AS THE DOOR between the outside world and the Pacific Northwest widens, the potential for accomplishment (or catastrophe, depending on whom you ask) is almost limitless. In the realm of film and television, progress is already apparent—just ask any Portlander who works on sets how their job opportunities compare with those of a decade ago. But while these may be boom times for growth in the industry, let's not forget this region's long history of filmmaking—as evidenced by the annual Northwest Filmmakers' Festival, now in its 42nd year.
A festival like this is essential for the filmgoer who takes pride in our creative geographic turf (which, in this case, also claims Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, and Washington), but who might not have the time or fortitude to struggle through the underground to find the gems. To help out, the NW Film Center's fest calls upon a professional in the field—this year it's Steve Anker of CalArts' School of Film and Video—to curate the best efforts across all categories, from absurd and experimental short films, to weighty documentaries, to feature-length movies of all genres.
The fest is also one of the best opportunities for those working in any realm of the film world to network, with a new-this-year Northwest Filmmakers' Expo (a trade show-like presentation of state-of-the-art equipment and professional services); the annual "un-conference," in which participants set the course for discussions; an opening night party; and the often brilliant "What's Wrong with this Picture?" in which Seattle film guru Warren Etheredge wades through some of the films that didn't make it into the festival, pointing out flaws with one part humor and two parts constructive criticism.
As always, the fest offers several programs of short films—which, for those wanting to get a read on what Pacific Northwest filmmakers are up to, can't be recommended enough. Among the feature-length entries, standouts include Olympia's Slackjaw, a charmingly absurd look at an amiable beardo who decides to straddle the line between his radically minded, anti-corporate milieu and the creepy world of shady multinationals. Director Zach Weintraub's ability to knowingly capture the human absurdity of both hipster dancing and bro culture elevates this lightweight social commentary.
On the other end of the spectrum, Arresting Power: Resisting Police Violence in Portland, Oregon should be mandatory viewing for all citizens of this city, especially those only foggily aware of its history of racial struggle. Including historical footage of Portland's Black Panthers, harrowing interviews with victims of local police violence and family members of those slain, along with insights from community leaders like Walidah Imarisha, Dan Handelman, and Kristian Williams, it makes up for uneven production quality by executing a concise, urgent overview of the events that brought us to the present.
Meanwhile, Missoula's Andy Smetanka takes a completely different approach to the documentary with And We Were Young. Using actors to voice the testimony of American soldiers who served in France during the final days of WWI, the visuals are portrayed by puppets immaculately cut from black paper and filmed on Super 8—impressive both for its smoldering beauty and labor-intensiveness. And Portland director Ian Berry's observant documentary Make Mine Country, about the counterintuitive popularity of American country music in Saint Lucia, makes its return to a local screen with a free screening at the new Skype Live Studio space.
Whether the Pacific Northwest is your new or old home, there's no denying that its lively creative scene provides much of its appeal. And as this year's Northwest Filmmakers' Fest proves, there's no time like the present to engage with what's burbling up from the underground—because all indications suggest things are only getting better.