Quick! Name a director from the Pacific Northwest.
You know you're going to say Gus Van Sant. Even if you hate My Own Private Idaho (hell, I kinda do), his is too often the only name that comes to mind. That sucks.
Portland is obsessed with homegrown products. We won't eat honey that didn't come from our 'hoods. We'll shun a SoCal band because we can't hear them practicing as we walk through our neighborhoods. We'll snub a Boston brew because it wasn't made with Cascade hops.
But when it comes to films, people approach with caution. Can you blame them? Who hasn't been duped by an arty friend into sitting through a documentary about urban goats? Or a drama about a down-on-his-luck poet whining about the girl who got away? Amateur film can be boring. It can be masturbatory. It can be like pouring rubbing alcohol into your eyes.
But all the greats have to start somewhere, and for the past 40 years, names-to-watch have made their debut at the NW Film Center's Northwest Filmmakers' Festival, which begins its nine-day run Friday.
This year's roster is full of unfamiliar names. But skim a list of past contributors and you'll see then-unknowns who became powerhouses, including Van Sant, Alien Boy director Brian Lindstrom, documentary master Ivy Lin, animators Bill Plympton and Will Vinton, and âTwisted Twinsâ Jen and Sylvia Soska, whose Dead Hooker in a Trunk led to 2012âs cult horror hit American Mary.
"People think because it's a regional festival, the work isn't going to be world-class," says festival director Thomas Phillipson.
But here's the thing: The Northwest Filmmakers' Fest is like every other film fest. There are great entries this year, including Eden, a thriller about sex trafficking inspired by true events (7 pm Sunday, Nov. 10). There's Barzan, a documentary offering a first-person account of post-9/11 xenophobia (2 pm Sunday, Nov. 10), and All the Labor, which does the unthinkable in humanizing a hippie jam band (8:30 pm Saturday, Nov. 16).
And, of course, there are duds. Take Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicine (7 pm Thursday, Nov. 14), a documentary so over-stylized it looks like Michael Bay handled the post-production. Or Hawaiian Punch (8:30 pm Monday, Nov. 11), which features a lot of staring and pensive gazing and makes mumblecore seem like Lethal Weapon.
But approach it as you would any fest, carefully selecting the pictures that appeal to you, and who knows: There might be a future Van Sant out there, some unknown who will become an indie darling and then, inexplicably, remake Shadow of a Doubt.
Plus, in a town that beats its chest supporting local art, it'd be refreshing to extend your local film experience beyond DVR'ing Grimm. Multiple venues. Nov. 8-16. See nwfilm.org for a full schedule.
- Nowadays, Emilio Estevez is about as punk as oatmeal. Back in 1984, though, he was punk as fuck in Alex Coxâs Repo Man, which starts with car theft and UFOs and only gets weirder. Academy. Nov. 8-14.
- Is Citizen Kane the greatest movie ever made? Nope. Point Break is. But what Orson Wellesâ film lacks in bank robberies, buddy cops, skydiving and rampant homoeroticism it makes up for in being a timeless study of the nightmare lurking in the American dream. Laurelhurst. Nov. 8-14.
- Five Easy Pieces doesnât just feature Jack Nicholsonâs brilliant performance as a confused young trust-funder. It also includes the greatest instructional speech on ordering toast ever. Fifth Avenue Cinema. 7 and 9:30 pm Friday-Saturday and 3 pm Sunday, Nov 8-10.
- Whatâs the weirdest movie youâve ever seen? Does it involve space warriors and a cosmic Jesus trying to possess a little girl and a hawk? Does it star Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah and Shelly Winters? Didnât think so. You must see The Visitor to believe it even exists. Hollywood Theatre. Friday-Saturday, Nov 8-9.
- Hitchcockâs Strangers on a Train introduced the murder-swap plot that was essential to Throw Momma From the Train and every other episode of Dateline. Six decades later, it remains unnerving. Hollywood Theatre, 2 pm Saturday-Sunday, Nov 9-10.
- Like Kramer vs. Kramer, but with more arm rasslinâ and less courtroom drama, Sylvester Stalloneâs truck-drivinâ opus Over the Top deserves its place at Hecklevision. Hollywood Theatre. 7 pm Saturday, Nov 9.
- The Kung Fu Theater series remains the Hollywoodâs rowdiest event, and this month features the Sammo Hung-starring classic The Prodigal Son. Hollywood Theatre. 7 pm Tuesday, Nov 11.