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The best of the Northwest Film Festival

If you blink, you may miss Missoula’s contribution to this year’s Best of the Northwest Film & Video Festival. That’s because local filmmaker and MCAT veteran Rick Phillips’ Europa—a string of recurring images matched to an industrial noise and strings soundtrack by MCAT General Manager Joel Baird—is less than two minutes long.

“I think of it like a silent film,” says Phillips, who describes Europa as being roughly about colonialism and the rape of Europe. “It’s a backdoor narrative, sort of like telling a story without telling a story.”
Europa is just one of 11 shorts selected by the Northwest Film Center to represent the best of the region from last year. Here’s a look at what we consider to be the best of the best:

Magic Hostess, The Electric Can Opener, by Rob Tyler

(4 min.)
This is like a horror movie for canned goods. Extreme close-ups of a vintage Magic Hostess brand can opener make it look like something out of the Saw franchise. As music reminiscent of The Postal Service doing the Halloween theme plays, we see the Magic Hostess opening fellow relics, such as Mr. T’s brand chili. Strangely captivating.

Scaredycat, by Andre Blubaugh

(13 min.)

The effeminate Andrew Blubaugh (he’s a soft-spoken type from the same neurotic mold as Woody Allen) got jumped riding his bike and came away from the incident, understandably, pretty screwed up. To help cope, he made a film about the experience, focusing mostly on the emotional aftermath. The best part occurs when the filmmaker interviews one of his assailants over the phone. It’s a chilling exchange that finds the attacker calm, sincere and articulate. At one point Blubaugh asks if his now-jailed assailant had ever been a victim of violence himself, and the young man says he’d had fistfights with his stepfather, “but it wasn’t really that violent.”
“Fistfights with your father? It sounds pretty violent to me,” Blubaugh says. “I’d never, ever been hit or struck at all before that night.”
“It’s quite an experience the first time, isn’t it?” says the assailant in an eerily sympathetic voice.
This film—Blubaugh’s second in two years to make the Best Of cut—won the judge’s award for the Best Autobiographical Short.

Fifty Years Later, by Matt McCormick

(3 min.)
It’s so simple and poignant. McCormick takes precious home movies of his family in Santa Claus, Ariz., (yes, the quaint roadside attraction claims to be Kris Kringle’s home) and follows it with footage of Santa Claus today. It’s a little different.

Alice & Bastard, by Ana Valine

(18 min.)
The festival bills this study of 1970s-era trailer park life as “surprisingly appealing.” I’d lean more toward sad and disheartening. Alice is a blissfully innocent kid (maybe five years old) stuck with a chain-smoking, heavy-drinking mom and a sexually charged, equally sloshed brother. And yet Alice is painfully adorable—when her brother asks her to wait in the car while he drinks at a seedy strip club all day, she plays with whatever she can find in the fold of the seats; when she has to pee, she does so with her fanny propped out the window so as to not disobey her brother’s orders. The fact that Valine shot much of the film from Alice’s point of view makes it all the more effective. Looking up at her Mom’s empty glass of gin at the card table before being told to refill it, or through the doorway at her sleeping brother’s tighty-whitey-clad crotch are difficult images to shake. Alice is definitely charming, but imagining her future is depressing as hell.

Piledriver, by Calvin Lee Reeder

(14 min.)
This love story had me from the opening chords of The Intelligence’s “Books.” The Seattle band’s odd lyrics and fuzz-fueled noise are the perfect backdrop to the minimalist hipster lifestyle of main character Alex (Reeder). He sells his vinyl for some cash, then persuades the angelic Michelle (Lindsay Pulcipher) to leave her bus stop with the line, “I’ve got $15 and I was wondering if you wanna go get drunk?” It’d be a mistake to elaborate, but rest assured it’s much more than just a John Hughes-like romance. 

A Painful Glimpse Into My Writing Process (in less than 60 seconds), by Chel White

(um, 1 min.)
Writers will relate to the text by Scott Poole. Artists will appreciate the rapid succession of mixed media collages. Filmmakers (especially editors) will marvel at the lasting impact of such a succinct piece of work. Viewers will probably want to see it again—I watched it four times—just to digest it all.

Regarding Sarah, by Michelle Porter

(14 min.)
Oh, the irony that one of the most memorable films—it won the judges award for being exactly that—is about memory loss. Sarah is suffering from Alzheimer’s and responds by surrounding herself with minicams—lots and lots of minicams. She becomes obsessed. Like a lot of this festival, the short works because it uses a simple setup as a jumping off point to bigger questions.

The Best of the Northwest Film & Video Festival screens at the Missoula Art Museum as part of the new MAM’s one-year anniversary weekend Friday, Sept. 21, at 7 PM and Saturday, Sept. 22, at 1 PM. $6/$5 members.
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