Instead of the usual mid-life displays of sports car and trophy companion, the NW Film Center's regional festival is celebrating its 38th year with a name change (it was the Northwest Film & Video Festival) and an ad campaign trumpeting its status as fertile ground for fresh talents. Also, it has taken an interest in binge drinking. The youthful indiscretion is earned: Even with encore screenings of work by the usual suspects—Gus Van Sant, Matt McCormick, Irene Taylor Brodsky—there is still more new material than we have space to consider. Here's looking at you, kids.
65 The festival's opening-night program is spasmodic in more ways than one: There's an overemphasis on herky-jerky stop-motion animation, and few of the selections are fully realized. The best by a country mile is Basin, David Geiss' ominous, wordless travelogue of Alberta's oil sands. Images of factories shooting flames into the sky make Canada look like Mordor. Almost as fascinating is Mt. Parnassus, which tours a 727 jet plane turned into a rural Washington County house (in one absurd shot, the owner sweeps snow out the hatch door). The longer, dramatic features don't resonate as deeply, and the overwhelming memory from this omnibus is of all that skittering stop-motion: Unspooling cassette tapes in Strands, screen prints in Old-Time Film, and typewriters with H.R. Geiger tendencies in Meta Aberratio. AARON MESH. 7 pm Friday and Wednesday, Nov. 11 & 16.
70 So much odd stuff happens across these nine short films—an animatronic Abraham Lincoln reciting the Gettysburg Address as the universe implodes around him (The Gr8 Task Remaining B4 Us); two dudes digging holes and humping trees while making increasingly feral noises (With You)—that the few reprieves from experimentalism startle with their simplicity. Kosmos, by Portland director Fantavious Fritz, features avant-garde visual flourishes but swoons with energy from its story of a skateboarder "chasing the horizon." Vanessa Renwick's Mighty Tacoma is nine minutes of meditative wordless imagery juxtaposing industry and the natural world in the titular port city. Best—and most straightforward—of all is Cameron's Books, a six-minute documentary on the downtown Portland second-hand bookstore that has the tenor of a nature program capturing a creature in the wild just before its species goes extinct. MATTHEW SINGER. 7 pm Saturday and Friday, Nov. 12 & 18.
49 "If you're shovelin' shit all day, we suggest you change some shit." That's the tagline pinned to the end of writer-director Travis Swartz's Nobody Cares, a comedy about a middle-aged Idaho man named Bob (Chris Thometz) who literally shovels manure for a living and whose life hasn't registered a blip on anyone's radar. Bob is a decent person who inhabits a world in which everyone else—his wife, his parents, his therapist—is an asshole of cartoonish proportions. He is also a coward. He is such an interminable pussy that even after discovering he only has days left to live, he continues going to his (ahem) shitty job and (ahem) taking shit from the 23-year-old kid who stole his promotion. It's meant to be a farce, but Swartz piles the crap (ahem) so high onto Bob's existence that only a Falling Down-style rampage would feel satisfying. Spoiler alert: It doesn't happen. MATTHEW SINGER. 7 pm Sunday, Nov. 13.
79 Do the Pacific Northwest's most talented directors live in Lewiston, Idaho? It remains a mystery. Jennifer Anderson and Vernon Lott submitted one of the stronger documentaries in last year's festival, Bad Writing, and the husband-wife team returns this year with an even stronger, tauter work. In just 53 unnerving minutes, Confluence traces a sinister route through the disappearances of four young women into the scrubland at the mouth of Hell's Canyon between 1979 and 1982. (Parts of three of them were found.) With a constant and only slightly pushy score by Peter Broderick backing choked-up interviews and shallow-focus montages of the dusty main streets where victims were last seen, the film feels like David Lynch directed an episode of Friday Night Lights. My only qualm is with the last 10 minutes, when Anderson and Lott take aim at the most likely suspect and, failing to obtain a Thin Blue Line-style revelation, skirt the borders of defaming him. The case, like their potential, is still open. AARON MESH. 7 pm Monday, Nov. 14.
Heart Breaks Open
38 When nights spent fucking dudes behind his boyfriend's back result in HIV, LGBTQ activist Jesus (pronounced like the messiah, not a Puerto Rican baseball player, and played by Maximillian Davis) gets all Cleo from 5 to 7 on the streets of Seattle, scribbling poetry and longing for the man he once loved. After a suicide attempt, he's rescued by an HIV-positive "glitter nun" (Brian Peters) who looks like a kabuki outcast from Darcelle's. The two weep, hit the clubs, wax philosophical and…that's about it. Still, director Billie Rain manages to overcomplicate a compellingly sparse examination of friendship amid fear by littering the decidedly unconventional story with every cliché imaginable, from the use of pseudo-documentary camerawork to pretentious voiceover poetry by the protagonist, complete with montages of him scribbling in a notebook. Jesus, man! Can't we just tell a solid story without the freshman film-student tropes? AP KRYZA. 8:45 pm Tuesday, Nov. 15.
Faded: Girls + Binge Drinking
70 Like an episode of Intervention without the pesky intervention part, Portland documentarian Janet McIntyre's Faded: Girls + Binge Drinking attempts to dissect the causes of destructive shit-facery among girls by spending three years with four Portland women in various stages of alcohol use. There's the wild Rose City Roller and Sandy Hut bartendress in denial of her self-destructive persona, an Indonesian immigrant who flies off the handle and into homelessness, a struggling Parkrose student coping with abandonment and a precocious college freshman plunged into the world of college partying. McIntyre offers hypotheses about female binge drinking—from societal pressure to sexual acceptance—without ascending the pulpit. By simply letting her camera roll, McIntyre offers a stark snapshot of a multi-layered problem many dismiss as youthful revelry. The film is appropriately paired with Portlander Brian Lindstrom's Teens in Drug Treatment, a documentary focused on…yup. But in Texas. AP KRYZA. 7 pm Thursday, Nov. 17.