The fall film festival circuit is in full swing. Venice has already started, Telluride is bringing up the rear with TIFF not far behind, and buzz has already started building for potential awards darlings like “First Man,” “Roma,” and “The Favourite.” But this past weekend, in a small Washington town where the owls are not what they seem, something strange emerged like the fog rolling down through the woods: the arrival of the first annual North Bend Film Festival (NBFF).
For the uninitiated, North Bend is a small town in Washington roughly 30 miles east of Seattle, and is most notable for being the major shooting location for “Twin Peaks” (specifically the pilot, “Fire Walk With Me,” and “The Return”). NBFF focused their energy on vanguard programming, which allowed them the freedom to program films outside of the constraints of being labeled a “genre film,” while also having a heavy emphasis on genre. For us Pacific Northwesterners, the forming of this festival is a big, exciting deal. If you live in New York, you have the Brooklyn Horror Festival. If you’re in Austin, you have Fantastic Fest. If you’re in Los Angeles, you have Beyond Fest. But as far as smaller, niche, genre festivals, something like this was unheard of in the PNW. Until now.
All films screened at the historic North Bend Theatre – a beautiful one-screen picture house – and they were able to secure an eclectic mix of titles that had some buzz to them from previous festivals (including high-profile releases like “Shirkers,” “Anna and the Apocalypse,” and “Profile”), as well as a World Premiere (“Model Home”). For a film festival starting out, and in a small town, no less, this was an impressively-programmed lineup.
Thirteen features played in-competition, and I was fortunate enough to watch twelve of them (I missed out on Theo Maassen’s “Billy”). And of the twelve, ten of the films were solid to very strong. While it may be fewer titles than some other festivals, an 83% success rate is unheard of. All in all, the first annual NBFF was an absolute blast, and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next year. But, while we wait, here’s a running journal of the films that I watched at the festival. Keep an eye out for most of them as they are released throughout the next year.
“Anna and the Apocalypse”
A high school coming-of-age horror-comedy-musical with zombies. It’s already every Hot Topic customer’s favorite film. Admirable and charming, yet uninspired and un-engaging, “Anna and the Apocalypse” doesn’t use its genre mash-up to subvert the respective clichés but more so brings the baggage of coming-of-age movie and zombie movie tropes with it. The characters are archetypes, but the cast does their best with the limited material, and for a musical, the songs are shockingly banal. The film has one memorable sequence (though again, not necessarily the song’s doing) where the three genres converge into something striking and offbeat, and you wish the entire film was that way. What should be a fun movie ends up being a chore, but the audience was mostly locked into the experience. For the right crowd, expect it to be a favorite when it hits theaters this winter. [C-]
Khalik Allah is a filmmaker whose name we will likely be hearing more of in the future. One of the cinematographers and second unit directors on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” he uses a mixture of 8mm and digital to propel “Black Mother,” a documentary that in the micro is about a woman in Jamaica throughout each trimester of her pregnancy, but in the macro is about the state of Jamaica as a whole – told through voiceover narration of local residents – and all the things to be considered when bringing a new child into this world. The images that Allah is able to convey are stunning, and each frame is filled with empathy, curiosity, and a story to go with it. A good comparison would be if Harmony Korine’s “Gummo” was a documentary and it had a more positive – or at worst, melancholic – outlook on life. At a brief 76 minutes, Allah packs in more story and more subtext than films twice its length. [B+]
No matter how strong a festival lineup is, no matter how much fun you’re having, and no matter how much it pains you to see a well-intentioned and energetic independent feature fail to connect with you in any way, there’s always that one film that sticks in your craw and grinds on your nerves like sandpaper. And that film would be “Braid,” a lurid cross-pollination of “Spring Breakers” and “Natural Born Killers,” but without either film’s satirical bent. Petula (Imogen Waterhouse) and Tilda (Sarah Hay) try and rob their wealthy childhood friend Daphne (Madeline Brewer), who has been living a fantasy in her mind ever since Petula and Tilda caused an incident when they were younger. The overwhelming, bludgeoning style of “Braid” squanders solid work from the three performers, as if to deliberately distract the audience from the film’s lack of internal logic. The film establishes rules for the characters in their deadly game, but no rules for what is happening and why, thus creating a scenario where nothing matters and anything could happen at any time, making it difficult to care. There may be something it’s trying to say about how terrible reality is and why one might shy away if they can, though it’s hard to find while sifting through the ashes I imagined while daydreaming about burning down the theater screen after watching the film. [D-]