In the few remaining hours before the official launch of the first Portland Film Festival, Josh Leake and Jay Cornelius were busy putting up lights, hanging banners and posting festival schedules as a small crowd began to gather around Cinema 21 in Northwest Portland. It was certainly a festive atmosphere as Leake, Cornelius and a small legion of volunteers put the finishing touches on an idea that came about only four months ago.
Last week, Leake got a call from the city of Portland informing him that he had been given permission to close off a section of 21st Avenue in the direct vicinity of the theater. The bustling site was swarming with photographers of both the professional and Instagram variety as the street became a spectacle for passersby examining the red carpet that was being rolled out toward the entrance.
If Leake was trying to make a splash, the trapeze and aerial acrobats who were on hand didn’t hurt his cause.
“I’m very excited. This is awesome,” said Leake, stopping for a second to scan the slowly swelling crowd.
The acrobats were a toss to the opening night film Without a Net, a documentary about young Brazilian circus performers struggling with the varying effects of modern life in Rio de Janeiro.
Leake seemed just about as nervous as someone would be who was directing a film festival for the first time. Or about as nervous as the costumed woman on 10-foot stilts traipsing in and out of the crowd. Cornelius, the festival’s programmer, has done this kind of thing before, but for Leake, it was a whole different kind of pressure.
The Portland Film Festival, which runs from August 27-September 1, is one of many cinema festivals that take place in this city. There are, to name just a few, the Portland International Film Festival in February; the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival in March; the Filmed by Bike festival in April; the Portland Experimental Film Festival in May; Flicks on the Bricks in July; the Portland Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in October; and Hump, the Pacific Northwest’s amateur-produced pornography festival, in November.
Leake and Cornelius insist the Portland Film Festival is different from the others due to both its content and the passion they bring to the project. Leake says the festival isn’t about high production values, but good stories, regardless of where they come from.
“If there’s anything that I want this festival to be known for, I want it to be known as a festival of storytelling,” he says. “I’m a film lover, and I know there’s a lot of film lovers in Portland. And that’s who we’re really making this film festival for. And the directors are film lovers, too. So I think that if anyone loves film, they’re going to like our festival.”
You can listen to the interview with Josh Leake and Jay Cornelius below, which was recorded as part of a pilot episode for State of Wonder, OPB’s new arts radio show scheduled to premiere later in the fall.