Think of the Northwest Film and Video Festival as a weeklong movie buffet. You've got your bite-size appetizers, your salads, your big meaty entrees. It's all there, in a gazillion flavors--from ambrosia salad to chicken-fried steak.

For 28 years, the festival has been rounding up the best work by Northwest independent video- and filmmakers. This year's event, judged by Bill Plympton (I Married a Strange Person!), drew roughly 300 submissions; the selections range from the precious and deliberately amateurish to the technically awesome to the genuinely touching.

Dirt (Guild, 8:30 pm Saturday, Nov. 3), a 75-minute feature by Seattle's Tim Coulter, is a bit of a mess--and rightly so, given its subject matter. Coulter explores issues of privacy and exploitation in this story of a housecleaner who, feeling degraded by his clients, starts videotaping their homes as he cleans. Prompted by the release of the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee sex tape, Coulter (as the housecleaner) tries to sell his uncomfortably intimate videotapes of people's homes to Internet porn king Seth Warshavsky. This embroils the filmmaker in a tangle of ethical conflicts between public and private, rich and poor, free speech and censorship, filth and innocence, truth and fiction. The movie could be more polished and consistently paced, but it raises such fascinating questions that its flaws are easy to overlook.

The main question raised by David Russo's Populi (Shorts 1), on the other hand, is "How the hell did they do that?" Populi, the festival's grand prize winner, is an 8-minute time-lapse headtrip in which an iconic man-figure is sculpted in darkness, then goes dancing spastically through various ever-shifting backgrounds. What it means is a mystery, but it's certainly a technical marvel.

Bloodhag: The Faster You Go Deaf, the More Time You Have to Read (Shorts 1) hilariously documents the sci-fi-loving deathrock band's tour of Seattle-area libraries. The band's mission is to encourage kids to read (because "rock fans need to be smarter," as one band member puts it); they play songs called "Isaac Asimov" and "Marion Zimmer Bradley" and famously pelt their audiences with paperbacks during their shows.

Richart (Whitsell, 7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 6, after This Is What Democracy Looks Like), made by local luminary Vanessa Renwick with Dawn Smallman, is an absorbing documentary about Centralia, Wash., folk artist Richard Tracey, who, after having a mental breakdown at 50, started filling his yard and basement with art made from scavenged junk. "If you want to get out of the mental hospital," he advises, "start building artwork like this. They will get rid of you immediately." Tracey is clearly well beyond "eccentric," but it's inspiring to watch someone so wholeheartedly transported by his life's work.

Ernest Truely's Real Smoker (Whitsell, 8:45 pm Tuesday, Nov. 6) is a slice of half-hearted civil disobedience in which a persecuted puffer is ejected from buses, restaurants and the public library for refusing to put out his cigarette. Real Smoker shows with Beaters and Crash Fans.

Other highlights:

The Burden (Shorts 3), Portlander Andy Blubaugh's pastiche of monologue, family photos and phone conversations that uses three different endings to deliver a poignant message of regret; Reveries and Rocketships (Shorts 1), a beautiful, languorous, black-and-white meditation on love, loss and death, by Howie Woo of Coquitlam, B.C.; Shadowgraph (Shorts 2), by Seattle's Weldon DeBusk, a surreal bullet's-eye-view deconstruction of the consequences of a gunshot; Frank Was a Monster That Wanted to Dance (Shorts 3), a slickly animated interpretation of a gross/cute children's book about a monster who (literally) dances his head off; The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal (Shorts 2), Matt McCormick's ingenious approach to classifying the layers of paint routinely rolled over walls of graffiti; Film Harmonic (Guild, 9 pm Monday, Nov. 5), co-produced by the Oregon Symphony, in which four Portland filmmakers interpret symphonic works; This Is What Democracy Looks Like (Whitsell, 7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 6), a recap of the WTO protests in Seattle; and Honky Tonk Dirt (Mission, 6:30 and 9:15 pm Wednesday, Nov. 7), the story of legendary Northwest Portland street performer Lucky, showing with Beth Harrington's Welcome to the Club: Women in Rockabilly.

28th Annual Northwest Film and Video Festival

Friday- Saturday, Nov. 2-10 Guild Theater, 829 SW 9th Ave. Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave. Mission Theatre, 1624 NW Glisan St. 221-1156 Festival pass $40, individual screenings $5.50 (students, seniors, Portland Art Museum members)-$6.50.

Opening night party:

9 pm Friday, Nov. 2 Lush, Northwest 6th Avenue and Couch Street $10. 21 and over only

Shorts 1

: 7 pm Friday, Nov. 2, 6 pm Saturday, Nov. 10. Guild

Shorts 2

: 2 pm Saturday, 6 pm Sunday, Nov. 3-4. Guild

Shorts 3

: 7 pm Saturday, Nov. 3, 7 pm Friday, Nov. 9. Guild