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.