destructive cycles through the use of art and traditional ceremony. She will be teaching the youth filmmaking fundamentals so they can make a documentary under her direction.

Piper hopes one day to make her own documentaries, 'blending facts with art,' about disappearing cultures and ceremonies.

A native of Pocatello, Idaho, Piper has been in Portland for 24 years but is only now getting hooked into the local film scene.

'People came out of the woodwork and gave me lots of information,' she says. 'I got shown around DownStream Sound Studios.'

By contrast, East Coast-born Tony Fuentes is a good example of the instant Portlander, a go-getter in the arts ghetto. He moved to Seattle eight years ago and has been in Portland's Alberta district for a year and a half.

'There's not a heck of a lot of money here, but the indie film community is great,' Fuentes says. 'With the Hollywood, the Laurelhurst, and the Know microcinema on Alberta, we have a lot of great venues; somehow, they all stay in business. In other cities just the filmmakers and their girlfriends show up to festivals.'

Contact Joseph Gallivan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..