One year ago, local actor, producer and Swiffer pitchman Jerry Bell began monthly meet- 'n'-greets for Portland filmmakers, talent and techs. Thanks to the sold-out events' habitués, this Thursday is Portland's first annual, red-carpet Indie Short Film Awards.
As Bell's networking events won popularity, they morphed into screening nights for attendees' own new works. While watching the mélange of commercials, music videos, featurettes, webisodes and documentaries, Bell was struck by how many high-quality projects flew beneath the cultural radar.
"Toward the end of the ninth or 10th month, I came to see that a lot of people in the industry weren't getting recognition. We have the Grimm TV show, we have Portlandia," Bell says, "but 85 percent of the community are indie filmmakers who haven't had an opportunity to be a part of that."
So this ceremony is his means of focusing attention where it's deserved. "They make their films, send them off to festivals, and most of those are out-of-state," Bell says.
The 22 awards include all the traditional categories, alongside more distinct honors like community service and—perhaps uniquely—Best Production Assistant. Best Short Film is the equivalent of Best Picture at the Oscars, except the nominees aren't overwhelmingly dramas.
Best Director nominee Mike Prosser follows the madcap antics of naked canine Todd Robinson in Stray. Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress hopefuls Mia Allen and Kelsey Tucker wring romantic comedy from a nanny interview in No, Oui. In Dread Drunk, the fifth installment of Chris Wilson's sloshed parody franchise, Wilson and Tim Feeney (Best Writing nominees) booze their way through writing an alien invasion screenplay later enacted by similarly impaired actors.
"Portland tends to lean toward the quirky comedies," Bell says. "I think that's a cultural thing."
Beyond the actual trophies, winners receive benefits in their area of expertise. Best Costume wins free outfits from local costume designers; Best Cinematographer, free equipment rentals; actors, pro headshot packages.
Screening in a packed Bossanova Ballroom may prove the most meaningful reward. Whether the projects are niche labors of love or already earning widespread acclaim (like the Secret Garden-as-teen- vlog The Misselthwaite Archives), the ceremony offers creators a rare public showcase.
For some, this is closure. Filmmaker Erich Demerath was invited to participate in New Amsterdam Vodka's 2015 national competition, but had his Mississippi Studios documentary, Mississippi Rising, disqualified at the last moment due to murky technicalities. Portland's Indie Short Film Awards are somewhat humbler, but after the frustrations of last year, Demerath says, "just to have the chance to win something is really satisfying."