IT'S NOT CALLED the Northwest Film Festival. Portland's annual, regional (meaning Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia, Alaska, and Montana) showcase of film has made a point of existing as much, if not more, for the sake of filmmakers as for audiences. Thus, we have the Northwest Filmmakers' Festival, now in its 40th year.
That's not to say the festival's aim is to alienate: Offerings represent a huge span of genres, and each year, the films are chosen by a guest curator who knows what they're doing (this year, it's Mike Plante, Senior Shorts Programmer for the Sundance Film Festival). But underneath the surface of daily screenings, there's more going on, with filmmakers networking and advising each other via a schedule of panels and a self-directed "Un-Conference," including Seattle film guru Warren Etheredge's dissection of films that weren't accepted into the festival.
These events are free and open, but easy to bypass if you simply want to get a sense of the filmmaking happening in the area. Documentaries are always a fruitful place to start, and if you see just one make it Neurons to Nirvana, which makes a compelling case for the legalization of substances like ayahuasca and MDMA. In the feature realm, any young person in Portland should see City Baby, a character study that puts its finger on the time and place we're living in. But perhaps the best way to tap in is with one of the festival's shorts programs, where you get a diversity of bite-sized experiences.
Portland's particularly well represented this year (in the past, we've sometimes been dominated, in both number and quality, by Seattle and Vancouver, BC), so if you're looking for an introduction to what's coming out of this active scene, here's your chance—whether or not you want to dive into the inner workings is up to you.