Portland's indie filmmakers, fleet of foot and high on two days of no sleep, arrived en masse at the Jupiter Hotel on Sunday, Aug. 13, rushing to turn in their digital short films before a 7:30 pm deadline. The scene, awash with shaggy haircuts and skinny jeans, was, for a brief moment, the nexus of the Portland art scene at its grassroots best.

Thirty-six teams of filmmakers gathered, just having completed the 48 Hour Film Project, to ensure their films' entry into the competition's festival. The hope for some filmmakers was just to cross the finish line. Others who fell short of the deadline came for the complimentary Ritz crackers and PBR and to swap tips on how to snort NoDoz.

But the tired and intrepid faces of the contestants revealed the shared hope of all undiscovered filmmakers: that their film would be chosen, in this case, to be one of 12 final films included in the "Best of Portland" screening this Thursday, Aug. 24, at the Hollywood Theater. There, the team of the winning film will be announced and go on to vie for a national title, some serious media attention and a bevy of nice prizes.

The 48 Hour Film Progject, a touring film competition started in Washington, D.C., in 2001, asks something deceptively simple of its filmmakers: write, direct, score and edit together a seven-minute film in 48 hours. "It's as much about the process as it is about the product for most of the participants," competition producer Rob Hatch told WW via email.

The competition's rules? Each team draws a genre (western, cop/detective, etc.). Filmmakers are then assigned three shared elements that must be included: a prop, a character, and a line of dialogue (this year: toenail clippers, a scrapbooker, and "Oh, no. Don't you dare go there," respectively). The rest is up to the filmmakers.

Although the 48 Hour Film Project is now international in scope, its democratic format seems particularly well suited to Portland's ubiquitous "do-it-yourself" artistic ethos. Hitting the pavement with two teams, the veterans of Cinema Queso and the neophytes, team Homeless Corner, shows that Portland's fringe artists are doing the city proud.

Housed in a ramshackle Southeast Portland house that sits awkwardly in a 'hood of preppy remodels, Cinema Queso—a group of 13 filmmakers headed this year by Rob Campbell—runs like a well-oiled indie Hollywood production unit. Arriving on the set of Brain Jail, the Queso house—steaming hot from the glare of klieg lights—was awash in snack wrappers and posters of Lionel Richie. While the crew was on hands and knees in the kitchen setting up a platoon of tiny toy soldiers, screaming emanated from a dark hallway. Lead writer-actor Chris Faux emerged from the bedroom, wiping sweat from his Coke-bottle specs, just having finished a scene where he chokes his father to death over a rusty old penny. Faux's next scene sent costumers into the basement for a dirty pair of tighty-whiteys and a military uniform jacket.

Clearly, the group, which has participated in the competition since 2003, knows the ins and outs of this game: when to write, when to sleep and how to wrangle a bluescreen in a time crunch. With no film-school training per se, Cinema Queso is technically apt and ambitious.

Film for the group is a passion but also a pleasant way to pass a Saturday afternoon. Cinema Queso would be happy to settle for second place—prize enough to gain some local attention but not have to go through the stress of a national competition.

A pit stop with Homeless Corner out on Southeast 82nd Avenue offered a different view of Portland's young artist community. Homeless Corner was hopped up with enthusiasm for the group's film, The Lion, the Witch, and the Hobo. The entire cast and crew gathered in the futon-laden main room, clutching bottles of cheap champagne, to meet WW. Talking all at once, they raved about their project, an ode to buddy movies, witches and gay bathroom sex. Stifler lookalike Jesse Thompson sang a surprisingly tender song, "J.T.T., Take Me Home," about Home Improvement teen star Jonathan Taylor Thomas—it was written especially for the competition.

The young men and women of Homeless Corner (ages 21 to 28), are mostly out-of-state transplants, like Dan Brusich from Erie, Penn., who came to Portland because he couldn't find an audience other than his family or his cinema group, FB (Film Buddies), for his projects back East. The group works crap temp jobs and lives together between gigs so they can focus on comedy and the monthly shows they put on for Independent Tuesday at Acme.

Homeless Corner may be young, but it works hard. "We're serious, we just don't have any money," co-team leader Coree Spencer told WW. After harnessing the potential of MySpace and YouTube to exhibit their projects, the group recently scored, selling episodes of their improv show to podcasting site videoforipods.com.

After hunkering down with the two groups, it seems that competition producer Rob Hatch was right: The 48 Hour Film Project is more about the joy of the collaborative process (and no sleep) than the cinematic end result. Of this year's films, all of which were screened Aug. 16 and 17, many were poorly made, relied too heavily on potty humor and were, at times, utterly incoherent.

But a few shining jewels made the first-round screening worth watching. On this Thursday's program, keep an eye open for WW's picks, team Cinema Syndicate's mockumentary Tooth and Nail about a vampire running for state Senate and Lazy Eye Films' meticulous silent comedy, On the Wrong Foot. These films were well-produced and well-edited, and they underscore the power of what independent filmmakers with good ideas, digital technology—and a little NoDoz—can do.

Find out who made it to the final 12 at the Best of Portland 48 Hour Film Program, Hollywood Theater, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. 7 pm. Thursday, Aug. 24. $7. All ages.