North Bend’s a sleepy little town off the highway. It has a mixed feeling of the being at the edge of the rural class: far enough outside Bellevue’s east-side that the picture of a country life begins to emerge, close enough that it is a strip mall stop-off. Commercialization cannot take its inherent beauty, pouring forth from the local Snoqualmie Falls. An artist does not have to look very far for inspiration. That is why it’s famously drawn as a shooting locale for Twin Peaks. Yes, that Northwest flavor of American town, steeped in counterculture values, lives on in North Bend.

Every now and then, North Bend awakens from its sleepy reverie and becomes a place of culture and fine art. This is the story of last weekend, where the inaugural North Bend Film Festival was held at the North Bend Theater—a one-screener that’d play host to all kinds of rebellious outsider cinema.

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North Bend Theater

I putted over from downtown Seattle several times, full of flu (in truth sick as a dog and in no real shape for cinema) but with a sporting attitude for the arts. I knew what was being presented was of maximum importance to my interests. As I pulled off the freeway and stopped for gas, at the station from The Vanishing where the gal is chloroformed and then promptly abducted by Jeff Bridges, it occurred to me how quaint Northwestern towns were inherently filmic. They have cinema in their DNA, as do I.

Car ready for the weekend’s driving, I needed some fuel myself. I stopped in further down the road at Twede’s Café, famously featured in Twin Peaks, for a damn fine cup of coffee and a cherry pie. That is a Film Festival diet. I could take in the cinema from my upholstered dinner seating, while drinking in the festive atmosphere of the weekend with my rich dark coffee. With the cinema around the corner, I parked next to the local Jazz club. You could say I felt emboldened at this point and fully alive with the spirit of Twin Peaks, with the swaying Jazz informing a certain aesthetic and principled sound on my walk to the theater. Everything came together for me in a certain cohesive way.

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Twedes of Twin Peaks fame

At this time, North Bend was choked with smoke. There had been wildfires all around us the last two weeks, and a thick blanket of fog hung wearily over the festival the full weekend. This meant the cancelling of outdoor events but also that it was a prime time to stay in and watch some brilliant cinema.

And so we did. With phenomenal program direction, the first North Bend Film Festival was an absolute celebration of the weird and the unknown. We watched in awe as some visionary directors showcased some of the most provocative work while touring the festival circuit.

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Shirkers

Here I’d like to highlight some of the great showings at the festival. I want to mention Shirkers upfront, an excellent documentary about a female film director from Singapore who has her work—and thus, her dreams—stolen from her by an odd man who has offered his help. This is premiering in two months on Netflix, and I have the great pleasure to offer it a high recommendation.

There is also Model Home, a long-time passion project from Patrick Cunningham, who began production on this in 2011, and with an impressively resuméd cast, was a thrill to cover at the festival. It chose the North Bend Film Festival for the honor of its world premiere, and we ran simultaneous coverage with our glowing review. It is certainly my pick of the festival.

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Piercing

Piercing nearly drove my illness home during its showing. As it got progressively grotesque with a hard Italian giallo turn midway through, my stomach tightened into absolute knots. I am going to give this as a credit to the film, and—given my DayQuil diet throughout the weekend—will not say that any following sickness was born from its unsavory graphic nature.

Another close to my heart is Don’t Leave Home. It does what the big, modern horror pictures are afraid to do, establishing a mood piece that stays within a centralized feeling for the duration of its run time. It’s the kind of preliminary picture a director makes before setting into their first big work, and I can’t wait to see what that’ll be.

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Bailaora

Of special note are the three short film blocks. I believe some of the best talent at the festival was contained in there. In the Cinema Vista block, I found a new all-time favorite short film in Bailaora, where a militarized unit sweeps the streets of the dead and then become entranced by a ballerina’s metronomic dance routines, distracted enough that some abandoned children could escape the church they were hiding in. In the Something Strange block was another stellar short called BFF Girls, which enabled me to write this special sentence: “It’s about a troop of girls reaching puberty and unlocking unknown superpowers once their development is threatened by blood-thirsty Fabuloso Doom and his anti-flow tampon monster.”

Inside the North Bend theater, the projectionists cut through our smoke-filled haze with neon lights and the most eclectic talent that outsider cinema has to offer. It filled me with a great hopefulness for the future of this festival. That is to say, the inaugural festival was a major success. While we could not see outside for the smoke, inside the art brought us together, and we saw modern visionaries at work.

Written by Calvin Kemph

Dad & writer. Press: calvinkemph@yahoo.com

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