If there were an award for Most Memorable Opening Sequence at this year's Portland Film Festival, it would go to Boone, a gritty documentary about a struggling goat farm in Southern Oregon's Applegate Valley. In the dark of night, we see a man with a flashlight walk into a barn. The beam finds a goat peeing, two more mid-coitus, then finally its target: a doe in labor. The farmer pulls the kid out with his bare hands in a steaming pile of placenta and umbilical cord.
Don't worry, gory animal birth is not a running theme for the 2016 Portland Film Festival, which kicks off this week. But four years in, you can certainly expect to find the work of filmmakers who take cinematic risks.
Portland's film scene has always been driven more by auteurs and independent filmmakers than big-studio genre vehicles, and when Josh Leake launched the PFF in 2012, the point was to give big screen time to indie projects.
For eight days, the festival takes over the Laurelhurst Theater with film screenings, workshops and industry parties. Not to be confused with the Portland International Film Festival, which went uncontested as the city's biggest festival for years, PFF runs 54 feature-length and 89 short films from directors such as Ned Crowley, Dorie Barton and Laura Plancarte. This year, nearly half the filmmakers are women, and many identify as LGBTQ.
Along with Boone, PFF will feature two other full-length films by Portland directors, including the documentary Yesterday Was Everything and the "sci-fi-action-adventure-comedy" Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time. All three were accepted out of the pool of 3,800-plus unsolicited applications.
Boone director Christopher LaMarca, a native New Yorker, spent two years on the farm living with three farmers and their goats. "Once I stepped foot on that farm," says LaMarca, "I was like, 'Holy shit, who lives like this anymore?'"
Boone premiered at South by Southwest this year, and has gained traction on the festival circuit for its artful cinematography and contemplative tone. LaMarca says he wanted to get past the twee farmer's-market-stand vision of how local food gets made and get straight to the grim realities of a struggling farm.
Yesterday Was Everything is equally brutal at times. It centers on the brawling mosh pits and grungy basement venues that make up the Wisconsin metal scene. When the band Misery Signals gets back together for a 10-year reunion tour, tension among its members becomes palpable. The lead singer's obsessive tendencies strain the group, and the ghosts of friends whose lives were lost in a tragic car accident come back to haunt the musicians' thoughts.
Local director Matthew Mixon followed the band on tour, and then went to great lengths to contact members of bands and their fans to find archival footage. In a post on the band's website, Mixon writes, "It's a love letter to the [metal music] scene many of us grew up in."
On the opposite side of the filmmaking galaxy is Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time. High-school friends Rob Taylor and Nic Costa combine Gremlin-like goblin puppets and DIY CGI blimp explosions with Taylor playing the parts of both hero (Neil Stryker) and villain (the Mad Scientist). Think live-action cartoon for adults.
Taylor and Costa shot the majority this film over the course of a decade in an improvised studio they constructed in a barn on Taylor's parents' property near Oregon City. Self-described Comic-Con fans, the duo managed to get David Ogden Stiers (Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H) and Walter Koenig (Ensign Chekov from Star Trek) to join the cast.
No one could accuse these artists of selling out to the studios.