In a town up to its elbows in highly specialized film festivals (want to see a movie about a zombie riding a bicycle? Portland can get you a movie about a zombie riding a bicycle), the NW Film Center's fall classic remains vital and refreshing because its sole theme is regionally made cinema. This year's roster includes some features WW has previously praised (Lance Bangs' Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak and Jan Haaken's Guilty Except for Insanity), but in this space we're concentrating on the premieres. They're a mixed bag. But at least that bag is woven locally.
67 The festival-kickoff program, packed with most of the judge's picks, is the fastest way to assay the annual state of local filmmaking. Judging from this year's crop, the state is bleary and sodden: There are a lot of promising ideas (Brian Libby's Crossings repurposes the Fremont Bridge as Portland's answer to Space Mountain; Laurel Degutis overhears snippets from a marriage in Landscapes) but the soundtracks and edits need a shot of espresso to cut through the ambient fuzz. But the slate also includes the fest's true find: Nathaniel Bennett, a kid from Medford whose 25-minute bigfoot-search comedy The True Believers evokes the debuts of David Gordon Green and Wes Anderson. Bennett's work may be a little too obviously derivative, but he has the strongest, most organic Oregon directorial voice since Matt McCormick. (The True Believers features kittens named Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.) He's getting a business degree, but somebody ought to finance his next film. AARON MESH. 7 pm Friday and Wednesday, Nov. 5 and 10.
55 Social injustice as supernatural horror? Nothing novel, but handled with noteworthy panache by two filmmakers in this lineup. In Savage, British Columbian director Lisa Jackson turns the lament of a heartbroken Native American mother into an operatic aria—and then adds a coda at a government school, where the students perform an undead-can-dance number out of the "Thriller" video. Closer to home, Elijah M. Hasan is trying to scratch out some inscrutable message about charity and fate with Coined, but his success is technical: using stop-motion footage to create a hooded Death skittering across the Portland waterfront. AARON MESH. 7 pm Saturday and 8:45 pm Thursday, Nov. 6 and 11.
Shot on Blood
39 Oliver Hockenhull's digressive meditation on the technology that makes image-making possible peaks early, when Hockenhull (heard, never seen) centrifuges his own blood to extract cells that will become film emulsion when dyed red, blue and green (he was too sheepish to steal blood from a camel, he explains). A pretty thrilling conceptual parry, but it leads nowhere, or as close to nowhere as I care to go: Hockenhull and his female partner-in-narration ramble about Vermeer, Poincaré and electricity over a digital collage of morphing shapes and shifting colors that never attains the abstract transcendence it seems to be stumbling toward. CHRIS STAMM. Screens with Modern Views: A Conversation on Northwest Modern Architecture at 7 pm Monday, Nov. 8.
55 Too many of Bummer Summer's static long takes and mumbled dialogues merely duplicate the ennui and listlessness with which its young adults are terminally afflicted, but when Olympia director Zach Weintraub (who also co-stars) shoos his callow band of layabouts out of back seats and bedrooms and into the world, this modest study of post-adolescent malingering briefly sings. Weintraub and director of photography Nandan Rao nail the Northwest's dolorous beauty, and like the bummed summer drifters in the film, these young filmmakers might do great things one day—they just need to leave the house more often. CHRIS STAMM. 7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 9.
Dead Hooker in a Trunk
54 You've got sexy twins, a cowboy pimp, chainsaw-wielding Chinese gangsters, guns, sex, drugs, butt rock and, of course, an expired prostitute in a trunk. What else does Dead Hooker in a Trunk need? A consistent tone. Sometimes Dead Hooker is a cartoonish romp where severed limbs need only a stitch job to become functional. But Vancouver, B.C.-based directors and stars Jen and Sylvia Soska wedge in an awkward romance, and the violence hammered into the women becomes all too real as the tone shifts to a weird place between Scooby Doo and The Doom Generation. It's like eight movies rolled into one. One dead-hooker movie would have sufficed. AP KRYZA. 9 pm Friday, Nov. 12.
67 With Stuff, Portland filmmaker Lawrence Johnson turns the camera on himself, using the death of his father and waning health of his mother to examine the baggage—real, physical baggage—between parents and children. Down on his luck and transferring his father's belongings between storage units, Johnson's examination of his family dynamics and his own personal struggles represent filmmaking at its most personal, which to the outsider can feel like reading somebody else's diary. The predicament of any film on such a universally introspective topic is that viewers are bound to tune out of Johnson's story as their own memories surface. AP KRYZA. 3 pm Saturday, Nov. 13.
73 Vernon Lott was once a lousy poet. (Sample line: "'This cannot be the love that I once cradled,' I exclaim as lost children beg for the only facet I now possess.") But he's turned out to be a pretty solid filmmaker. A grad student in Lewiston, Idaho, Lott carts his poems—a canon of meretricious Beat nonsense from his 20s—to writers like David Sedaris and Margaret Atwood, who talk about their own worst output. Navel-gazing is an unfortunate theme of much of this year's festival, but Lott also goes rooting in other people's navels, and he makes pleasant shapes out of the collective lint. AARON MESH. 5 pm Saturday, Nov. 13.
The Adults in the Room
48 In certain Portland circles, Andy Blubaugh's autobiographical docudrama is one of the most anticipated premieres of the year; WW proclaimed Blubaugh the city's filmmaker to know in 2010. The director has put much care into re-creating his teenage affair with a man twice his age, and he may in fact have kneaded all the leaven out of his story—the picture is about as inert as a movie where a 15-year-old boy offers a 30-year-old man a blow job can be. It stalls in the extensive meta-sexual scenes where Blubaugh consults with various writers and critics about his uncertainty over what his experience means, and whether it has anything to do with Sam Adams, and what his movie should say. Nobody gives him the proper advice: Stop dithering, and tell your story. AARON MESH. 7 pm Saturday, Nov. 13.
All Northwest Film and Video Festival screenings take place at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. For a full schedule, visit nwfilm.org.