At Close Range
New Northwest Cinema at the Local Sightings Film Festival
Founded in 1998, Local Sightings is the Northwest Film Forum's annual showcase of new cinema from the Pacific Northwest, bringing together films and filmmakers from Alaska to Oregon, with a good bunch of the selections made right here in Seattle. (Playing spot-the-locale is but a fraction of the fun.) The immediately impending 2013 Local Sightings contains five programs of short films and almost two dozen features—of which Charles Mudede and I managed to review exactly five. For full info, see nwfilmforum.org.
Walking Against the Wind
Claiming this year's coveted opening-night spot is the debut feature by Seattle's Brendan Flynn, who uses black-and-white cinematography and a moody score by Ian Becker to tell the tale of Frank, a middle-aged Seattle man who's lost in misery following the death of his wife. Still living: his daughter Aspen, who's processing the loss in her own teenage way, doing her best to stay out of the way of her aggressively pathetic father. (When he's not blacked out drunk, he mimes in whiteface on the street.) Actor Tom Ricciardelli does a heroic job of humanizing this tragic clown, and director Flynn draws small, attractive performances from the rest of his cast. One notable mention: Aspen Day Flynn as Aspen, whose shy teen obstinacy is beautifully captured by director of photography Connor Hair, who'll let the camera rest on Aspen's face-obscuring bangs for the majority of a scene, and emerge with something that captures something deep and true. As with many of the films in the fest, Walking Against the Wind has some trouble reaching a satisfying conclusion, but it does a lot of good, sad stuff on the way. DAVID SCHMADER
Lauren Is Missing
Michael Harring's effectively creepy mumblecore psychodrama concerns Mia (Brand Upon the Brain!'s Maya Lawson), a punky young woman who returns to Seattle to find her life in strange disarray: The job she'd hoped to reclaim is gone, her roommate is missing (along with the rent money), and every once in a while, an odd man drifts by in the periphery. Things click into focus with the appearance of Millie (Erin Jorgensen), a confident, charming young woman who claims to be a friend of the missing roommate and quickly insinuates herself into Mia's life—hanging out on her couch, helping her throw a yard sale, even getting her a job at the taxidermy studio where Millie works. (Best known as the marimba player with the French Project, Jorgensen does a strikingly good job playing Millie, and the scenes of the women's friendship growing before our eyes are the film's best.) Slowly but surely, things get crazy, in a variety of Vertigo-meets-Single-White-Female-meets-Fight-Club-y ways, and director Harring hits us with some audaciously scrappy cinema tricks, all but re-creating Vertigo's Dali-inspired freak-out with stop-motion construction paper. But the ending's a cheap, confusing cop-out that you'll hate extra hard because the preceding movie was so interesting. DS
Coming on like an existential spin on The Blair Witch Project, Johan Liedgren's Mother Nature casts a father and son onto a Pacific Northwest campground, where they find a never-ending supply of vague menace and symbolic symbolism that occasionally threatens to jell into something an audience member might latch onto but never quite makes it. Miraculously, in this swamp of muddy intent, a number of actors manage to distinguish themselves, mostly notably Phillip Roebuck as the mysteriously beleaguered father. DS
Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse
James Chasse was a well-regarded fixture in Portland's late-'80s punk scene until mental illness took over his life and a tragic run-in with Portland police ended it. Portland filmmakers Jason Renaud and Brian Lindstrom's documentary Alien Boy seeks to capture this tragedy in full, and starts out strong: The time we spend getting to know the pre-mental-illness Chasse is the best stretch of the film. But after Chasse dies at the hands of Portland police, the film morphs into a legal procedural with an eye on social justice—a perfectly noble goal, but one that's ultimately missed by the filmmakers, who stretch their impressive supply of supporting materials (primarily focused on the trial of the cops who fatally manhandled Chasse) to the point of crass emotional manipulation. A vital story, if klutzily told (but fans of NW punk history and issues of police brutality will still want to see it). DS
You Make Me Feel So Young
Zach Weintraub's third film, You Make Me Feel So Young, completes a trilogy that began with Bummer Summer, which was followed by The International Sign for Choking, the film that led to Weintraub becoming a Genius Award finalist for film this year. The best film in the series is the second, but the most polished and aesthetically pure is You Make Me Feel So Young, as each of its 30 or so scenes comes very close to the stillness and beauty of a photograph. A love affair on the rocks (or heading toward the rocks) is at the center of all three features, two of which (the first and the latest) were shot in the Northwest and in black and white—Choking, the second, is set in Buenos Aires.
So Young is about a twentysomething woman, Justine (Justine Eister), who is completely out of place in a world that's dominated by her arty boyfriend, Zach (the director and writer). Justine is pretty in a plainish way, is practical, has a sense of humor, and wants to study social work and do real things like help ESL students. She is the very opposite of her boyfriend, who has a striking appearance, interesting and beautiful friends, and a cool job (he is a film programmer for an art house cinema). One wonders how they met in the first place; they are clearly not made for each other. As the movie progresses, you begin to get the sense that Justine is looking for a way out of the relationship. What happens at the end of So Young will not surprise you. CHARLES MUDEDE