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Portland Indie Film
Home Grown Portland Movie Picks
By Chris Parkhurst

There was a time in the early to mid 1990s when the city of Portland was rapidly becoming the place to shoot feature films and television for both a bounty of location possibilities and economic reasons. There were major film and lighting production houses that were built around the hope that Portland was the next city where Hollywood went to shoot, other than New York or L.A. The Oregon Film Commission and Portland film and TV industry workers were collectively rejoicing over what was to become the next great place to make movies.

But for a number of reasons most of this Great Hope fell through. Deals were streak and monies were promised, though few deals came to fruition, not unlike the dot-com industry a few years later. Hollywood soon came to the "startling" realization that if they just went a little farther North, say Vancouver, B.C., they could achieve the same results for much cheaper. About all that remains is Hollywood Lighting, a slightly functional Will Vinton Studios and, well, the Oregon Film Commission.

However, this certainly doesn't mean that filmmaking stopped happening in this city. No, in fact, some might argue, that because of it, better films were made. I'm not referring to the Hollywood Idiocy indicative of Portland shoved down our throats with the likes of 'The Hunted' or 'Bandits'. I'm talking about some of the independent films that were sprung from this city of Creativity, Rain and Coffee.

The next time you visit your local video store, instead of looking to Hollywood, you might look in our own backyard and check out these fine selections from local filmmakers:

American Taboo (1982)
This lesser known, extremely hard-to-find film, by first time filmmaker Steve Lustgarten constructs a more-modern take on the Lolita story. He foregoes the easy, exploitative route and instead delivers an extremely thoughtful and impacting story of a reclusive 30-something photographer who falls in love with a 16-year-old girl.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Gus Van Sant's idea of Henry IV, starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, played out in the homeless culture of Portland, Oregon. Though his almost-glamorization of street kids seems a little far-fetched, given his incongruous background, the story is still an original and is both beautifully shot and acted and probably still his best film to date.

The Sexy Chef (2002)
Love, obsession, insanity, kitchen utensils. This is how the Smith Brothers describe their first feature length film. 'Clerks'-ish in its humor, though smarter and more aware of not over-using comic book dialogue and philosophy (oddly enough Ian and Tyson Smith are responsible for the cult comic book hit 'Oddjob'). 'The Sexy Chef' is proof that with a good script, funny actors, capable directing and editing skills, a comedy can be shot on digital video and be damn good. The ensemble cast is particularly solid, especially local vet Indie actors Logan Creighton and Todd Robinson.

Bongwater (1998)
Adaptation of local writer Michael Hornburg's novel of the same name, it's the most accurate description of Portland that I know (or perhaps it's simply the only Portland I know). With a cast of at-the-time no-names, who have all gone on to make it relatively big, Luke Wilson, Jack Black, Brittany Murphy, Andy Dick, Jeremy Sisto, Amy Locane and Alicia Witt. 'Bongwater' is about pot, friends, love, heartbreak, pot, lazy-but-creative, etc. Portland. It's worth seeing for Jack Black and Luke Wilson's acid trip out in the Oregon wilderness.