Returning tonight is the Local Sightings Film Festival, hosted every year by the Northwest Film Forum (NWFF) in Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Local Sightings gathers together and showcases new films from talents all over the Northwest (from Alaska to Oregon) for audiences, allowing them to experience the wonder of homegrown and emerging artists. NWFF Program Director Courtney Sheehan has worked hard to produce this year’s festival, which includes a number of screenings from the region’s most distinct artists. In addition, Sheehan has assembled artist talks, performances, networking events, and parties for this year’s festival, as well as the expanded and week-long Seattle Film Summit with panels on topics ranging from filming all across the West Coast to the strategy of the Washington Film Political Action Committee (PAC).
Even with so much excitement and activity going on, Sheehan kindly took the time to sit down with Washington Filmworks and discuss Local Sightings 2014’s lineup, events, and conferences.
Washington Filmworks: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat about Local Sightings 2014. This is the 17th year of Local Sightings – what does that mean for the Northwest Film Forum and the filmmaking community of the Northwest?
Courtney Sheehan: Seventeen years ago, NWFF was known as Wiggly World – a group of filmmakers who ran the Grand Illusion and supported local film production in whatever ways they could. The internet had not yet radicalized how people make and watch movies, and films were still shot and shown on film. Ten years ago, 16 of the films in Local Sightings were projected on 16mm film! The program for this year’s festival reflects what has changed and what has stayed the same both for Northwest filmmakers and at NWFF. While very few movies today are shot on film, more movies are being made – this year we’re showing twice as many feature films as we did ten years ago. NWFF remains a hub for community gatherings, but the content of conversation has transformed. This year’s Seattle Film Summit includes topics on the gaming industry, DIY distribution and publicity strategies for the startup era. This is also the first year Local Sightings includes a program and discussion on interactive and multi-platform work. Boundaries between media forms are blurring, opening up new opportunities for filmmakers in other fields – and new ways for organizations like NWFF to support independent film and media makers.
WF: In addition to the screenings, what exciting talks and panels can audiences anticipate this year?
CS: The opening night puts the emphasis on the people that make up this community by introducing the filmmakers before we screen their films. Attendees will get to hear from director and producer of Bella Vista, the opening film, before it screens the following night. Speakers from the Seattle Film Summit will give a glimpse of what’s in store during their panel discussions. Director, teacher, and choreographer Dayna Hanson will share highlights from the dance film class she’s teaching this season. Then, DJ Sharlese Metcalf from KEXP’s Audioasis will be spinning on the staircase in the lobby, and the new local brewery Outer Planet will make sure everyone’s thirst is slaked.
We are also hosting a free education open house and showcase of student work recently made in classes at NWFF. People can come and talk to instructors about their upcoming classes, and even sign up on the spot. There’s also a fantastic workshop being offered during the festival with Caryn Cline. Students will learn the ‘botanicollage’ technique used by filmmakers like Stan Brakhage, which entails creating handmade film frames using local botanicals – another fun local connection. The final product from that workshop will be screened the next day alongside a program of other experimental work, including Brakhage’s – and multiple films will be shown on 16mm.
Before the closing film and party, folks can gather for a Town Hall discussion hosted by the Seattle Film Industry Caucus. It’s a great opportunity for filmmakers to recap everything that was seen and discussed during the Seattle Film Summit and festival, and to let us know how we can best support their work. Then our last big party is right around the corner at Vermillion. Vermillion owner Diana Adams’s commitment to supporting local artists has truly set the standard on Capitol Hill. Naturally, her spot is one of the last bastions of bonafide cool in the Pike/Pine corridor.
WF: What are the largest benefits of hosting this festival every year – what impact does it have on the film culture of Washington, specifically?
CS: I recently looked back at the festival lineup from ten years ago and noticed many familiar names: Megan Griffiths, Drew Christie, Lynn Shelton, Web Crowell, Bret Fetzer. As a platform for discovery, Local Sightings actively cultivates new film culture. You can look at the programs from year to year and track the development of new filmmaking voices in the region.
Here’s a story that quite directly illustrates the impacts the role that the fest has on the production of new work in WA state. Two years ago at Local Sightings, Brian Perkins won best short for his film The Heavens. He began developing a feature and when he needed a leading man, former program director Adam Sekuler connected him with Zach Weintraub (Local Sightings was the first festival in the US to screen Weintraub’s films). Together they made a feature that is premiering in Local Sightings this year.
Another example – local filmmaker Zeek Earl was on this year’s Filmmaker Magazine list of 25 New Faces of Independent Film. I met him at a party in his honor, where he told me he used to be a Local Sightings intern! Now we’re the Seattle premiere of his latest short, Prospect.
And it’s about more than discovering individual voices. It’s also about discovering opportunities for connection within and across communities. As the only festival in Seattle dedicated entirely to local and regional film, Local Sightings is the meeting grounds for film artists and professionals to connect with their neighbors – from across I-5, and even across state and national borders. Ideally, a screenwriter learns about a new area of opportunity in the city’s thriving gaming industry. A director-writer-producer-editor at a crossroads gains some insight from hearing Megan Griffiths and Tony Fulgham share their take and experiences with balancing artistic practice with commercial work (an idea that will be explored in-depth on a panel in the Film Summit). An audience member’s heart is moved or her mind is bent or her worldview is broadened. It all starts with coming to the movie theater to discover a new film, a new experience, a new friend.
WF: Are there any exciting Washington-based filmmakers emerging this year?
CS: Kara Schoonmaker and Anna Conser’s 30-minute Maureen is a pure surrealist magic, with exquisite set design. Andrew Finnigan’s debut Koinonia creates an effective dystopian atmosphere with a tiny budget – it’s a true accomplishment. High schooler Abbey Sacks is definitely one to watch – her short Connie shows a grace few filmmakers strike upon so young. Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell are on Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film and their work has been strongly supported by SXSW. Arts scene fixture Greg Lundgren has made his first film, a one-take feature carried wonderfully by the performance of one non-actor.
WF: Finally, this year’s fest is going on in conjunction with the Seattle Film Summit – what can the filmmaking community expect from combination?
CS: Each edition of the Seattle Film Summit has been held at NWFF as a partnership during Local Sightings, and this year we have deepened and expanded upon that collaboration. In addition to the main day of the Summit on Saturday the 27th, panels will be hosted throughout the festival. We have an all-star lineup of speakers and we can’t wait to unleash their expertise. We have reached farther into area media companies to bring in professionals from the design, tech, and gaming industries so filmmakers can get an even wider shot glimpse of developments in the creative industries.
We are extremely grateful to Courtney Sheehan for taking the time to share some incredible information and insight into Local Sightings 2014. The festival runs September 25th – October 4th at the Northwest Film Forum, and more information on the 10 day event is available on the festival’s website.
About Courtney Sheehan, Northwest Film Forum Program Director: Courtney Sheehan is program director for Northwest Film Forum. She has curated film programs and produced events for theaters and festivals on three continents. On a year-long Watson Fellowship, Courtney investigated the organizational structures, community roles, and programming strategies of twenty film festivals and media centers in India, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia. As a journalist, Courtney has covered film events ranging from the world’s largest documentary festival (IDFA in Amsterdam) to South America’s largest animation festival (Anima Mundi in Rio de Janeiro) and her publications include Bitch Magazine, Senses of Cinema, The Independent, and NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies.