Determined to fight my usual documentary bias, in the mood for love, I opted to watch three of the features in this year's Local Sightings Film Festival. Never mind the facts; let's look for romance!
LOCAL SIGHTINGS FILM FESTIVAL Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., 829-7863, localsightings.org. $6-$10 (individual), $60-$100 (pass). Runs Fri., Sept. 30-Thurs., Oct. 4.
Opening the festival (8 p.m. Friday, with after-party), The International Sign for Choking takes place all the way down in Argentina, which would seem beyond the fest's regional boundaries. Yet director Zach Weintraub hails from Olympia, and his two main characters are Americans visiting Buenos Aires: one a photographer on assignment, the other a pretty student staying in the same boarding house. Josh (Weintraub) first seems like a lost, procrastination-prone hipster. He's got functional Spanish, though we hear more of him making excuses via Skype to an impatient editor back home. Anna (Sophia Takal) takes a liking to her neighbor, but he proves elusive. Rather than working, he sets out looking for the girl he met during a prior visit— withholding that crucial bit of information from both Anna and his female editor. Commitment-phobe or passive/aggressive jerk? Choking takes a slow, patient approach to this question. That means not a lot of plot and much time moping against an incongruous backdrop of cheerful yellow wallpaper. Weintraub also employs a curious approach to cropping, with figures half out of frame, as if someone had sawed off the legs of his tripod. There's a trip to the beach, but the movie otherwise abstains from tourist scenery. During one call, Josh protests to his editor that can't find any inspiration in the city. He's not the only one.
Re-enactors (7:15 p.m Saturday) wears its influences on its sleeve—or both sleeves, really, and possibly its pant legs, too. Directed by brothers Nathan and Zach Hamer in Mount Vernon, this comedy about rival Civil War buffs plays like Christopher Guest on training wheels; it even concludes with a mini-stage musical much like the one in Waiting for Guffman. Looking like Matthew Broderick's meek country cousin, Jedidiah (Nathan Hamer) is obsessed with the past, trying to chase down pedestrians for free history tours no one wants to take. Desperate for a job at Milltown Pioneer Village, with a film crew following him, he enlists the help of frenemy Douglas (Doug Zwick), a more successful Civil War re-enactor. Both, of course, have an uncertain grasp of history. But that doesn't stop their strident lecturing. When they do land a trial gig as camp counselors, Jedidiah tells his befuddled guests, "Technically, women weren't allowed to talk back then" in the 1860s.
Unsurprisingly, their insistence on historical accuracy goes way too far. Food runs short when no one's willing to slaughter a turkey, terrified campers try to flee, and our two heroes vie for the affection of the camp's comely manager (Emily Lester)—first by dueling with ukeleles, then with knife and hatchet. Re-enactors earns a steady stream of chuckles, though without a Guest-caliber improv ensemble. The best lines feel planted, as when Jedidiah explodes at the guests, "Little House on the Prairie was bullshit!" Equally funny, in the final credits, is the historical consultant: Wikipedia.
Those waiting for the Arrested Development movie, currently filming, can get their Buster Bluth fix in Not That Funny (7 p.m. Monday)—which at first glance appears to be Not That Local, since the gentle midlife romance was clearly filmed in California. Among other familiar TV faces, Tony Hale plays a meek CPA named Stefan who lives as the tenant/informal caregiver for an elderly widow (K Callan) in a small town. He's the sort of doormat who does everyone's taxes, eats takeout by himself, and unhappily jogs through the empty streets at midnight. Arriving for a visit is the widow's granddaughter Hayley (Brigid Brannagh), seeking refuge from her stressful job and horrid boss. There's never any doubt where things are headed, nor any complication to character, but Not That Funny benefits from Hale's dweeby decency and a generous depiction of aging in place. What's the local connection? I had to check IMDb: Seeking to learn what makes women laugh, Stefan takes lessons from a scruffy young comedian played by Nick Thune, a Northwest native now based in L.A. [Update/correction: Director Lauralee Farrer informs me that her co-writer, Jonathan Foster, is a Seattle resident.]
Finally, nonfiction fans will be reassured to know that Local Sightings also offers documentaries on the pharmaceutical industry, West Coast modernist architecture, medical marijuana, the Portland Trail Blazers, and Inuit bird hunters. What's not to love about that?