From a converted firehouse overlooking the shipyards of North Portland, Matt McCormick's grungy studio has become the launching pad for perhaps the most celebrated new underground film festival in the country.

Marking its second year with an expanded slate of screenings at Cinema 21, the Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival was born from the Peripheral Produce series, which over the past five years has exhibited a host of vibrant, offbeat works drawn from artists' works McCormick saw while touring with his own award-winning films. But this is a much bigger affair.

For the PDX Film Fest, McCormick received more than 300 entries, selecting about 25 for screening, based both on quality and on their compatibility with the spirit of Peripheral Produce. "There was a lot of great stuff that we rejected," he says. "I had to learn to say no to people for the first time."

The highlight of PDX is Saturday's Peripheral Produce Invitational, cheekily dubbed the "World Championship of Experimental Cinema," in which local filmmakers Miranda July, Johnne Eschleman, Vanessa Renwick (last year's winner) and others will compete against gifted out-of-towners like Sandra Gibson of New York and Naomi Uman of Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the rest of the weekend brings some unfamiliar names likely to gain notoriety soon. John Walter's How to Draw a Bunny, which McCormick's Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal opened for at the Sundance Film Festival, is a feature-length documentary about underappreciated pop and performance artist Ray Johnson. In Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story, Garrett Scott chronicles the 1995 hijacking of a tank by a disgruntled San Diego plumber. In Uman's clever Removed, naked women have been bleached out of old pornos. Andt the Machine Works gallery, Renwick and Bill Daniel have curated Beamsplitters, featuring video and other installation art. Of particular note is Thad Povey, who projects old footage of sailing ships into bottles.

"This is the freshest crop of work we've shown here in a long time," says McCormick, "not only nationally but locally. There's a few people from around here I had no idea were making films; they dropped some tape to me that was incredible."

Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival
Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., 223-4515. Friday-Sunday, Dec. 13-15.


Machine Works, 1115 NW 14th Ave. 7-11 pm Thursday, noon-4 pm Saturday, Dec. 12 and 14.