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PDX Fest Invitationals Review

by Shawn Levy
photo by Olivia Nisbit
April 23rd 2004
Portland Oregonian

What do you call 380 avant-garde film buffs sitting in a movie theater clicking through a series of View-Master slides in unison?

No, really: What do you call it? 'Cause if nobody knows what it's called, then there's no name at all for what went on at the Guild Theater last Saturday night.

A little context: It was the Peripheral Produce Invitational, the centerpiece of the PDX Film Fest, a celebration of experimental and underground film curated and emceed by the lanky, genial presiding spirit of the enterprise, Matt McCormick.

The invitational, which crowns its World Champion of Experimental Film, is a showcase of a dozen movies made according to these rules: They must never have been shown in Portland; they must be 10 minutes or shorter in length; and the filmmaker must be present on the night of the show. (You can't win the prize fight if you don't show up - just ask boxer Gerry Cooney).

This year's Invitational drew entries from as far away as New York and Iowa City as well as new works by several notables in the Portland filmmaking community, ranging from Jim Blashfield, one of the graddaddies of the scene, to young lions such as Zak Margolis, Andrew Dickson, Nick Peterson, Morgan Currie and Trevor Fife. He's the reigning champ on the strength of his poignant "Meridian Days," which went on to the Sundance Film Festival after winning the last invitational.

There were some truly wonderful films: Melody Owen's "Waiting with Guns," which consisted of footage from Hollywood movies in which actors and actresses stood around with guns and rifles anticipating mayhem; Aaron Valdez's hilarious, illuminating pair of cut-ups of State of the Union speeches by presidents Clinton and George W. Bush; Reed Harkness' nifty, untitled Super 8 film that was shot during the early part of the evening, developed in a bathroom sink during intermission and shown with live accordian accompaniment; Margolis' touching animated love story "Horse"; and Peterson's characteristically sharp-eyed "Webern Tests." As for some of the others, well, yes, there were some others. . . .

But even in this crowd of arty hipsters, nobody had ever seen anything like "Lucifugia Thigmotaxis" by a young Portland woman known as Vladimir. Vladimir and her friends passed out to everyone a View-Master and four reels of pictures - a total of 1,520 cardboard wheels, all made by hand and consisting of 21,000 little frames of film. Then everyone followed along as a narrator read the story of a cockroach who emerges from behind the refrigerator to brave the perils of an apartment. Utterly charming.

After the screening broke up, the crowd congregated at Ye Olde Lab Shoppe, a communal art studio near Chinatown, where beer flowed sporadically and Vladimir was crowned World Champ by McCormick, who, at 6-foot-7, stood an entire human torso above her.

As for the also-rans, some good news to mitigate the disappointment: Because they all, remarkably finished in a tie for second place, they each will only be responsible for one-thirteenth of Vladimir's responsibilities should she be unable to fulfill her duties as champion. Whatever those duties might be.