Beer, food, bridges, coffee—Portland does a few things right.
Well, throw documentary films on that list.
This week's Northwest Filmmakers' Festival offers 14 features and two collections of shorts by filmmakers from across the Northwest and British Columbia.
We watched the entire lineup, and three of our five favorites were documentaries from Portland filmmakers. Whether they're about trans women in small-town Oregon, murder in Wisconsin or the ethereal beauty of Mount Hood, a new crop of Portland documentarians are making some of the most compelling indie movies in the Pacific Northwest.
In 2014, two Wisconsin tweens made national news when they stabbed their best friend 19 times to please Slenderman: a faceless, tentacled internet bogeyman made famous in such miserable corners of the web as fanfic site Creepypasta. While the girls await trial for attempted murder, Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated Portland documentarian Irene Taylor Brodsky unravels their plot through police file footage and interviews with the girls' families. Experts try to explain the children's behavior, none bigger than Richard Dawkins. The originator of the term "meme," Dawkins attempts to explain the viruslike spread of imagery and ideas though culture, but his cameo is cut short before his concept can be fully developed. Frustrating, considering what may be the spookiest insight of Beware the Slenderman isn't the storybook monster, or the disturbed children, but the potential for hellish internet phenomena to climb out of the monitor and into the world. ZACH MIDDLETON. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. 7:15 pm Monday, Nov. 14.
B+ The Devout
When a young couple's daughter falls ill with what appears to be brain cancer, they try to find ways to ease her pain while attenuating their own mental health. The religious, rural town in which they live attempts to pull together to support the family, and a cop even lets the dad off after a suspected DUI. But as his daughter's illness progresses, she (Olivia Martin) starts talking about space flight and the death of astronauts she has no way of knowing about. The father concludes she may be remembering past lives, and seeks to connect with the larger cycle of reincarnation to meet up with her in her next physical form. In his feature debut, British Columbian writer and director Connor Gaston shows narrative vision, resourcefulness (the few special effects are reminiscent of the cult sci-fi thriller Primer) and a great deal of potential. ZACH MIDDLETON. 5th Avenue Cinema; 2:30 pm Saturday, Nov. 12. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium; 6 pm Sunday, Nov. 13.
The Pearl is a documentary that focuses its magnifying glass on four trans women, all from Pacific Northwest blue-collar towns, in an effort to depict their subtle triumphs and deafening defeats—most of which manifest internally. Here, we see women who are forced to masquerade as men in both work and play unless they are joined by specific family or visiting Amy's Outhouse, a sanctuary where they can "come in to come out." Documentarians Jessica Dimmock and Christopher LaMarca's main success is the film's discussion of the gender politics of trans women: how and why they take pride in their femininity. In one scene, trans women attend a class that educates them on how to soften their voices. In another, the audience intrudes on an intimate dinner party that celebrates the distinctive bond of sisterhood. The Pearl isn't some late-night infomercial selling transgender rights to an uneducated audience. It simply wishes to show trans humanity. JACK RUSHALL. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium; 5 pm Saturday, Nov. 12. 5th Avenue Cinema; 5:30 pm Sunday, Nov. 13.
Visions of Reality is a series of non-narrative shorts that play with sound and color to examine the way our senses shape everyday experiences. Animated pieces, like Joan Gratz's Primal Flux, offer a vivid exploration of the complexities of communication through color, while in Canned Fit, musician Christine Shorkhuber composes her works from the noises in the city around her, using nails, bells and really anything else she can find to single out the alien music amid the familiar chaos. The standout is Voice of the Hi-Line, an engaging look at Native-run radio station KGVA in Fort Belknap, Mont., serving the 35,000 residents of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes. Native sovereignty and identity are explored as pop hits are broadcast alongside traditional tribal music. CRYSTAL CONTRERAS. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium; 7:35 pm Friday, Nov. 11. 5th Avenue Cinema; 3 pm Sunday, Nov. 13.
Nineteen-year-old Oregonian Sadie Ford and her dog Scooter (who's a very good boy) arrive outside Government Camp and set up a makeshift campsite so Ford can spend the snowboarding season on the slopes of Mount Hood. Ostensibly about snowboarding, Cambria Matlow's documentary Woodsrider is a snapshot of fleeting youth amid the hum of the mountain. This film is awash in visual and aural stimuli—a scene of Ford starting a small fire on an aluminium tray in her camp is an almost trance-inducing swirl of color and sound. Matlow plays those quiet moments off of footage of youthful indiscretion: Ford's friends performing snowboarding tricks off of a roadside transformer, or smoking cigarettes at a keg party. Matlow's patient, unobtrusive camera and Ford's magnetism as a subject makes Woodsrider one of the most intimate docs you'll see this year. WALKER MACMURDO. Skype Live Studio; 7:30 pm Saturday, Nov. 12. NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium; 3:10 pm Sunday, Nov. 13.
SEE IT: The 43rd Northwest Filmmakers' Festival is at NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 5th Avenue Cinema and Skype Live Studio Nov. 10-15. For a complete schedule and tickets, visit nwfilm.org.