Portland Film Family Tree

Mapping the connections that make Portland one of the country’s greatest indie film towns

By Anne Richardson October 16, 2012

There used to be three American cities instantly recognizable on screen: skyscrapers meant New York, palm trees Los Angeles, and cable cars San Francisco. But at least to the millions of viewers of Grimm, Leverage, and Portlandia, there is now a fourth: the bridges, bicyclists, and cloud-clogged skies signifying Portland. 

It’s not just television. Portland is all over the big screen, too. In recent years, our brooding cloudscapes have provided a moody backdrop for the two lovers in Gus Van Sant’s Restless, the brother-sister detective team in Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather, and the confused souls in Matt McCormick’s Some Days Are Better Than Others, to name but a few. Not bad for a humble riverport 1,000 miles from Los Angeles and 3,000 miles from New York. 

“Seattle is twice as big, and there are many times as many Fortune 500 companies there,” says David Cress, who produced Restless and is now producing Portlandia. “By any rights, we shouldn’t have a more robust film business and infrastructure and participation than they have there. But we do.”

As the Northwest Film Center closes out its 40th anniversary with the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival November 9–18, we thought we’d ask: how did this happen? On the next page, we chart the ever-expanding constellation of filmmakers who make today’s rich mix of animation, experimental, and indie features possible. Of course, this list just scratches the surface and doesn’t dive into genres like documentary film and commercials. But as you’ll see, film is not an industry here as much as it is a character trait. It’s something that we do. 


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