July 4, 2007
Before the inaugural Platform Animation Festival rolled into town, one could already make a case for calling Portland a truly animated town. Birthplace of Bill Plympton and Matt Groening, HQ for Will Vinton, and now home to Laika, Dark Horse Comics, and a growing number of VFX shops. But was city of Portland ready to become an international animation metropolis?

Portland has a well-established reputation as an artistic town. It is also a beautiful city, known as the City of Roses for over 100 years. Those in the literary world know Powell's Books to be the largest independent new & used bookstore in the world. Walking the streets, it seemed clear to me that this town has not just a great respect for books and storytelling, but great typography too. High calibre storefronts and signage abound (and what a concept - shop with no sales tax!). This is a smart city.

As a newcomer to Portland, it didn't take long to warm up to the city. Friendly? It seemed at every turn, you would be greeted with a smile. We were surrounded by diverse and historic architecture, and the official festival venues themselves were exceptional. The Portland Art Museum, the multi-stage Portland Center for the Performing Arts (the PCPA) and the Pearl District are all jewels, all walkable, and all appear to have room to grow.

A few notes worth repeating. This was an inaugural festival, one with an entire week of programming. Putting together a festival from scratch is a mammoth task, and organizer Irene Kotlarz deserves a commanding ovation. We were told the festival took over two years to produce, and the amount of effort invested was clearly evident in the details.

In the festival programme, Irene points out that while this event was largely sponsored by Cartoon Network, it was also going to be a logo-free festival where diverse artists and art forms take the centre stage. This is key, and helps to foster a healthy and independent spirit for the event. Equally important and worth remembering - there were no entry fees for artists to submit work to the festival.

Geographically speaking, Portland is perfectly and ecologically positioned. Placed due north of Hollywood and Silicon Valley and not far south from Vancouver, BC, it seems to make sense hosting an international animation festival here. For three decades, Canada has hosted the Ottawa International Animation Festival with an outstanding program of its own. With Platform, Portland gives America an equal opportunity.

Does the world need to see another Platform animation festival? Based on what I saw, I think it does, and I think it is perfectly at home in Portland. Want to see the festival repeat the program in the future? Send the organizers an email and tell them how much you'd appreciate their return. Doing so, you just might help Portland secure a name for itself as the bold new international capital of animation on the Pacific.

Recommended reading: check out over a dozen animation landmarks in the city of Portland in this Aaron Mesh article from the Willamette Week Online.

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