Local Sightings Film Festival Showcases Local Talent

Sep 26, 2013

The film scene in the Northwest has become more prominent over the years thanks, in part, to the Northwest Film Forum. The small art house theater in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood is an incubator for local talent that is getting noticed nationally. Many of these artists got their work in front of an audience for the first time at the Film Forum's annual Local Sightings Festival, which takes place over the next week. 

Megan Griffiths and her good friend, filmmaker Lynn Shelton, are two of the Film Forum's, most successful alums. Griffiths is basking in the glow of the good reviews for her latest movie, "Lucky Them." The film, which stars Toni Collette, Thomas Hayden Church and Oliver Platt, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.

"'Lucky Them' is a film set in Seattle about a rock journalist who is given an assignment by her editor to track down this rock musician who mysteriously disappeared 10 years ago," Griffiths said.

Griffiths' rise started 13 years ago when she first moved to Seattle. The first place she went to to get plugged into the local moving making community was the Northwest Film Forum's online message board. When it was time to unveil her first feature film in 2003, she premiered it at the Local Sightings Film Festival which only showcases works of filmmakers from the Pacific Northwest.

"If you're just going to keep making movies in this one environment then getting people to see it in that environment is helpful. You get fans in your own community and people who want to support you. And I don't think that has changes at all. And Local Sightings has grown," said Griffiths.

When the festival began 16 years ago, it showed two features and two shorts. This year, a total of 90 features, shorts and documentaries will be screened. 

Many of the films showcase the natural beauty of the Northwest. One example is Redwood Highway directed by Gary Lundgren starring Shirley Knight and Tom Skerritt. It's about a 75-year-old woman who decides to walk to the Oregon Coast to go to her granddaughter's wedding. 

Some of the documentaries screening at Local Sightings zero in on topics people living in the Seattle area can easily relate to. The film Cardboard, directed Matt Longmire, takes a close look sat the men and women who hold signs, begging for money as you drive onto Interstate 5 and Highway 99.

As much as Local Sightings highlights the scenery, filmmakers are starting to venture farther with their cameras. The documentary "Blueberry Soup" examines how Iceland handheld the aftermath of its financial collapse in 2008. The feature film "Hawaiian Punch" follows two young Mormon men in Hawaii. Adam Sekuler, one of the people who selected the films for the festival, says the move away from foggy beaches and evergreen forests doesn't sit well with everyone. 

"Last year, the Seattle Weekly criticized the festival because the content of the work. There were a lot of films that focused outside the region. But the filmmakers, of course, are all from the Pacific Northwest. The ambition of the work has grown. The filmmakers are seeing themselves more in a national context and less in this regional context," he said.

Even though directors like Megan Griffiths have broken beyond the local scene and are now making movies with A list actors, getting well received films released in theaters is not always guaranteed. Griffiths is still working on a distribution deal for "Lucky Them." 

The winners of Local Sightings have it a little easier. Along with a cash prize of $500, the winning movies will get a one week run in front of a paying audience at the Film Forum.