If the future is female, then Portland’s four-day POWFest, held each March, is ahead of its time. Recognized as one of the nation’s top women’s film festivals, POWFest showcases films by female directors, along with filmmaker workshops and moderated panels.
“A lot of people have this preconceived notion that it’s going to be a bunch of romantic comedies, and it’s not,” says POWFest Executive Director Tara Johnson-Medinger. “We have a variety of topics, themes and ages of women producing the films.”
A film producer herself, Johnson-Medinger was aware of women’s lack of representation in filmmaking when she rebooted POWFest in 2008. (The festival had been on hiatus after its original launch in 2003.) In an industry where just 7% of directors are female, POWFest brings visibility to women-directed films. “Our mission is to provide space where women can thrive as media makers,” she says.
The main event
POWFest receives between 500 and 1,000 entries each year, with around 60 films typically chosen for screening. The festival invites attendees to experience cinema crafted by seasoned and up-and-coming filmmakers alike at Portland’s historic Hollywood Theatre. (As an added bonus, you can indulge in pizza, beer, wine or kombucha while viewing.)
“It’s a fun night out with friends and [it] can open your eyes to other cultures,” says Johnson-Medinger. “There’s a lot of buzz and people wanting to hang out and have conversations after each film.”
Along with narrative and documentary features and shorts from around the globe, POWFest screens short films created in POWGirls workshops. These courses teach girls ages 15–19 skills in video production, cinematography and other aspects of filmmaking. Part of POWFest’s educational efforts, the workshops provide female youth with strong instruction and support in their filmmaking endeavors.
“POWFest is for anyone interested in engaging with really good stories and supporting the next generation of women leaders and directors,” says Johnson-Medinger. (And yes, this includes men, who are encouraged to attend!)
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, POWFest 2017 kicked off opening night with a performance by MILCK. The L.A.-based musician’s song “Quiet” was sung with a flash mob choir at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Next, Oscar award-winning director Barbara Kopple’s new documentary This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous traced the journey of transgender YouTube star Gigi Lazzarato.
More than 60 films screened during the festival, including narrative features, documentaries and shorts. American films showed alongside works from Russia, China, Iran and several European countries. Most of the films’ directors took part in a moderated Q & A following their screening and award-winning guest of honor Cheryl Dunye, a black queer filmmaker best known for The Watermelon Woman (1999), made a special appearance.
POWFest’s 2017 education component featured three panel discussions held at NW Documentary on March 3. Topics included “creating and maintaining safe spaces for women’s voices,” “documentary filmmaking in the new political climate” and “beyond mentoring.”
$60 scored you a festival pass (which included the panels), or you could view individual screenings for $8 each.
“POWFest is such a varied experience in terms of the films that we’re presenting, and that’s reflective of Portland in general,” says Tara. “You can do anything here.”