One of the fastest growing festivals of the last few years, Portland Film Festival ushers in its third year today, with 200 plus films and 2000+ zombies. “All the support and volunteers that we have at the festival have allowed us to grow and have as many events as we do have,” says founder and Executive Director Josh Leake. Just two years ago the festival had 70 films. “Nationally people just love Portland,” he continues, “and it makes sense that we would have a great independent film Festival, because Portland has always been known as independent, Trailblazers, and pioneers.” He’s right, my initial knowledge of the entire state of Oregon goes back to a profound Elementary school experience in which I blazed the Oregon Trail and shot at wild game by hitting the space bar. Always ready to turn the conversation back into the growth of the festival, Leake quickly points out “gaming is such a part of the film industry now, we have a games panel with Daniel Wilson who wrote the New York Times best-selling book Robopocalyse that Steven Spielberg optioned, and he’s been doing a lot of film games so that’s what he’s going to talk about.”

Portland Film Fest follows the new model for film festivals, where films are just one part of the offerings to the public. In addition to the panels, festivalgoers will find networking events, parties, a film tour of Portland, an opportunity to don zombie makeup and be in a short film, and experience what Leake calls “the nicest filmmaker lounge or headquarters at any festival anywhere period.” Taking over a seven thousand square foot restaurant space in downtown Portland with free beer from Rogue Ale and Spirits Brewery, Portland Film Fest has seen to it that all the filmmakers will be able to drink and eat for free during the entire festival. “This is a good example of how we’ve grown, we’ve taken connections from everyone, and used them as well we could,” says the director, “a lot of the people that are coming in to talk are either friends or people that I’ve met along my own career path.” Leake produced the documentary GLENA that premiered at Slamdance and can be seen on Showtime and VOD. “There are two different types of festivals,” he says, “there are red rope festivals, where there’s you and the filmmakers on the other side, and you never really get chance to talk to them, and then there’s what I like to think ours is like, where there isn’t really a separation and it’s more community.”

wendy froud

Wendy Froud and Jim Henson working on Gelfling Heads for The Dark Crystal

The festival will also be a good opportunity for actors to not just network with the incoming filmmakers, but also hone their craft. “We’ve partnered with SAG/AFTRA which I don’t know too many festivals have,” says Leake, “so we have actors classes, workshops every day of the festival.” Of course with the subtitle the ‘Storytellers Festival,’ Portland will also feature daily workshops and classes for screenwriters. “[BlueCat Screenwriting Competition founder] Gordy Hoffman is going to come up for some classes, A buddy of mine who wrote The Doors for Oliver Stone is teaching some classes,” he says, “so we’re taking some professional level people and we’re making it really affordable for people to learn and find out about moviemaking, whether you are new or old hat.” Special events like the lifetime achievement awards for Wendy Froud (the Fabricator of Yoda) and Will Vinton (Academy award winning Claymation creator), and the 10 year anniversary screening of Hustle & Flow with cinematographer Amy Vincent add to the star appeal of the festival. In all, the Portland Film Festival will feature 75+ workshops, networking opportunities and at least one party every single day.

Also there are films, with an impressive array of world and US premieres, and a well stocked selection of Indy festival gems. Leake points out world premiere AIMEY IN THE CAGE as one of the films he is most excited about bringing to Portland. About a creative teenage girl who is pursuing a mind altering procedure in attempt to civilize her while a virus spread throughout the world, the film features Crispin Glover and Paz de la Huerta. “The production value on the thing is just amazing,” Leake says, “Crispin Glover is such an interesting guy” – and he may just show up at the festival, though Leake is making no promises.

“We’ve really been focusing a lot on music and film,” the Executive Director says, and there is an entire section of music of the festival, called Music Mavericks, including one of my favorite documentaries of the last year, that just happens to be about one of my favorite bands all time MORPHINE: JOURNEY OF DREAMS. “Opening night we’ve got GRU-PDX, about this great Brazilian band that comes to Portland” he continues, “it’s about their journey of making an album, that’s very Portland.”

zombie day tshirts
Of course the thing that is going to make the Portland film Festival different from every other film Festival this year is Zombie Day, an attempts to set a new Guinness Book Of World Record for most extras in a short film. Filming will take place on Monday, Labor Day, produced by Josh Leake and directed by George C. Romero, son of the famed Night of the Living Dead director. “You and I know,” Leake beams, “when audiences watch a movie they love they’re sitting thinking ‘man I wish I could’ve been part of that,’ we’re just taking that lust to be there and giving them the opportunity.” Being in the film is free and open to all, even people who weren’t at the festival. Of course, if you pay you can ingeniously get a bit more screen time. Or buy a T-Shirt!  Some of the best people working on special effects today are coming up to do make up including contributors to The Maze Runner and winners of Face Off. After the day of shooting, Rogue Ale and Spirits is throwing an after party and Portland Film Festival will screen one of George Romero’s original films outdoors for free.

Leake says the response has been amazing; “we had a volunteer meeting, because we’re having separate volunteers for zombie day, we had 84 people show up on one days notice.” Another interesting fact is who has signed up ahead of time to be in the film. “It’s like 65 to 70% women,” says Leake, “I’m just talking to the executive producer of Z Nation the zombie TV show, and he’s like ‘yeah most of our audience is women.’” Despite the fact this huge undertaking is coming the day after running a six-day film festival, Leake is not concerned that he will pass out from exhaustion, telling me “as you know when you produce a short film all the real work happens months and weeks in advance, so the stuff we’re doing now is just part of the plan that’s already been put in place.” Portland, he says, is ready for this experience which will be more like a marathon then a traditional film set, with vendors and activities all day long; “we’re setting it up like a race. There’s going to be heats. Portland is the town of Nike, and I got to tell you people in Portland know how to run races.” And when will the zombies for day get to see their work on the big screen? “We’re going to announce that during the festival,” says Leake.

Portland film Festival opens tonight with screenings of GRU-PDX and BIRDS OF NEPTUNE it continues through Sunday with the closing night film BATKID BEGINS, in the Monday September 7 production of zombie day. More information is available at


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