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Cinematic Curiosities: Portland’s Indie Film Culture

Whether you’re a longtime film buff or just dipping your toes in, the Hollywood (and all it has to offer) is a must-see destination.

I love history and culture, and I love discovering hidden worlds that have been thriving right under our noses. I've been spending more and more time in Portland, Oregon, lately, which means I'm getting to do some pretty deep and extensive discovery. Enthusiastic subcultures of all kinds thrive here; whatever you’re interested in, Portland likely has clubs to join and events to attend. I've never been much of a film buff, but I’ve fallen in love with the indie film culture in Portland.

The Hollywood Theatre sits on an angled intersection in Portland’s Hollywood district. Its massive Spanish cathedral marquee sets it starkly apart from its more modest and modern neighbors, and its interior is no less impressive: chandeliers and delicate crown molding oversee the popcorn machines inside the large carpeted antechamber.

This theater opened in 1926 as a venue for vaudeville shows and silent cinema. It has been continually operating since that time, which makes it the oldest in the United States to do so. The current nonprofit ownership hosts event screenings, film club events, and even the occasional new release. Coming up in the next week, they’ll be showing the classic silent film Nosferatu with live organ accompaniment. On Halloween, the sold-out theater was playing 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The week before that, they were showing the 2002 cult classic Scooby Doo.

The cult of cinema doesn’t just live downtown. The Hollywood nonprofit acquired the beloved Portland video store, Movie Madness, in 2017. I have been there twice; it’s one of the best and weirdest places I have ever shopped. It feels like a museum and a Blockbuster had a business baby. The fluorescent lights and metal shelves, holding a collection of over 90,000 movies, are surrounded by glass-encased movie memorabilia: film-worn costumes, genuine props, signed photos, and assorted scraps from actors. After the Hollywood Theatre purchased the store, they built a screening room inside; if you have the time, you can catch a movie while you’re there, too.

It might not be obvious, but it makes sense that indie film culture is so active here. Portland has a hippie, home-grown sort of reputation. There’s a very present culture of sustainability and local pride, and this public support allows for many small local institutions like the Hollywood Theatre to thrive. Whether you’re a longtime film buff or just dipping your toes in, the Hollywood (and all it has to offer) is a must-see destination. And the next time you find yourself in the PNW, make sure you don't miss out on the incredible film history around you!