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Thinking Outside the Plex: Spotlight on Northwest Film Forum

by Elaine Perrone

Walking in to the spacious lobby of Northwest Film Forum, a lovely cinematheque in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, one's eyes are first drawn from the gleaming hardwood floors to the graceful green staircase that scales the foyer of this 1927 building from floor to ceiling. Executive Director Michael Seiwerath calls it "the staircase to nowhere," but for the artists whose work is produced on and around these premises, and the moviegoers for whom NWFF means having access to some of the world's most glorious – and underseen – cinematic treasures, that staircase is far closer in spirit to the famous portal of song, "Stairway to Heaven."

Northwest Film Forum is operated by a small staff of seemingly tireless directors and curators, five of whom are full-time and two part-time, as well as a host of volunteers. All epitomize the concept of multi-tasking, in spades. When they are not performing their day jobs, Seiwerath, Technical Director Nora Weideman, and Program Director Jaime Keeling might be found manning a projection booth, selling tickets and dispensing popcorn, cold drinks, and sweets, or introducing that night's features and, often, the filmmakers attached to the projects. If one of the staff is out of the office, there is a very good chance he or she is working as a member of the cast or crew on a feature commissioned by NWFF's newly formed production initiative, The Film Company.

Last weekend, NWFF attendees were treated to a double-bill screening of "Cowards Bend the Knee" and "Tales from the Gimli Hospital," introduced by those films' director and co-writer, Guy Maddin ("Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary," "The Saddest Music in the World"). This week Maddin is shooting his latest film in and around Seattle in collaboration with The Film Company, a project he and his co-writer George Toles have tentatively titled "The Brand Upon the Brain!" Adam Hart, Northwest Film Forum's Director of Publicity and Promotions, is working on the shoot as the film's best boy.

Collaborating with local, national, and international filmmakers, The Film Company, which was founded in 2004 by Gregg Lachow, typically produces six feature-length films per year. One of last year's features, "Police Beat," was an Official Selection of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, several cities have mounted retrospectives of the director's work. Program Director Keeling has scheduled 27 of Ozu's films into Northwest Film Forum, to be screened from February 3 through March 10. Of those, ten are silent films, for which NWFF commissioned live musical accompaniment that has been composed and will be performed by local artists.

Another of NWFF's recent projects was the Childish Film Festival, under the leadership of Festival Curator Deb Girdwood. This family festival for the young and the young-at-heart spotlighted films from Finland and the Netherlands, a sing-along to an animated work by Maurice Sendak, a dazzling program of Iranian animation, and short films from around the globe, including the world premiere of "The Cat and the Clown," the first film expressly commissioned for the Childish Film Festival.

This winter's schedule of non-festival programming at Northwest Film Forum has included such diverse features as Takeshi Kitano's "Dolls"; Sam Fuller's "The Big Red One," completely reconstructed and presented on a fully restored 35mm print; a rare 40th anniversary screening of Arthur Penn's "Mickey One," from 1965; and Leo McCarey's classic screwball comedy, "The Awful Truth," from 1937. Coming up next is the unveiling of 1979's rockumentary "The Kids are Alright," on a brand new 35mm print.

Besides Guy Maddin, recent celebrity visitors to NWFF have included radio commentator-documentary filmmaker Avi Lewis, and L.A.'s First Lady of Punk-Rock Drag, Vaginal Creme Davis performing her career retrospectacle, "Yes, Ms. Davis."

Besides its two theatres – the larger of which seats 120, the smaller 48 – Northwest Film Forum houses the production facilities and equipment for its filmmaking collective, WigglyWorld Studios. There, established filmmakers conduct dedicated workshops on such arts as screenwriting, cinematography, lighting, and editing. Up-and-coming artists are given access to the production and post-production equipment and facilities, as well as to a screening library of approximately 1,000 films.

Having just moved from much smaller quarters to their new facilities in October 2004, the staff of Northwest Film Forum is committed to screening the best in world cinema, both classic and contemporary, and promoting the new work of local, regional, and international artists. Currently, they have a membership of about 200 and are screening around 80 films annually. Their tireless efforts and ongoing commitment to the community – both the area's artists and Seattle's filmgoing public – really show.

No small bonus is that NWFF's popcorn is just about the best around – plus, they offer a nice assortment of spices to sprinkle on top. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in the Ozu retrospective AND a big helping of that yummy popcorn with some curry powder tossed in.

Next time you're in or around Seattle, give yourself a treat and stop by Northwest Film Forum, located at 1515-12th Avenue. The movies, the people, and the popcorn are all just swell. (Moreover, if you're here in December, you can enjoy not only the uniquely NWFF-centric holiday entertainment, but also a cup of their tasty eggnog made from scratch.)

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originally posted: 02/08/05 19:04:58
last updated: 02/09/05 00:09:58
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