"Let it Out" is the theme of this year's NW Film & Video Festival, now in its 35th year. With the stresses of trying times, it's a welcome premise—an invitation to use creative channels to express one's perspective in this increasingly worrisome world. And the filmmakers who answered the Northwest Film Center's call—all of whom come from a loosely defined Northwest region that includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, and British Columbia—have brought with them an appropriately diverse collection of films, from two-minute shorts to two-hour features on topics as broad as the plight of soldiers returning home from Iraq to documenting how many pieces of gum you can stuff in your mouth until the giant wad makes you spit, gag, and eventually puke.
Each year, an accomplished individual working within the film industry is chosen to help curate the festival. Past judges have included critic Amy Taubin, producer Christine Vachon, filmmakers Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes, and cartoonists Matt Groening and Bill Plympton. This year, director Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy) has taken up the reins, and the festival will include a screening of her latest, Wendy and Lucy, starring Michelle Williams, which wasn't screened for critics.
Much of the festival is devoted to collections of short films, divided into three programs, and spanning the gamut from atmospheric ephemera to animation and short documentary. Some standouts are Margot Quan Knight's Portrait of a Woman 1947-2007, which chronologically compiles an entire lifetime of photographs of its subject; Nickel and Dimin' it with Buddy, in which documentarian Tomas Soderberg walks a mile alongside a man living on Portland's streets; Andrew Blubaugh's The Pull, a story of what happens when a romantic relationship is given an expiration date at the outset; and Jamie Marie Waelchli's Little Pleasures, the aforementioned gum-stuffing demonstration that walks the line between excruciating and hilarious in its exploration of how excess can transform that which gives us pleasure into that which can harm us (and make us hurl and drool).
In addition to Wendy and Lucy, the festival also presents some notable feature films, several of which delve into specific, significant areas of Portland's culture and history. Mania (Dan Schaefer) documents the history of the Portland Trail Blazers from its inception in the mind of Harry Glickman to the present, and Pig Roast & Tank of Fish (Ivy Lin) gives a detailed account of the history of this city's Chinatown, once the second largest in the nation, which has since been in decline but is now the subject of many plans for revitalization. Also showing is the feature film premiere from the Pander Brothers, Selfless, a gorgeously shot (if formulaic) thriller about a successful architect's disastrous encounter with identity theft that takes place in Portland and Seattle, set to a soundtrack contributed to by locals like the Dandy Warhols and Storm Large. She's a Boy I Knew (Gwen Haworth) is an amazing, personal documentary about male-to-female transitioning and the effect it has on even the most open-minded friends and relatives.
In addition to the screenings, the festival offers events for budding filmmakers to network and glean advice on their work. In addition to the opening night party at the Cleaners, one of the most promising happenings is "What's Wrong with This Picture?" at which witty Seattle film whiz Warren Etheredge will candidly critique festival submissions that didn't make the cut.