IT'S OFTEN ASSUMED, perhaps unfairly, that a region's cities will dominate its film festivals. And while Seattle and Portland have strong filmmaking scenes and no lack of outside attention, it's not really their aesthetic that commands this year's Northwest Filmmakers' Festival.
In its scope of submissions, the NW Film Center's festival is unchanged: Entries come from Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, and Montana, as well as Oregon and Washington. But films created and based in the more rural areas of our region set the tone for this year's programming, including strong Native American perspectives and an emboldened ecological bent. In part we have this year's festival judge to thank for this—photographer Christopher Rauschenberg of Blue Sky Gallery chose this year's collection of short films—but it's also an indication that stories from once-ignored parts of the Northwest are finding stronger voices. Fitting, then, that the festival also functions as an opportunity for aspiring filmmakers, with a BarCamp-style "un-conference," accessibly priced workshops, and more.
That said, my picks for most impressive short films come from the cities: Vancouver, BC's Marshall Axani offers a wonderful, steam-punk animated study of post-apocalyptic doctor's office paranoia with Anxious Oswald Greene, while Portland animator Mike A. Smith hits a darkly humorous note with Cooped. In the experimental category, Portland artist Vanessa Renwick's footage of the Chapman swifts set to a score by Sam Coomes, Layover, is absolutely magnetic.
In features, documentaries dominate, particularly the calm, articulate Return of the River, which follows the fate of Washington's Elwha River, and the satisfying, if by-the-book, The Winding Stream, a thorough portrait of the original Carter Family (from our neighbor Beth Harrington of Vancouver, Washington). Dramatically, Bella Vista is a quiet, melancholy portrait of lonely newcomers in Missoula, who find solace in their breathtaking environs even as they struggle to connect with other people.
In some years of this festival there are films that come with a certain amount of glitz and hype. This isn't really one of those years, which is not to say that it isn't worthwhile. Just think of it as a quiet, affirming walk in the woods that is your own backyard.