Northwest Film Center (1971–2022)

Updated: Mar 13

The headline news out of the NW Film Center's 2022 Cinema Unbound Awards on March 8 is that the NW Film Center is now PAM CUT (Portland Art Museum Center for an Untold Tomorrow). Director Amy Dotson announced the change at the end of the ceremony, hyping it as "a new name* for a new era."


PAM CUT is a place, a space, and a state of mind that welcomes those who aren’t content to be contained. Thinking more extensively about how to serve the unbound multidisciplinary artists and storyteller community locally and globally—and the daring audiences and supporters who make it all possible—fuels our reinvention. (The Northwest Film Center Is Now)


More than an exercise in rebranding is at play here. The theme of re-envisioning the film center, "evolving the definition of cinema and storytelling and offering more inclusive ways to connect with film arts," emerged at the beginning of Dotson's tenure as director in September 2019. Asked to define PAM CUT’s jurisdiction, she lands on "multi-sensorial storytelling that’s not just for some."


…[the name change] more closely aligns the center with the Portland Art Museum (which it’s been a part of since 1978), and formally expands its scope beyond short and feature films. "…we’re allowing for more flexibility, and for the doors to be open wider to those who may like film, but not love it," Dotson says. (Reed, The NW Film Center)


Elsewhere Dotson speaks of expansion, growth, and taking on new forms. For those who suffer from deficiency in the imaginative faculty there is VR (virtual reality) to Go. "We’re de-siloing…and letting go of the idea that it’s a place for some but not for all. If you love movies, we’re still here for you. But we’re also inviting artists, musicians, dancers, technology, design, and creative folks in general to come in and help us to mix it up" (Mohan, The Northwest Film Center is No More).


Promoting storytelling in varied forms and formats is a fine mission, but as Emerson put it, nothing is got for nothing. The expansion is bound to affect funding and resources for the film portion. The line about still being here for those who love movies comes off as a sop to us old Silver Screen Club diehards who supported the film center loyally and enthusiastically for years. To pretend otherwise by redefining cinema and cinematic to encompass modes of storytelling other than film might strike even a disinterested and fair-minded observer as disingenuous. (Memo from the editorial desk: your oft humbled scribe is not a disinterested observer and little inclined to fair-mindedness in this matter.)


Marc Mohan reported that he did not notice longtime (forty years) NW Film Center director Bill Foster's name "being uttered from the stage once all night" at the Cinema Unbound event.


Foster guided a diverse range of cinema showcases, including annual events such as the Portland International Film Festival, Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival, Portland Jewish Film Festival, and Reel Music, while overseeing diverse year-round exhibition programs, classes, and filmmaker service programs that serve 75,000 people annually. (Foster announces retirement)


An online search for Bill Foster turned up a link to a retirement announcement published at the old NWFC website that took me to a PAM CUT page with a 404 Page Not Found error and this terse message: "The page you are looking for is from a previous era. The Northwest Film Center is now PAM CUT, the Center for an Untold Tomorrow. Let’s go beyond, together!" And, it goes unsaid, put NW Film Center behind us.


An article with the same title as the NWFC announcement, the source of the quotation just above, is still available at the Portland Art Museum website. A spot check of links to the Portland International Film Festival (PIFF) prior to 2021 came up with the same 404 error. An old link to the NWFC mission page connects to the PAM CUT page About US, which mentions in passing that PAM CUT was founded in 1971 as the Northwest Film Center. The PIFF 2021 web pages can be found at a Cinema Unbound URL. These appear to be exceptions.


This is weird. One might think that PAM CUT would celebrate the accomplishments of the film center and its role in Portland's cultural life for half a century with films that brought the world to Portland cinemas, classes, and filmmaker service programs. Instead, PAM CUT appears to be bent on repudiation and erasure of its predecessor, scattered refences to the NW Film Center on Portland Art Museum and PAM CUT web pages notwithstanding. The implication that the film center was elitist, a place for some but not for all, runs through PAM CUT rhetoric while celebration of the legacy is absent.


The fate of PIFF, other film festivals, and regular film center screenings is up in the air. PIFF 2022 was canceled and the festival "will be re-envisioned for 2023 to broaden its cinematic reach in film, animation, multimedia and artistic storytelling of all forms" (NW Film Center Reopens Whitsell Auditorium).


I am aware that I risk coming off like a dinosaur digging in against tides of change. PAM CUT's vision and mission may attract new audiences that the film center did not reach. It is however hard to see how the direction taken will not come at the expense of traditional film programming. This will be a loss for us old Silver Screen Clubbers, who as best I can tell were were disregarded in the process of leaving the NW Film Center behind and going beyond to PAM CUT. It will also be a loss for the city. Perhaps events will prove me wrong.


I previously wrote on this subject in two posts about the 2021 Portland International Film Festival and in the Portable Bohemia Newsletter February 15, 2022:

*The name PAM CUT was developed in collaboration with Skylight Collective, which brands itself as "an independent brand experience studio" with "deep insight into gaming, entertainment, and technology."


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