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Portland Sets Mood For Area Film Festivals

For discriminating filmgoers, the Northwest is a cinematic paradise.

Take, for example, what’s on the menu of the 18th Portland International Film Festival, which runs through March 5.

You’ll find Oscar. Foreignlanguage entries “Before the Rain” (Macedonia) and “Strawberry and Chocolate” (Cuba) are both Academy Award nominees.

You’ll find diversity. Of the 50-some films scheduled to show over the festival’s 16-day run, 33 countries are represented, and that’s not counting the several to-beannounced showings.

You’ll find the unusual. Such countries as Iran, South Korea, Iceland and Tunisia are represented.

You’ll also find - Abba?

Yes, music of the glitzy Swedish pop group from the late 1970s showed up in the Australian comedydrama “Muriel’s Wedding.”

That aside, Portland’s filmfest is one more example of a film community that Northwest residents can enjoy annually. As a part of the Portland-based Northwest Film Center’s year-round program, the festival typically is the first of the year’s movie festivals.

Seattle International Film Festival, May 18-June 11; call (206) 324-9996 for information.

The Vancouver, British Columbia, International Film Festival, Sept. 29-Oct. 15; call (604) 685-0260 for information.

The festival sponsored by the Olympia Film Society, midNovember; call (206) 754-6670.

As the first of the lot, Portland sets the tone. Not as big as either Seattle or Vancouver, the 1995 Portland festival nevertheless expects to attract approximately 30,000 movie fans and still achieve what the others manage so well: Be a event for audiences rather than industry types.

“All three of them are really local events that are designed for the audiences,” says Bill Foster, director of the Northwest Film Center, which is associated with the Portland Art Museum. “A lot of film festivals are more industry-related. We don’t really care about that. Our festival is really a chance for Portland (filmgoers) to see things that they might not otherwise see.”

Such riches on the opening weekend included, of all things, Abba. “Muriel’s Wedding,” a thoroughly enjoyable coming-of-age story, continues Australian fascination with the Swede popsters.

(The cross-dressing characters of last year’s “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” did dance routines to Abba.)

Just as writer-director P.J. Hogan uses Abba’s music as a commentary on protagonist Muriel and her friends, commentary of a different sort is the purpose of Milcho Manchevski, writer-director of “Before the Rain.” But Manchevski’s target is the cultural and religious pressures causing ongoing violence in the former Yugoslavia.

And then there was “Sune’s Summer,” a Swedish variation of “National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation.” No Ingmar Bergman-like brooding, it is a series of silly sight gags and adolescent longings for love.

The films featured over the next two weekends display as wide a range of theme and tone. “Strawberry and Chocolate” portrays love in a totalitarian system, while “Angel Dust” is a serial-killer thriller from Japan. “C’est La Vie, Mon Cherie” is a Hong Kong romance, and “Vukovar Poste Restante” is another look at life in the former Yugoslavia.

On March 4, look for the New Zealand study of modern Maori life, “Once We Were Warriors,” and “Rio’s Love Song,” a compilation of short Brazilian films.

On March 5, Canadian entry “Picture of Light” is a documentary about the Aurora Borealis, while America’s “Little Odessa” is a fictional look at New York.

The festival is held at three downtown theaters, all within walking distance, so moving from one to the other is no problem. Purchasing advance tickets ($6.50 general admission) is advised. Call (503) 221-1156 for information.

If you have plans to visit Portland, the festival offers a nice complement to the city’s numerous other charms. Or it’s good enough reason by itself to warrant a special trip.

There’s just one problem. You’ve blown your chance to hear Abba.

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