Would you believe that at least once a week throughout the year, one could easily get a generous sampling of the vibrant independent films being created by local artists? Northwest Tracking, a “tag” of sorts for local films playing at the Northwest Film Center, is your ticket to enjoying the captivating and contemplative stories that Northwest filmmakers have to offer.
While possible that the expanse of territory the NWFC considers to be the Northwest (Oregon to Montana to Alaska) might be larger than what some people consider it to be, this vast chunk of continent only adds to the depth of the works selected for screening.
Portlanders are familiar with the somber rain that stains the soul in our part of the territory, but what might artists have to say where the sun bakes the brain or never rises? As it turns out, it is equal parts human narrative and film experimentation. The films that are shown as part of Northwest Tracking showcase the imagination and technique that make the independent filmmaking scene in the Northwest unique
But what really sets these independent filmmakers apart from those in other parts of the country?
“For one thing, they’re not as hooked into the Hollywood system,” said Nick Bruno, public relations associate for the NWFC. “In fact most of them are operating in micro-communities within communities, producing work with friends and colleagues for not a lot of money.”
Maybe this concept isn’t anything new to the craft of independent film: a few friends with fewer cameras, working around the clock, taking lunch breaks that center more around a dollar menu than a catered spread. But beyond the simple yet remarkably supportive system and community that helps independent film thrive in the Northwest, there is a sense of individuality and character that gives local filmmakers a unique slant that isn’t really found anywhere else.
“A lot of the work that tends to filter through [Northwest Tracking] is quieter, more contemplative work. The tone is really set apart from what you find coming out of the studios—possibly more European in tone,” Bruno said.
The most exemplary film that aligns with Bruno’s comments might be Ich Hunger (2013) by Isaac Olsen, a visiting director from Tacoma. Ich Hunger tells the story of a rural German village that suffers from the horrors of a “creature boy” that lurks in the woods. With his stark, mostly black-and-white aesthetic, and choice of German dialogue coupled with English subtitles, Olsen’s appreciation and homage to German expressionist film is hard to miss.
Bruno said what’s most representative of what Northwest filmmakers are doing, and what the Northwest Tracking series is about, is the Best of the 40th Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival.
Showing April 17 and 19, The Best of the 40th Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival is a touring showcase of prime selected short films from the titular filmmakers’ fest that occurred at the NWFC in February.
NWFMF programmer Thomas Phillipson has culled the most affecting works from the 40-plus shorts that screened and has put together a nine-film powerhouse, based on the reactions and response from festival goers and visiting judge Mike Plante, programmer for the Sundance Film Festival.
For those who missed the chance to see these works the first time around at the 40th NWFMF, this is an opportunity to tap into the freshest minds working in Northwest independent film.
Yet despite the umbrella of their locale, it is important to remember the diversity of Northwest filmmakers and the narratives they wish to convey. It would seem these artists are unified only by the land they inhabit and the struggles they face crafting films with limited financial and moral support.
“I think what unites the makers is that creative spark, the need to express something no matter what obstacles need to be overcome in order to do it,” said Bruno. “They all have different stories to tell, but they’re definitely dealing with less resources than someone who’s part of an industry-driven town like New York or Los Angeles.”
From the eerie and idiosyncratic short films of Dave Hanagan, to the emotional and personal documentary work of Irene Taylor Brodsky, Northwest Tracking provides a vast landscape of rich film and art.
These are the voices of Northwest independent filmmakers. They are waiting to be heard.
Visit www.nwfilm.org forshowtimes and a schedule of upcoming films being screened in the Northwest Tracking series.