There are people in this country who don't believe in the merits of regionalism. These cynics have the whole country pegged as a giant, homogeneous mishmash of interstate highways and Best Westerns. Those who share this myopic perspective might benefit by attending the 32nd Northwest Film & Video Festival. When you step back from 34 shorts, three feature films and six documentaries, and take in the festival as a whole, it becomes clear that regional identity still plays a role in art and culture in America.
Distinct aspects of the Northwestern psyche and culture ring out loud and clear in the films showcased this year. The colors are subdued, cool on the color wheel: forest greens, blues. The political slant is intriguing, paradoxical: collectivist, yet ruggedly individual. Loneliness. Alienation. The ambience: slow, dreamlike, mirroring the open space, gray skies, mountains, ocean, and eccentric souls that tend to people the swath of land that includes Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and British Columbia. What's more, contrary to the popular perception of regional film festivals, this stuff is actually good.
The crown jewel of the festival is Police Beat (9 pm Saturday) by Seattle-based filmmaker Robinson Devor, based on actual police reports featured in Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger. Police Beat chronicles the bizarre, frequently gruesome investigations of Senegalese bike cop Z, while his internal dialogue simultaneously tracks his heartbreak and frustrations with his girlfriend, who is traveling with another man. A compelling documentary, The Century Plaza (9 pm Sunday) by Portland-based Eric Lahey, paints a detailed portrait of the late Portland establishment of the same name, and its denizens who hang by threads from the bottom rung of the economic ladder. The resulting film is honest and unsentimental.
Amid the slew of short films being screened are some legitimate gems. At the Quinte Hotel (Shorts II, 7 pm Saturday) sets a liquor-soaked poem by Al Purdy to whimsical animation. Bastard Wants to Hit Me (Shorts I, 7 pm Friday), from Portlanders Courtney Booker and Aaron Sorenson and set to a song from They Might Be Giants, could be considered the cartoon world's answer to Andy Warhol's portrait of Campbell's soup cans (that's a compliment). Andrew Blubaugh's Hello, Thanks (Shorts III, 7 pm Sunday) provides a dry-witted yet meaningful look at the construction of personal ads for recreational and therapeutic purposes. Vanessa Renwick's Portrait #1: The Cascadia Terminal and Morgan Hobart's (Gone) From One Moment to the Next (both Shorts III, 7 pm Sunday) are the cinematic equivalents of a couple of good highballs and a handful of muscle relaxants. Perhaps the best short in the festival, Darling, Darling (Shorts I, 7 pm Friday) from Roseburg's Matthew Lessner, is a bizarre send-up of that awkwardly archetypal meeting between teenage suitor and his prom date's parents while said prom date is upstairs powdering her nose.
The 32nd Northwest Film & Video Festival lends credence to the defining nature and importance of regionalism. It is no accident of geography that people living on the precipice of the continent are creating films that linger on the precipice of the art form.
For a complete schedule of films, go to www.nwfilm.org .
Guild Theatre, 829 SW 9th Ave., 221-1156. Friday-Sunday, Nov. 4-12. $4-$7.