Now in its 45th year, the Northwest Filmmakers' Festival has made a name for itself as one of the region's top cinematic events. Among the many highlights in the latest showcase that starts this week is the kickoff screening of Portland director-producer Tara Johnson-Medinger's long-awaited, coming-of-age project.
My Summer as a Goth chronicles the attempts of 16-year-old Joey Javitts (an impressive Natalie Shershow) to cope following the sudden death of her father. To make matters worse, she's marooned with her quirky grandparents in Portland while her author mother is on a book tour. In mourning and looking for meaning in her suddenly very dark life, she falls hard and fast for the beguiling, brooding goth next door, Victor. Joey then experiences a summer filled with cemetery makeout sessions and tons of white makeup, becoming a full-fledged goth faster than you can say, "Bela Lugosi's dead," (well, she's kind of a poser, as more than one of the film's true goths point out).
Much of My Summer as a Goth hinges on Shershow's performance, and she's more than capable of pulling off the mordant, "Ugh, I'm so over this" eyerolls that are any 16-year-old's weapon of choice—goth or not. Johnson-Medinger tells WW she was struck by Shershow's ability to take command of the part the very first time she auditioned for it at a local acting school.
"She came in and nailed that, plus read some voice-over stuff she'd studied on her own," says Johnson-Medinger. "She really blew us away. [Co-writer/producer] Brandon [Roberts] and I looked at each other and said, 'Joey just appeared here.'"
Beyond Shershow's execution, the rest of the well-cast players as a merry band of misfits keep My Summer as a Goth a charming affair, especially Joey's goofily loving grandparents. It's also clear Johnson-Medinger has quite the eye for visual flair, as she more than once uses the juxtaposition of the film's morose settings and dark colors—graveyards, tombs, heaps of black—with literal and figurative light to create some truly gorgeous shots.
My Summer as a Goth is a humorous tale of teenage woe truly meant for our fair, rather goth city. Johnson-Medinger, who also founded the Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival, says the project was a Portland affair through and through.
"The film is really the result of the hard work of a ton of great local Portland talent coming together," she explains, "in front of and behind the camera to make something they really believe in."
Johnson-Medinger adds that having her film picked to open the festival meant "everything" to her and that she was "ecstatic that those who worked on the film get to come together as a community to view what we worked on with our community."
SEE IT: My Summer as a Goth screens at NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave., nwfilm.org, on Wednesday, Oct. 31. 7 pm. Director Tara Johnson Medinger will attend the screening. Tickets include admission to Scary-Oke: A Singalong Séance in the Portland Art Museum's Fields (Sunken) Ballroom. $5-$10.