Portland has enough film fests, twee retro film nights, half-baked amateur movie competitions, and ass-numbing exercises in avant-garde tedium to choke a flock of large donkeys. On any given weekend, you can relive the banality of Short Circuit 2, rub elbows with the blue hairs at a Hungarian film fest, witness what a bunch of local musicians do with film scraps that they were given 30 minutes to edit, or endure a post-colonial, deconstructivist treatise on a flickering light bulb.
Or, you can do what savvy Portlanders have been doing for five years now: Bide your time and wait for the Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival (AKA the PDX Film Fest). Thrown every spring by local video distribution label Peripheral Produce, the PDX Film Fest excels at showing less-than-mainstream films that are simultaneously challenging and entertaining. Proving again and again that "experimental" doesn't have to mean "crappy and boring," this year's lineup is a knockout, ranging from disturbing to hilarious to straight-up thrilling. Think of it as a mix tape from a friend who knows all the best underground shit before you do. Here are some of the programs you'd be a fool to miss.
Old Joy (Wed April 26)—Based on the novella by Portland author Jonathan Raymond, this movie about two sorta-friends who take a soul-searching and mercurial hike through the Cascades, stars Will Oldham (AKA Bonnie Prince Billy), was co-produced by Todd Haynes, sports an original soundtrack from Yo La Tengo, and was called "the best of Sundance" by Entertainment Weekly.
Martha Colburn Retrospective (Fri April 28)—Straight off the 2006 Whitney Biennial, New York and Amsterdam-based lo-fi animator Martha Colburn comes to town to give us the rundown of her 12-year filmmaking career. Opting for fast-paced, jangly homemade collage animations rather than soulless slick computer fare, these look like the Sergeant Pepper's album cover come to life and gone to hell.
The Tailenders (Sat April 29)—Adele Horne's documentary, filmed in some of the most remote corners of the globe and recently screened at MoMA, follows a California missionary organization with an impressively bizarre method of proselytizing. Gospel Recordings has captured the word of Jesus in over 5,500 different languages, and records them onto ultra-lo-fi, hand-cranked playback devices, which they airdrop over remote jungles. Things only get more disturbing from there.
The Other Side (Sun April 30)—Texas filmmaker Bill Brown's road trip movies combine the deliberate, "look harder" pace of James Benning's films with the "normal people" poignancy of This American Life. The Other Side finds Brown exploring the US/Mexico border, and his wandering discoveries are both haunting and touching.
This is just a taste of what to expect from the PDX Film Fest; for a complete rundown, hit peripheralproduce.com, or check the Mercury's Film Shorts next week.