Streaming Events

What to See at the 2021 Portland International Film Festival

The March 5-14 Event Has In-Person and Virtual Screenings
March 4, 2021
Set in 1990s Manila, the nostalgic coming-of-age story Death of Nintendo will be available to watch online throughout the duration of PIFF. (Courtesy PIFF)

The 44th annual Portland International Film Festival kicks off this weekend, baby! Replacing its standard in-theater programming with a mix of virtual and drive-in screenings presented by the Northwest Film Center and Cinema Unbound, the lineup of features and shorts is stacked. And unlike your standard film festival, most of the virtual screenings are available to watch for the duration of the weeklong event (March 5-14), so you don't need to work too hard to plan your schedule around a specific film. While you should feel free to peruse the full lineup at your leisure, below we've rounded up links and reviews for the films that Mercury staffers think you should see, from Raya Martin's nostalgic Death of Nintendo to the very fun Rehab Cabin to a promising collection of shorts


All films are available from March 5-14 unless otherwise noted.


VIRTUAL

Death of Nintendo
If you were a kid during the 1990s, it’s going to be hard for you not to enjoy Death of Nintendo, a coming-of-age tale set in early 1990s Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. The film follows preteen Paolo and his motley crew of friends as they shoot hoops, hang out at the local pool, play The Legend of Zelda, and plan schemes to sneak out of the house at night to hang out with girls. The humor and tone often veer from sweetly innocent to irritatingly crude—just like the sensibilities of preteen boys themselves. But the characters are written and acted with such depth that I liked them despite their flaws, and the visuals of sunny Manila are a welcome break from the Portland winter gloom. BLAIR STENVICK
Read the full review here.

Everything in the End
If you knew that the end of the world was imminent, how would you spend your final days? Personally, I’d probably spend them taking edibles, listening to my favorite music, and eating my weight in Girl Scout cookies. But Everything in the End provides a slightly more introspective answer, producing a film about the end of the world that’s heartfelt rather than bombastic. In Everything in the End, we see the impending apocalypse through the eyes of Paulo, a young Portuguese man who’s traveled to a small Icelandic village during the Earth’s final days. BLAIR STENVICK
Read the full review here.

Holy Frit!
Holy Frit! is a two-hour documentary about making stained-glass, and… wait, wait, wait! It’s actually a lot more interesting than you may think—but not always in the way the director may have intended. Like many artists, Tim Carey is technically talented, but unable to find that magical “thing” that launches painters to greatness. So he stumbles into a job at an LA stained-glass company, begins learning the craft, and then helps the business win a huge bid with a Kansas megachurch to create the largest stained-glass window in the world. The problem is, he has no idea how to do it, and only three years to accomplish this herculean task. He enlists the help of world-renowned (and very eccentric) glass artist, Narcissus Quagliata, and off we go on a journey that explores the meaning of art while sharing plot points from The Mighty Ducks and How Stella Got Her Groove Back. A lot of documentaries are forced to pull out all the visual bells and whistles to fill in the cracks where information or video are lacking. But director Justin S. Monroe jumped on this particular train very early in the process, so we’re able to follow the multi-layered process from start to finish. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Read the full review here.
 

Hunger Ward
I’ll be straight up: Hunger Ward was an extremely difficult watch. That’s what makes it all the more essential viewing. It examines the effects that Yemen’s ongoing civil war is having on its most vulnerable population: children. The short but nevertheless impactful documentary provides an inside look into two pediatric feeding centers through the eyes of two female healthcare workers. The camera lens doesn’t flinch away from the haunting eyes of emaciated children or the desperate wails of grief-stricken mothers and grandmothers, but it’s hard for the viewer not to. This is pain on the most human level. During treatment, medical workers attempt to coax smiles out of the children, but the children are sapped of energy. Witnessing this despondence from kids who are supposed to be full of life and joy is heart-wrenching. JANEY WONG
Read the full review here.

A Machine to Live In
Brasilia is a planned city. Constructed in the late 1950s as part of a Brazilian government plan to make a capital city that was more central than former capital Rio de Janeiro, the city was intended to be a modern architectural utopia, all curved walls and triangles and blindingly white monuments hovering in the cityscape like UFOs. Like all planned utopias, Brasilia failed to actually accommodate the messiness of human life—today, hundreds of thousands of people are bussed in and out of the metropolis every day to care for its antiseptic architecture, but they cannot afford to actually live among the dominating structures. As the nameless voiceover in the documentary A Machine to Live In puts it: “What is architecture if not boundaries?” BLAIR STENVICK
Read the full review here.

