Review: The Northwest Film Forum

by Mary Hubert

I will be the first to admit that the film world is a bit of a mystery to me. Sure, I’ve done my fair share of small budget pet projects, but at heart I’m a theater junkie through and through. So when I walked into the Northwest Film Forum’s opening ceremony on Thursday and was enveloped immediately by film lovers in themed outfits, I was initially shell-shocked.

Everywhere, people with umbrella hats and fake beards, red wigs and enormous glasses, wandered about chatting in that particular kind of network-y way that constitutes a lot of careful questions and packaged answers, but not much real conversation. I parked myself in the corner with my glass of red wine and steeled myself for a two hour bout of pretentious shorts showcasing clever filming as opposed to good content.

Fortunately for everyone, I misjudged what I would be witnessing that evening.

The films, which ranged in length from 90 seconds to 10 minutes (a few may have even been slightly longer), all focused on Seattle. Seattle as a stoner’s paradise, Seattle as an urban sprawl, Seattle as a former haven for the queer community that is now being pushed out. There was a fantastic series of community profiles focusing on beloved businesses closed to make way for ritzy coffee shops. There was an interview done with the men who started  the United Hood Movement, and another with the creator of Legendary Penis graffiti. And together, these slices of Seattle combined to create a bittersweet rendition of a cultural mecca being eroded by gentrification and condominiums

At the end of the showing, I walked away feeling completely in love with Seattle while at the same time despairing at the current plight of the city that I call home. And it made me wish a few things, both for the films and the environment in which they were shown.

First off, I wanted the films to suggest solutions to the problems of gentrification, destruction of historical sites, zoning, and segregation that they did such a good job of illustrating. Yes, we all know that these are concerning problems in Seattle at the moment, but other than reminding me of the poor state of things in my city, I didn’t feel that the films dealt with how to remedy these trouble spots.

I also wished that these films, which seemed designed to rouse the public into action, were in a venue that was more accessible to the public. I understand limited budget and resources, but the people at NWFF on Thursday were all film aficionados, there to celebrate their friends’ films or the film forum itself. Though there were heads nodding in the audience as we watched these shorts, they didn’t represent a particularly diverse subset of the population. What if these videos were shown both at NWFF and at a cinema like Ark Lodge or Central Cinema? What if there were subsidized or free tickets to the event? What if the opening night was advertised more heavily to the community so that they, too, could be affected by these films’ depiction of a dying Seattle? If we want change through art, we need to get that art out to the communities that could use a change.

I know it is way, WAY easier said than done (as a fringe theater artist, I totally get it). But these films were beautiful. They were indicative of just the kind of art that people should be making if we want film to remain relevant to the world we live in. So let’s get these films out to the people.

The Bottom Line: NWFF’s festival is a representation of art that should be everywhere in Seattle. Go check out the films this upcoming weekend, and be surprised and amazed at the work being done by the independent filmmaker community in our city. And keep spreading the word, so that maybe this time next year these works can have a little more reach.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

One thought on “Review: The Northwest Film Forum”

  1. As the Artistic Director of Northwest Film Forum, I appreciated reading this review of the opening night of Local Sightings Film Festival, and am glad to hear that you found the films moving. The series of community profiles you mentioned are part of a new video project called Citizen Minutes: super short videos about what’s happening in our city. We will play them in the theater as weekly newsreels and are also circulating them online through a website (citizenminutes.com) and through social media. The project will also include free community screenings and discussions of the videos both at our venue and others in the city. We recognize that the accessibility of our venue in Capitol Hill can pose an issue for many potential audience members, and Citizen Minutes represents an intentional effort to create and share community media in a way that is not tied to our physical location.
    We decided to launch Citizen Minutes on the opening night of the festival with a program that marked a departure from the types of films that festivals traditionally showcase. Instead, we presented a film program that is more directly engaged with our surroundings.
    While films can inform and mobilize us, it is up to us to seek solutions to the structural problems that some of the films explored and commented on, such as affordability. The goal for projects like Citizen Minutes is to help raise awareness and spark action.
    NWFF also works with partner organizations like Coyote Central and the Rainier Valley Cultural Center to bring our youth education programs to other locations.
    I’d love to meet you at another screening or event at NWFF sometime. The costume party wasn’t a fluke – we’re not your average batch of film aficionados : )