Amazing! They actually pulled it off. Despite some last-minute technical setbacks, an ambitious scope and a skeleton crew of volunteers, the staff of the Longbaugh Film Festival made it happen again, and this year's fest—which, in case you screwed up and missed it, ran from Thursday to Sunday, April 6-9—was the best one yet.
Obviously you can't see every movie in a festival of this scope, and I missed a bunch of films I wish I could've seen. But I did catch director Nick Lyon's valentine to the bleak wet streets of Portland, Punk Love. The plot was a bit on the light side, but nothing else about the movie was, and Stumptown has never looked so noirish and beautiful. Another highlight was Lonesome Jim (which opens at Fox Tower this week), indie mainstay Steve Buscemi's directorial followup to the great Trees Lounge. Casey Affleck plays a twentysomething sad sack who returns home from New York with his tail between his legs—the classic Creative Type moping through life with the world on his shoulders. Having failed to find instant success as a writer in New York (imagine that!), he moves back in with his weary dad and Martha Stewart-on-speed mom, meets sexy nurse Liv Tyler and gradually learns he doesn't have all that much to be depressed about. In fact, if there's one theme that unites most of the films I saw at Longbaugh this year, it's exactly that: Stop feeling sorry for yourself, grow up and do what you're here to do.
The most exciting film I saw at Longbaugh was also the least likely to be a nailbiter: Wordplay, Patrick Creadon's documentary about the New York Times crossword puzzle. Heavily focused on puzzle editor Will Shortz—the George Clooney of the geek universe—the film manages to wring more excitement out of an annual crossword puzzle competition than your average Hollywood blockbuster gets from car chases and exploding buildings.
Equally thought-provoking (and hilarious) was The Hole Story, which about six people saw on Saturday afternoon at Cinema 21. (Apparently the Mission was dead, too. East side wins!) When nature thwarts karaoke-video editor Alex Karpovsky's dream to film a pilot episode of his small-town mysteries show Provincial Puzzlers, he has a complete sensitive-artist nervous breakdown and winds up practicing scream therapy in a local psych ward. It's a hilarious (if maybe a little too close to home) take on a Creative Personality's paralyzing capacity for self-indulgence and navel-gazing disguised as uncompromising ambition and artistic integrity. I mean, really, if anything worth doing is worth doing right, and you can't do it right, then nothing is worth doing—right?
Among the festival's biggest hits was Addison's Wall by former Portland resident David Waingarten, who joins the ranks oF "filmmakers-to-watch." But the biggest hit was Electric Apricot, which had a sold-out show and a packed encore. Directed by Primus bass player Les Claypool, it's a mockumentary in the vein of Spinal Tap that skewers Phish-style jam bands. (Electric Apricot's destined-to-be-a-classic song is "Hey, Are You Going to Burning Man?") Part of the draw might've been Claypool himself, who stars in the film and appeared at the screening along with producer Jason McHugh. "We had to turn 100 people away," said Clinton Street Theater owner Seth Sonstein. Who knew there were still so many Primus fans out there?
Winner in the Best Short Film category was Closing Time, a comedy of bong-inspired genius directed by Chris Brandt. A guy in a tiger costume tries to rob a fast-food joint late at night, but things get ugly when one of the customers starts giving him backtalk.
Time in the Barrel: Death & Life in Vietnam won Best Documentary, with a cash prize provided by BridgePort. Directed by Don Downey, the film takes six Marine veterans and the son of a Marine who was killed in action back to the scene of the war that shaped all of their lives. The film works as a historical document and, unfortunately, as a cautionary view of what's to come for veterans of the current war in Iraq.
Best Feature, with a cash award from Comcast, was awarded to September 12th, directed by John Touhey. Three years after the fall of the World Trade Center, the family of a young woman who died in the attack still mourns her loss. At a private ceremony honoring Lori's memory, a lawyer shows up and starts asking questions that stir up the emotions of two men in her life—her fiancé and her brother. The film is a powerful commentary on loss and how well any of us really knows someone.
Meanwhile, the biggest lesson I learned at Longbaugh came on Saturday night. It was this: If you set up an interactive video installation in a crowd of film people, someone is going to drop trou on camera. Saturday's after-party at Nocturnal featured a camera at the door that fed into a giant screen in the downstairs bar, so you could see if anyone hot or important came in without abandoning your free shot of Cuervo Black. Two or three drinks into the party, someone—OK, someone who owns the Clinton Street Theater—suddenly realized the potential of this arrangement. He went outside, mooned the camera, then turned around so we could see the other side. The crowd went wild. Other aspiring porn stars followed suit, prancing around in sunglasses and tweaking their own nipples like an auditioning starlet. This was on East Burnside Street at bartime on a Saturday night, and no one got arrested.
And finally, the big news: David Walker's movie, Uncle Tom's Apartment, made people cry. Yes, the guy who writes lines like "throwin' a hump into Grandma" in WW's film listings each week has crafted a sweet, heartfelt (and hilarious) film about family, responsibility and acting like a grown-up. Luckily, Walker's mom came prepared. She brought a whole box of Kleenex to the Saturday afternoon screening and was seen handing them out to appreciative, teary-eyed folks after the show.