For four decades, he Northwest Film Center has been at the forefront of supporting locally made, truly independent movies. The tradition continues with the 42nd annual Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival, starting Thursday and running through November 18. Made up of several short film programs, more than a dozen features, and a few offshoot, filmmaker-friendly gatherings and get togethers. All the better to enjoy locally made films from the Pacific Northwest and talk shop with other filmmakers.
Before we dive into our four main highlight feature films recommended by our own Lily Hudson, I thought I might chime in a little and throw out a few more recommendations of films that I enjoyed, and you just might as well. From Vancouver, BC, comes Hadwin’s Judgement, a straightforward documentary adaption of the wonderful nonfiction novel The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant. The novel is something of a cousin to Into The Wild, so make sure to check out the film and the book. A regular at the Northwest Film Center for the last few years, Zach Weintraub, continues to show his growth as a filmmaker with his latest, Slackjaw. And finally, a few shorts I really admired, playing in SHORTS II: Tracing Space program, Miles Sprietsma’s Spatial and Kurtis Hough’s To See More Light.
Make sure to check out our interview feature with programmer Thomas Phillipson for his tips and themes for this year’s fest. See you at the fest!
Four highlights you can’t miss
(All reviews by Lily Hudson)
THE SANDWICH NAZI
There seems to be a proud tradition of documentaries profiling eccentric small business owners, especially restaurateurs and deli men. At the apex of this genre is I Like Killing Flies, the story of disgruntled chef Kenny Shopsin. If Shopsin is an irascible philosopher, Sandwich Nazi Salam Kahil is just plain filthy. The Lebanon-born proprietor of a deli in Vancouver, B.C., Kahil has no employees, which is good news—a man with all the professional boundaries of Dov Charney, he’d probably have a few suits filed against him. Instead, he doles out explicit banter and abuse to his polite Canadian patrons, admonishing customers to say please when they order before launching into a distinctly NSFW story about his days as a male escort. Lewis Bennett’s film delves into his painful childhood, the strict Muslim identity he rejected, his hypersexuality and his unexpected humanitarian streak. Is his behavior funny or troubling? That all depends, probably on your own tolerance level.
THE TREE INSIDE
Writer Myra has never sustained a relationship for more than a few months. Romance blooms with a sweet teacher named David, but battles contort the young relationship, from awkward impasses to jibes and jealousy that threaten to poison the well. Is it even worth it to keep fumbling through? Michelle Kim’s feature (she also stars) is descended from that polarizing genre known as mumblecore, defined by loose, improvisational scenes and prosaic, real-life-size problems. While not accomplished with the same level of mastery as the touchstones of mumblecore romance (there are definitely too many dreamy montages), it has an absorbing quality, sharply depicting the tensions and thorns of interpersonal encounters. Overall, it plays like a less provocative version of Lena Dunham’s debut Tiny Furniture: a creative, confused young woman, a meandering morass of relationship quandaries, a series of self-destructive flare-ups, and at the end of it: growth.
THE WAY WE TALK
A film about stuttering, without the The King’s Speech-style epiphany or ultimate mastery of the problem. Michael Turner has stuttered all his life. Rather than transcending it, he has learned to live alongside his speech disorder. Plainly narrated in an unapologetic stutter by the filmmaker, The Way We Talk is a moving documentary about grappling with the parts of ourselves that make us feel ashamed. Turner shows admirable self-compassion as he confronts the stigma of stuttering in his own life and within his family (his mom, granddad and brother are also affected). He provides elegant metaphors for the experience of living with the communication disorder, and makes visits to professionals including speech therapists and genetic researchers who illuminate the many facets of the condition.
MAKE MINE COUNTRY
In the 1940s, an American airbase opened on a small Caribbean nation. The soldiers brought country music to Saint Lucia, and it really caught on. This is all you need to know to enjoy Make Mine Country. Ian Berry’s meditative documentary recalls Alan Greenberg’s fantastic 1982 film Land of Look Behind, about life and music in Jamaica. Both are low on narrative and high on atmosphere, focused on a luxurious wash of imagery and music that defines a singular culture. Spare intertitles tell you only the most crucial details, leaving plenty of space for the joys and sorrows of Golden Age country to echo through this most unexpected of locales. There’s an epic George Jones impersonator, an avid Elvis super-fan/tomb-builder, a DJ who hypes tears-in-your-beers ballads like they’re dancehall jams, and a heavenly version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” played on steel drums. A total pleasure and a highlight of the fest.
The 42nd Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival starts Thursday with a shorts program and runs through November 18. All screenings are at the Whitsell Auditorium located in the Portland Art Museum, except for one film, which screens at the Skype Lounge. For more information, check the web site.