While often scorned (aaaaand sometimes for pretty good reason!), improvisational comedy gave birth to nearly all your favorite movies and TV shows, and it’s where your most beloved comic actors got their start. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Bob Odenkirk, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Kate McKinnon, Nick Kroll, Stephen Colbert, Aubrey Plaza… all these and many, many more kicked off their careers and trained with such famous improv troupes as Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade. But the concept and practices of longform improvisational comedy in its current form sprung from a single, deranged person that you’ve possibly never heard of: Del Close. In the documentary For Madmen Only, director Heather Ross attempts to dig deep into the life and mythos of this seminal, mysterious figure, and the result is just about as messy as Close himself. (But that’s not always a bad thing!) WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Read the full review here.
 
 
Rehab Cabin
Let’s cut to the chase: I LOVED Rehab Cabin. The characters, despite being bumbling, self-absorbed kidnappers, are my people. In addition to being full of LOLs, it’s also a sweet meditation on friendship, nostalgia, and holding our favorite celebrities to impossible standards. Chloe (Lacey Jeka) and her gay best pal Domenic (Scott Mandel) are two directionless 20-somethings who spend much of their time on the couch binge-watching their favorite movies from childhood, both of which feature young starlet Amanda Campbell (Alexandra Stebbins). Like too many child stars, Amanda hits the skids and grows up to become a Lindsay Lohan-style washout that’s regularly featured on TMZ-styled gossip shows that bemoan (read: celebrate) the former star’s drunken exploits. This causes Chloe and Domenic lots of consternation, and they openly wish for some way to help Amanda get back on track. SURPRISE! In a twist of fate, while taking a shift driving her father’s limo, Chloe discovers Amanda drunk off her ass and in the backseat of her car. A quick, thoughtless plan is hatched and Chloe and Domenic kidnap Amanda, taking her to a remote cabin in a hilarious and ill-advised attempt to “cure” the star and revive her career so they can return to their couch and enjoy more of her movies. Shockingly, this plan does not work. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Read the full review here.
 
 
Shorts Block 2
Of the festival's six blocks of short films, this one was deemed extra worth watching by Mercury contributor Janey Wong. The lineup includes "La Tienda" (pictured above), about a Portland Latinx womxn-owned letterpress studio, the animated short "Misery Loves Company," which takes the viewer into the interior landscape of an anthropomorphic dog named Seolgi, and "My Hero," which follows a single mother who has no choice but to leave her two young sons unattended while she interviews for a second job to make ends meet. 
Read the full review here.
 
 
Who's on Top
Who’s On Top follows a small group of LGBTQ Oregonians whose stories of personal struggles are interspersed with their journey towards Mt. Hood’s summit. The documentary triumphantly challenges the stereotypes and archetypes of mountaineers and adventurers, seeking to carve out a safe space for people of all genders and sexualities. In the opening minutes, the comparison between the struggles LGBTQIA+ folx face and the challenge of summiting a mountain is drawn. “Coming out and climbing Mt. Hood are incredibly similar in the fact that they’re both pretty hard climbs,” says summit hopeful Ryan Stee. At this point, Miley Cyrus’ classic power ballad “The Climb” pops into my head; it would definitely be my soundtrack of choice were I ever to muster up the physical and mental fortitude needed to complete this Herculean task. The metaphor is referred to multiple times throughout the film, as members of the team recount their lived experiences. JANEY WONG
 

DRIVE-IN

Minari
Filled with the ups and downs of everyday life, Minari is a portrait of a Korean family as it grows up, grows old, and grows apart. In a media landscape where Asian-Americans are too often invisible, the film is a landmark for American cinema. Despite telling a quintessentially American story at Best Picture caliber, the film was relegated to the Foreign Language Film category (which it won) at this year’s Golden Nepotism Awards. (They’ll do better at being less racist next year, they promise.) The film takes its name from a resilient Korean vegetable, emblematic of the resilience of immigrants and families. In pursuit of his American dream, patriarch Jacob (Steven Yeun) moves his wife and two children to rural Arkansas. He hopes to build a farm and a better life, escaping his and wife Monica’s menial job of chicken sexing. Monica (Han Ye-ri) is less than amused at having to move to the middle of nowhere, while trying to hype up her young kids (Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho) for their grandmother’s arrival. JANEY WONG
Read the full review here.
Ziddel Yards, Southwest (Fri March 5 only)