02-19-2017  8:09 pm      •     

From a gangster who could have had an academic future, to the current misperception of the students at Jefferson High School, two documentaries playing at the NW Film Center's 33rd Film & Video Festival will highlight different stories about life and history in areas of North Portland.
Both films will show on Nov. 13 at the Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 S.W. Park Ave. "Reading Between the Lines" will begin at 7 p.m., and admission is free.
"Killingsworth" will show at 8 p.m. Admission is $7 general; $6 for members, students and seniors.
"Reading Between the Lines," created by independent filmmaker Sue Arbuthnot, with the help of about 30 students from Jefferson High School, explores the different views, perceptions and realties of a school that has often been associated with poor productivity, violence and drugs.
Arbuthnot, a filmmaker in residence at the film center, said the film was made in association with the Oregon Partnership and the Office of Substance Abuse Prevention.
After recruiting the students to participate in the grant-funded after-school program, the students were asked to pick a subject for their film. They decided to tackle the difficult question about why their school was often regarded as the bad apple of the Portland school system, she said.
Arbuthnot, who has been a filmmaker since the 1980s, said she found the students and their peers did not match up to the community's perception. These students — many of whom have plans to study science, the arts, mechanics and more — felt they had been stigmatized by past events. The film aims to both address the underlying reasons for the label, as well as ways they can help change the future of their school.
"These kids are bright, dedicated and eager for instruction, direction and (organized activities)," she said.
Taking it to the street, the student filmmakers were trained in interview techniques, camerawork and other aspects of documentary filmmaking before engaging Portland Superintendent Vicki Phillips, fellow students, city commissioner Dan Saltzman and others about their school. Far from mere observers, the students crafted the questions, and helped the direction of the film.
Albuthnot said the students were able to broaden their own ability to see through other people's eyes, as well as discover the process of making a film. The documentary uses creative techniques such as stop-motion photography, as well as animation and more traditional aspects of documentary filmmaking, to illustrate different stories the students wanted to tell.
By addressing this underlying issue head-on, Arbuthnot said she hopes the film can help propel the school to a more positive future. Already, changes on the inside of the magnet high school have students encouraging community members to make a visit. There is even talk about taking down the perimeter fence, which many students felt alienated them from the outside community. For more information about the film visit www.hareinthegate.com.

The film "Killingsworth," produced by filmmaker Tom Olsen Jr., chronicles the life and untimely demise of 20-year-old Anthony "lil' smurf" Branch Jr., a member of the Cryps gang in North Portland in the mid- to late-1990s.
Incarcerated 44 times in his 20 years, Branch was also known as a loving sibling, as well as someone who excelled in school. The film chronicles his double life from the perspectives of people who knew and loved him, as well as from the police who chased him.
Olsen said he began working on the film in April 2001 when Branch's mother was still incarcerated at the women's prison in Salem. Mixing interviews and news footage from the period, Olsen said the film highlights a time in North Portland that he describes as a "perfect storm" for gang violence.
With population density at peak levels, along with the influx of gangs and hard drugs, the area where Branch lived was experiencing almost daily shootings. And Branch was a poster child for someone who was both attracted to and excelled in gangs, said Olsen.
Despite his criminal history, Olsen said he found his subject to be sympathetic, as did many former friends — a view that often clashes with news reports at the time of his gang activity.
Olsen, a social worker, said he is using the film as a cautionary tale to reach out to troubled youth. By using the film in jails, juvenile homes and gang outreach programs, he hopes to turn at least some youths off to the sometimes enticing world of the gang lifestyle.


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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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