Portlanders have quite a smorgasbord of film festivals to choose from each year: Northwest Film Center offerings, the Portland International Short Short (PISS, get it?) Festival, the Cascade Festival of African Films, Jewish Film Fest, the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and WW's own recently completed Longbaugh, to name a few. Even fanatical moviegoers can be forgiven for not always keeping up.

Still, missing this weekend's Portland Documentary and eXperimental (PDX) Film Festival would be a big mistake. Now in its third year, the fest has blossomed from the Peripheral Produce screening series into a one-weekend blowout. And for those accustomed to the multiplex, don't let terms like "experimental" scare you away. PDX founder-curator Matt McCormick boasts an exceptional talent for programming shows that are provocative one moment and hilarious the next.

Now that the PDX Film Fest has some momentum, McCormick has become an enabler as much as an impresario. "In past years it's been about my searching for good films," he says, "but this year we've had so many good submissions that it's just a matter of picking and choosing the best ones."

Take Pornographic Apathetic (10:15 pm Friday), one of this year's entries: It achieves both stinging commentary and big laughs in just five minutes' runtime. The script is archetypal pornography, with a pizza delivery guy who brings more than a hot pie to some very...uh, hungry women. But the dialogue is deliberately delivered as woodenly as possible by a group of fully dressed actors sitting around a conference-room table. The absurdity level reached is meteoric. Screening in the same program is Afterlifers: The Half Lifers, an imaginatively droll (if slightly overlong) video in which two zombies double as talk-show hosts (kind of reminds me of Charlie Rose).

This year's PDX Fest also includes an appearance and accompanying screening from New York filmmaker Jem Cohen, who's best known for his feature-length music documentaries Benjamin Smoke and Instrument but whose travelogues--a blend of experimental, documentary and personal narrative--may be even more captivating. Lost Book Found combines more than five years of filming on New York City's streets, while Chain, a new film that follows two women, an executive and a drifter, around the world in what the filmmaker calls a "super landscape." Cohen will also screen his 1997 portrait of Elliott Smith, Lucky Three, which makes a fitting adieu to the late Portland musician (all three screening at 8 pm Friday).

As always, the real highlight of the PDX Film Fest is the Peripheral Produce Invitational (9 pm Saturday), cheekily dubbed the "world championship of experimental cinema," for which gifted filmmakers such as Andrew Dickson, Nick Peterson, Melody Owen, Morgan Currie, Zac Margolis and Rob Tyler have created new works to compete for the top prize. If past winners Vanessa Renwick's Crowdog and Trevor Fife's Meridian Days (as well as some of the losing efforts) are any indication, we're going to be treated to some fabulous movies. Even in a city that thrives on alternatives to Hollywood, the PDX Film Fest remains a cherished home for unpredictable, captivating underground fare.

PDX Film Festival

Guild Theatre, 829 SW 9th Ave., 221-1156. Thursday-Sunday, April 15-18. $6-$7.

For complete schedule, go to www.peripheralproduce.com