It’s not the biggest or buzziest fest around, but nothing can match Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings Festival when it comes to giving regional filmmakers their due. Now in its 15th year, the festival turns a spotlight on the dramas, documentaries, and experimental shorts of artists who know much of sunless days and introspection. Filmmakers come from Alaska to Oregon, with 2010’s Local Sightings winner—Olympia director Zach Weintraub (Bummer Summer)—opening this year’s fest with his second feature, The International Sign for Choking.
Choking follows Josh, a young American documentarian played by Weintraub, to Buenos Aires on assignment. Though Josh is there on business, he’s focused on pleasure: namely, an attempt to rekindle a relationship with an ex while simultaneously courting Anna (Sophia Takal), a pretty little American who is literally the girl next door in shared housing. While the narrative is meandering at best, Nandan Rao’s cinematography shines. Rao fills the screen with bold off-center framings and vivid colors. Argentina doesn’t star; the filmmakers are more intent on showing Josh and Anna against the canary yellow-and-cool blue floral wallpaper of their rooms. It’s a narrow, personal focus that serves The International Sign for Choking well. Weintraub captures and embodies a certain hipster blend of self-importance in the face of alienation that seems to be the calling card of modern urban twentysomethings.
Also screening (just in time for budding Sonica fever) is Fast Break, a rare cinema verite sports documentary capturing the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers in their championship season. Star of the documentary is Bill Walton, the Blazers’ affable redheaded center who’s a sort of monk who dunks. He exudes a Zen-like peace, whether biking through the Oregon countryside, counseling kids at a summer camp, or sitting by a stream waxing poetic about life and basketball. Injuries would soon derail a career that could’ve placed Walton among the best players in NBA history, making his onscreen sentiments all that more heartbreaking.
Fast Break is really a film for basketball junkies—or, more specifically, fans of the '70s Blazers who don’t need introductions. While director Don Zavin offers some game-time footage, there are even more extended fly-on-the-wall shots of teammates playing backgammon. That said, there’s a beauty to the film’s openness and leisureliness compared to other sports docs. It captures a bygone era: when practices were open to the public and held at a tiny local gym; when players would discuss getting their realtor's license in the offseason; when fans could rush the court after a big victory or mob the team at the airport; and when the average player salary was under $110,000. Even if Seattle gets the Sonics back, the city will never experience anything like what's captured in Fast Break.
For the full festival lineup visit localsightings.nwfilmforum.org.
15th Annual Local Sightings Festival
Sept 28–Oct 4, Northwest Film Forum, single tickets $10–$12, festival pass $100