At the third annual Cinema Unbound Awards on March 8, the artist formerly known as the Northwest Film Center got a shiny new name: PAM CUT. That's the "Portland Art Museum Center for an Untold Tomorrow," if you're not in a hurry. The change was announced in the final moments of Tuesday night's event.
So...what does it mean, exactly? Not a lot, and quite a bit. Despite waiting longer than most theaters in town to open its doors, the Whitsell Auditorium, long home to the NW Film Center’s programming, is back up and running (with a Tilda Swinton retrospective in the pipeline). Summer camps, long a bread and butter for the organization, are in the works once more. And after skipping 2022, the Portland International Film Festival will return next year.
But the name change codifies a shift PAM CUT executive director Amy Dotson has been driving toward since she arrived in Portland back in the fall of 2019. “Cinema unbound" was the theme of the pandemic-truncated 2020 Portland International Film Festival, which Dotson programmed. It’s the name of the awards the center has handed out annually under her leadership. And now, it characterizes the organization’s goals on a fundamental level.
“What we’ve discovered during this time is that not everybody wants to make or watch a movie,” Dotson says. “We wanted to make sure that we were being flexible both for the artists that are working today, at all levels, as well as our audiences who are coming to us and might not honestly say that they’re hardcore cinephiles.” Last fall, Dotson and the museum brought VR experiences out of Venice and Montreal to PAM as the delta variant reintroduced risk to movie theaters, and saw significant turnout. In February, the center presented a participatory "live documentary" about the Kronos Quartet by filmmaker Sam Green. There’s still traditional film programming in the works, but Dotson says to expect more multimedia events like these.
“I do think there is an element of storytelling involved in all that we’re doing, and I do think that there’s something cinematic,” Dotson says. “I, for one, can hear cinema. I can see cinema. I just a did piece in Amsterdam where I could taste cinema, and got pheromones blown in my face.” Asked to define PAM CUT’s jurisdiction, she lands on “multi-sensorial storytelling that’s not just for some.”
To that end, then, the name change—conceived with help from local brand agency Skylight—does two things: 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. “I think by taking out something that is right there on the nose, 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.