You can't really talk about the Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival without mentioning Peripheral Produce. Formed by Matt McCormick a decade ago as a champion for experimental film, Peripheral Produce began distributing the work of some of the most avant-garde filmmakers working in the furthest fringes of the medium. What started primarily as a local showcase has grown into one of the leading conduits for non-narrative film. In 2001, Peripheral Produce hosted the first-ever Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival.
PDX Film Fest has grown considerably over the past few years as the work it showcases has become more diverse and eclectic. Last year's Portland premiere of Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know struck some purists as a bit too mainstream for a festival known for eschewing Hollywood. But July's film—one of the better indie productions released last year—was a far cry from what is being churned out by the mainstream. And most important, it gave people who might never check out a festival of experimental films something to connect with as they ventured into unexplored cinematic waters.
This year, PDX has another lineup that is as exciting as it is diverse. The film with the highest profile is director Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy (7:30 pm Wednesday). A critical hit at Sundance earlier this year, Old Joy was co-produced by filmmaker Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven), based on local author Jon Raymond's novel, and filmed in the Portland area. A meditative portrait of a friendship at a crossroads, Old Joy stars William Oldham and Daniel London as two lifelong friends who reunite for a camping trip, only to face the emotional turmoil and conflict that has arisen from the divergent paths they have taken in life, and the different people they have grown up to become.
If Old Joy sounds a bit too mainstream for the eXperimental nature of PDX (which it most assuredly is not), take comfort in the retrospective showcases of Larry Gottheim (7:15 pm Thursday) and Martha Colburn (7:30 pm Friday). Gottheim, a prominent player in the world of experimental film for over 30 years, will screen Tree of Knowledge. Colburn's work is a unique combination of collage and hand-drawn images fused with found footage that is as bold as it can be nightmarish. Films like her highly sexualized Skelehellavision are at once evocative and bordering on disturbing.
On the documentary side of PDX Film Fest, two highlights include Who Is Bozo Texino? (9:30 pm Thursday) and The Tailenders (6 pm Saturday). You'd be hard-pressed to find two documentaries less alike while at the same time equally compelling. Adele Horne's Tailenders profiles Gospel Recordings, an evangelical group founded in the 1930s that has dedicated itself to creating recordings of Bible stories in every known language of the world. Their goal is nothing less than the total conversion of the planet into God-fearing Christians. Bill Daniel's Who Is Bozo Texino? exhibits a cinematic style in direct opposition to the comparatively straightforward Tailenders. Using various mediums, and shot over the course of 20 years, Bozo Texino takes place in the world of train-hopping hobos. Daniel crafts a disjointed narrative that consists of a gorgeous array of images, and up-close-and-personal interviews, often cut short by film stock running out.
At times, there is no telling exactly what you've gotten yourself into with the Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival. You're just as likely to see a great documentary as you are to see a consciousness-expanding short that makes no sense—there's always something there to surprise, inform or challenge. And that's the beauty of PDX Film Fest.
Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival, Guild Theatre, 829 SW 9th Ave., 221-1156. Wednesday-Sunday, April 26-30. $7-$35. For more information, go to www.peripheralproduce.com.