Nine years ago, Matt McCormick launched the Peripheral Produce screening series by showing hand-picked experimental films in various Portland punk music clubs. That DIY filmmaking attitude is still part of what has become the Portland Documentary and eXperimental (PDX) Film Festival, now entering its third year. At this year's festival, film lovers can still count on seeing more of the non-narrative, abstract films on which the festival has built its reputation, but the lineup's 81 shorts and seven features collectively are more accessible, slapdash fun than solemn high art-subversion with a smile, you might say.
The opening-night film, Pedro Carvajal's documentary feature Popaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English (7:30 pm Wednesday), is an ideal torchbearer. A successful Pop Art painter, English also fashions himself a "billboard liberator," making and posting his own uproarious anti-corporate billboard advertisements without permission. (Yes, he has been arrested several times.) In a fake Camel cigarette ad, a baby Joe Camel is shown lighting up while still wearing diapers, and another bogus ad, this time for McDonald's, features a grotesquely obese Ronald McDonald.
Another screening, curated by the local Cinema Project, boasts the West Coast premiere of new works by David Gatten and Peter Hutton, who are known as older-guard experimental filmmakers. Both films are slower and more conceptual than what multiplex-goers might be used to, but still mesmerizing. Gatten's The Great Art of Knowing (9:30 pm Thursday) chronicles an 18th-century
Virginia family through its private library, showing off novels, advertisements and diaries, including one by a suicidal female ancestor). The flick would be dreary if not for Gatten's astonishingly detailed and textured renderings of pages and binding. Hutton's silent films depict urban and natural landscapes, delightfully meditative work once viewers get used to the languid pace and lack of sound. His latest, a mouthful called Skagafjordur (which screens on Thursday immediately following The Great Art of Knowing), focuses on northern Iceland's terrain of lava and ice.
The festival's marquee event is the Peripheral Produce Invitational (9 pm Saturday), an annual competition in which the audience votes on a winner. Because all filmmakers must be present to compete, the whole event boasts a Vaudevillian sense of amusement. Last year's winner was a slideshow by local artist Vladimir (no last name-kind of like Jackée), who loaned out some 400 View-Masters to the audience (they had to be given back afterward) for viewing her cheekily narrated biography of a cockroach. Vladimir has since gained notoriety for her unique handmade View-Master shows, and she'll be back this year to defend the invitational crown against a lineup of national filmmakers, like San Francisco native Bryan Boyce and Chicago's Deborah Stratman, as well as local talents like Andy Blubaugh.
The festival closes with performance artist Miranda July's feature-film debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know (8 pm Sunday, see David Walker's review, below), which won a special jury prize at Sundance for "originality of vision." That July's work is closing the festival seems fitting, considering that she was showing shorts nine years ago at those original Peripheral Produce screenings. The PDX fest, like its parent series, remains a mom-and-pop fruit stand when compared to Hollywood's corporate supermarket. Viewers can expect more pits and worms when watching work from the experimental film crowd, but the flavors still seem stronger and more memorable here.
One of the big hits at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Me and You and Everyone We Know marks the impressive feature-film debut of multimedia artist and former Portlander Miranda July (above). Crafting a character-driven ensemble piece reminiscent of such recent films as 13 Conversations About One Thing and The Safety of Objects, July explores the day-to-day lives of Los Angeles residents plagued by varying degrees of loneliness and isolation. July pulls extra duty, co-starring as Christine, a slightly eccentric artist working as a shuttle driver for the elderly, who finds herself drawn to Richard (John Hawkes), a recently separated father of two. Richard's sons also find themselves in burgeoning relationships, with 7-year-old Robby engaged in a bizarre sexual flirtation on the Internet. Filled with absolutely hilarious moments that are matched with poignantly heartfelt scenes, Me and You has an emotional resonance of great depth and poetic beauty. (David Walker)
Wednesday-Sunday, April 20-24, Northwest Film Center at the Guild Theatre, 829 SW Taylor St. $7 general admission, $4 NW Film Center Silver Screen club members and students, $35 festival pass.
For screening times, visit www.peripheralproduce.com or call 282-6082.