Films from the rainy states

Of the many, many Portland film fests strewn throughout the year, the Northwest Film and Video Festival is easily one of the best. This isn’t because the films screened show great technical achievement, though they sometimes do, and it isn’t because they are always amazing, though they often are.

Of the many, many Portland film fests strewn throughout the year, the Northwest Film and Video Festival is easily one of the best.

This isn’t because the films screened show great technical achievement, though they sometimes do, and it isn’t because they are always amazing, though they often are.

No, this festival, running from Nov. 7-14, is fantastic because it showcases the lively and creative filmmakers that surround us, the artists who are taking on this special medium right here in the Great Northwest.

As per usual, documentaries make up a good chunk of the festival, with topics ranging from the Blazers, to homelessness, to women in prison. But there are a surprising number of feature-length fiction films as well.

And the short-film program, a favored form for beginning and underfinanced cinema creators, is an important part of the fest. Perfect for those who suffer from ADD.

I was unfortunately not able to screen the shorts this year, but they’re usually pretty entertaining and consistent. (And the great thing about shorts is that even if they’re bad, they end quickly.)

Selfless** 1/2 stars out of 5Director: Jacob Pander, Portland, Ore.Whitsell Auditorium, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.

Check your logic at the door for this tepid identity-theft thriller by Portland comic-artists the Pander Brothers, because while its stranger-gets-angry premise is a well-worn Hollywood trope, its flashy conclusion doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Selfless is about Dylan Gray, a successful Portland architect who specializes in sustainable construction. He’s young, and he’s just landed his dream gig building a skyscraper in Seattle. But then, after pissing off an angry ex-con in an airport, things go all haywire.

He’s framed for murder, and his identity and money are stolen. His successful life falls apart very quickly and, amazingly, he can’t figure out why. During this time he becomes intertwined with a flight attendant (much of the movie takes place in airports).

My problem with Selfless is that it fails to create a believable world and is drowning in convenient happenstance that reeks of lazy filmmaking. That random flight attendant? She happens to live in his building. OK, sure. Dylan’s supposed to be a smart guy, but he enters his Social Security number into a random Internet pop-up window? Riiight.

When your story is built on a series of minor implausible events, your film has a problem. But when it’s combined with an ending as loony and illogical as the one in Selfless–a walk from Portland to Seattle that takes a day? A samurai sword? Really?–your movie just goes to the crapper.

The Pander Brothers deserve credit for an exact visual style–Selfless looks great, if perhaps a little impersonal and sterile. And parts of the story are there, if a little too standard. I just wonder why this pair of obviously skilled filmmakers decided to take a boring Hollywood formula and make it worse.

Great Speeches From a Dying World*** stars out of 5Director: Linas Phillips, Seattle, Wash.Whitsell Auditorium, Nov. 8, 7 p.m.

The conceit of Linas Phillips’ documentary Great Speeches From a Dying World, is kind of genius: He has homeless people recite famous speeches from the past, reframing and exploring the meaning of the words–questioning those longstanding promises.

When a decrepit homeless man says, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” it means something entirely different then when JFK rattles off the same line with perfect hair and a trademarked radiant smile.

Like his last work, Walking to Werner, Phillips finds his film in the personal tragedies of other people. But unlike that film, which focuses on the lives of random travelers during a long journey, the tragedies in Great Speeches are not unexplored. Most people are all too aware of the cycle of mental illness and drug abuse that plague the lives of many homeless.

While Phillips’ obvious compassion and dedication to his subjects is endearing, and the juxtaposition of famous words and down-home tragedy illuminating, I wish he had gone further, really gotten at the essence of his idea. As it is, his film feels incomplete but entirely honest.

Mania Director: Dan Schaefer Whitsell Auditorium Nov. 11, 6:30 p.m.

Fast Break Director: Don ZavinWhitsell AuditoriumNov. 11, 9 p.m.

The contrast could not be starker between two documentaries on the Portland Trail Blazers featured in this year’s Northwest Film and Video Festival. Both films seek to retell the story of the Blazers’ early years, especially 1977, when the team won its only NBA Championship.

Mania, by director Dan Schaefer, is a brief recollection of the team’s formation and features interviews with several notable players, such as former power forward Maurice Lucas, as well as other local celebrities, including Everclear frontman Art Alexakis.

While it is certainly interesting to hear Blazers founder Harry Glickman pontificate on bringing a pro team to the Rose City, the documentary features little game footage (the thing that truly interests rabid diehards) and is mostly a series of talking heads. It’s informative to be sure, but only true Blazers geeks will find it holds their attention.

Fast Break is another story altogether. It was made shortly after the Blazers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in 1977 for their only championship, and it is a bizarre, awesome time capsule chock full of vintage footage and play-by-play calls by the legendary Bill Schonley that should interest casual fans and diehards as well.

At the heart of director Don Zavin’s film is Portland’s favorite redheaded hippie Bill Walton, the Trail Blazers’ center during their run to the title. Far from the loudmouthed commentator most people know him as, Walton was just another soft-spoken flower child, albeit one with dominating basketball skills. His bike ride along the Oregon coast with Zavin is truly engrossing.

The film is perhaps the most personal look at the Blazers, their fans and 1970s professional sports in general that you’ll find, and it’s a shame Fast Break spent 30 years locked away in a vault.Even the most callous anti-sports viewer will feel shivers as they watch Walton and Co.’s victory parade and the massive throng of jubilant fans celebrating something that hasn’t happened since in Portland. –Owen R. Smith