Compilation programs benefit from the variety and brevity of individual pieces. So it is with Best of the Northwest Film and Video Festival, a particularly eclectic, uneven selection of 15 independent films and videos from Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Beyond the artists' geographical proximity, an unequivocally innovative approach unites all the works, despite the seriously qualified achievement of several. Still, when one entry fails, the next quickly replaces it in a program with no single selection running longer than 13 minutes.
From dazzling animation to inventive experimental, the works fall into dramatically disparate categories, ranging from Heidi Bullock's personally courageous "Attic Secrets," which dares to unmask incest, to works by self-indulgent bores who subscribe to the too-prevalent, sophomoric belief that narcissistic indulgence is worthy artistic expression. As such, the 90-minute show veers from the deeply touching to the embarrassingly moronic.
In the powerful "Attic Secrets," Bullock's voice-over guides us through a combination of paper cutouts, black-and-white photographs and live action as she refuses to allow the incest victim's sense of shame to shield the perpetrator. With searing psychological honesty, she communicates painful truths and memories, all the more devastating because of her calm delivery. In addition to "Attic Secrets," the amazing and memorable include "Elements in Transformation," Ying Tan's lovely, computer-generated compositions wonderfully interpreted by well-chosen music, and "The Dowager's Feast," Joan Gratz's enchanting claypainting, an abstract animation form she invented.
For escapist fun, there's the playful "The Geometry of Beware" and the amusing "Johnny Bagpipes," a "documentary" that follows a lonely bagpipe player around Portland as he hunts for a rock & roll band that will embrace his delirious renditions, especially "In a Gadda Da Vida." Richard Raxlen's rapid-fire "The Geometry of Beware" overstimulates us visually and aurally, taking liberties with classic Mutt and Jeff cartoon footage and spinning it into a barrage of geometrical shapes. Similarly, in the occasionally dizzying "Crowdog," Vanessa Renwick combines first-person point-of-view footage with voice-over narration to explain the nonsensical adventures of a woman who wore no shoes for two years. But neither Raxlen's nor Renwick's fantasies approach the bizarre character central to Chel White's "Dirt." Obsessed with dirt -- eating it, wallowing in it, adoring it -- he sprouts his own self-sustaining, self-contained garden.
For those who prefer vacuous unpleasantness, there's "The (Mis)Adventures of Spittle and Fudd" (a "Wallace & Gromit" wannabe) and the deliberately gross, unintentionally insipid "Young Turkeys," a chronicle of three filmmakers who think their detailed chronicle of killing and feasting on a turkey qualifies as arresting moviemaking. In the forced, tedious "God's Clown," monks devote themselves to making God laugh with pratfalls and farts, among other juvenile monotony.
All of the works, from the appealing to the witless, remind us of the safety net of conventional fare and the attempts, successful or not, of media artists to push for the unexpected in content and presentation. At its worst, the Northwest program still provides a novel point of reference. At best, it inspires our own active flights of fancy.
Plays at 8 p.m. Dec. 12 at Webster University.
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