Judging by the Best of the 31st Northwest Film & Video Festival, aspiring moviemakers need one of the following to get their films recognized: sex-crazed psycho chicks, surreal instrumental commentaries on man and machine, Orwellian visions of hopeless futures, quirkily animated styles venting hard-up relationship needs, or, ideally, a combination of as many of the above as possible. In the current touring collection, to be screened by the Missoula Art Museum Thursday, Nov. 10, these elements, one way or another, appear in all 10 films. Here’s a selected sampling:
Theo Lipfert, an assistant professor at Montana State University, directed this documentary about a guy whose personal interest in a Texas shopping mall got him tangled in a legal brouhaha with the owners of the retail paradise over website domain names. If Henry Mishkoff, the mall lover, weren’t such an odd bird (who builds websites about shopping malls in their free time, anyway?) this procedural blow-by-blow would be about as interesting as a commercial for the Law Offices of James Sokolove.
Adventure Into Caution
In this black-and-white spoof cast from the mold of Reefer Madness, John C. Meyers warns of imminent alien invasion. We learn what disguises aliens will employ upon arriving (loose women, gay robots, stuff like that) and what measures we can take to fend off their manipulative ways (regular washing of hands, prayer, stuff like that). Oh, and you also learn how to avoid becoming Hitler. I can’t explain much more, but it’s funny.
This three-minute futuristic meditation looks like a cross between a deleted scene from Steven Spielberg’s AI, a hunting flick without the orange vests, and a Radiohead video. There is no dialogue—just an ethereally textured soundtrack set to a skinny naked woman trapped (or protected?) inside an illuminated closet in the middle of the woods. What’s it about? The more you watch Ryan Jeffrey’s beautifully shot film, the more your mind wanders into possible commentaries.
There’s something equally sexy and creepy about director Thom Harp’s rollicking, mischievous heroine in this six-minute film. She’s easy to adore, playfully decorating the apartment of her lover, but as the affectionate Post-It notes pile up, and as she continues to snap Polaroid pictures of herself, you get the impression something’s not kosher. Maybe it’s not, but next time I find a busty, half-naked brunette covered in whip cream and chocolate in my house, I might react differently than the guy here does.
Named the Best Experimental Film of this year’s festival, director Matt McCormick’s Grounded sets images of Portland’s industrial district to simplistic electronic melodies. The cinematography shows the machinery in stark contrast to natural forms—a hard-hat-wearing worker dwarfed by an enormous crane, a flock of birds situated on a ledge. It may not sound like much, but it’s arguably the most thought-provoking film in the collection.
Carmen is one of those girls you warn your friends not to date. Despite her smarts, her smokin’ body and her willingness to jump in the sack on the first date, Carmen is bad news. She’s a stealthier version of Alex Forest (Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction) and less dramatic than Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone’s pantyless babe in Basic Instinct), but it doesn’t matter if you’re man or woman, stranger or best friend—no one is safe from Carmen. Including, maybe, Carmen herself. Nick Peterson directs a clear, if occasionally slow, portrait of a relationship pariah.
You may recognize Mark Gustafson’s work—his combination of stop-motion and computer-generated animation has been featured in commercials for Fox, Nestlé, Nissan and California raisins. Here he lends his style to Joe, a lonely, trailer-dwelling hermit anxiously awaiting the arrival of a blow-up doll. The inflatable date is no Carmen from Contingent, but she doesn’t take her evening lying down.
A contortionist named Magda is so talented she can spell her own name, in script, with her body. Through a fortunate twist of luck, an obsessed and polite stalker/fan becomes her lover. Thereafter, naturally, things get all tangled up. Chel White’s five-minute mini-story is based on an essay by National Public Radio’s Joe Frank (who narrates), and the script alone is perfectly crafted. But what will grab viewers even more than the storyline is White’s multi-layered animation techniques: faceless mannequins posed on complex sets filled with everything from toy cars to dynamic cutout photos of marching elephants and cheering crowds. It’s a fascinating visual technique which earned Magda the award for Best Animated Film.
The Missoula Art Museum will screen The Best of the 31st Northwest Film & Video Festival on Thursday, Nov. 10, at 7 PM, in the Governor’s Room of the Florence building (111 N. Higgins Ave.), above MAM’s Temporary Contemporary gallery. $6.