Well, it isn’t fun to go outside anymore. The time of year when the Pacific Northwest’s gorgeous wilderness can be explored has ended. All those places are now underwater. So what else is this area of the country good for? That’s easy: We have a ton of filmmakers making good films!
The NW Film Center’s annual Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival is the longest running film fest in the Pacific Northwest (the baby-faced Portland International Film Festival is only 40, and its big brother to the north, the Seattle International Film Festival, is 43). Now in its 44th year, the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival is still going strong, thanks to a wealth of interesting, well-curated selections.
This year’s NWFF leans hard towards documentary—out of the 16 films playing, seven are docs. Since the world is falling apart, this year’s focus on personal histories, social justice, and small communities feels appropriate: Unlike most fictional narratives (and definitely unlike the news), documentaries can offer fresh perspectives and new information, but still provide a check-out from our immediate reality.
Cornelius Swart’s Priced Out comes in at the top of my recommendations: A longtime reporter, Swart’s film assembles a wealth of information about the history of gentrification in the Black neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland. It’s as fascinating to watch as it is devastating to comprehend.
Cornelius Swart’s Priced Out (screening Wed Nov 1) comes in at the top of my recommendations: A longtime reporter, Swart’s film assembles a wealth of information about the history of gentrification in the Black neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland. Priced Out is a follow-up to a documentary Swart co-produced in 2002, NorthEast Passage, whose central figure, Nikki Williams, spoke in favor of gentrification; Priced Out juxtaposes Williams’ perspective with the recent developments that have turned several Portland neighborhoods into playgrounds for white newcomers. It’s as fascinating to watch as it is devastating to comprehend.
Another doc worth catching: Pow Wow (Wed Nov 1), the latest from Zoo director Robinson Devor. Pow Wow examines the wildly divergent viewpoints of the inhabitants of Coachella Valley and Palm Springs, from the indigenous peoples to country club partiers. The display of human nearsightedness in this thing is bonkers, and I’d love to know how Devor got these people to film them in these situations. In addition to capturing a few gawkable train-wreck moments, Sean Kirby’s surreal, ostentatiously beautiful cinematography allows Pow Wow to approach the territory of a visual poem without losing its purpose.
Of the narrative films, Gregory Bayne’s 6 Dynamic Laws for Success in Life, Love & Money (Fri Nov 3) is being sold as a film that channels the Coen brothers—which makes sense, particularly if you think of the Coen brothers films that revolve around less-than-great schemes of everyday men. In 6 Dynamic Laws, the scheme is to follow a code in a self-help book and find some hidden loot. Travis Swartz plays bumbling door-to-door salesman Ulysses, but Jennifer Lafleur steals the show as bankrobber Norma Seville—working out her mystery is the reason to stick around.
There’s plenty more, but one of the shorts programs, “Shorts II: Alliances” (Fri Nov 3), deserves extra attention. One of its included shorts, Tristan Seniuk and Voleak Sip’s Float, is about a Cambodian hustler in 1990s Seattle, and really doesn’t go where I thought it was going to; another, the lo-fi, animated A Mew Hope, stars cats that are also spaceships and also features a Death Star that is a pug’s head. This weekend, A Mew Hope serves to lighten up a regional film festival. In the future, it’s hard to imagine it won’t go viral on YouTube.