Photos by Kelly O
It's been a very good year for the local animator and filmmaker Drew Christie. In January, his short film Song of the Spindle screened at Sundance, the most prestigious film festival in the United States. On top of that, the short—which is about a whale discoursing with a human—caught the attention of the New York Times. "I got an e-mail from one of the programmers at Sundance," explains Christie, "and it said that the guys [at the Times] had started a project called Op-Docs. This program was new—it started in November 2011 and partnered with Sundance and other film organizations..." When the New York Times posted his funny, information-rich short Hi! I'm a Nutria—in which a Lake Washington nutria makes a defense for its kind and its habits—on March 18, 2012, Drew Christie's career left the ground.
Christie's work, which is always strange and surreal in a very smart and compelling way, has three basic components: visual art, cinema, and historical research. Christie developed an interest in visual art while attending Skyline High School, where he found supportive teachers and time to learn the methods and modes of drawing. Credit for his development as a filmmaker goes to the Film School, which he attended 10 years ago while still in high school. (His teacher was Megan Griffiths, who also happens to be one of this year's film nominees.) As for his interest in history, he credits his genes rather than his education ("Runs in the family"). The visual art is the surface of his work, the cinema is what animates the surface, and the historical research is what gives the animated surface its depth. "I have made live-action films, but I much prefer animation," Christie says, "because you have a lot more control and can do weirder things." CHARLES MUDEDE
Director Megan Griffiths got plenty of love for her previous feature film, The Off Hours, a slow, moody, gorgeously shot portrait of life during the late shift at a roadside diner. The film premiered at Sundance 2011, toured the global festival circuit, earned Benjamin Kasulke an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his cinematography, and won Griffiths the award for best director at the Ourense Film Festival in Spain.
But nothing in The Off Hours can prepare viewers for what Griffiths achieves in her latest film, Eden, which premiered at this year's South by Southwest before screening at the recent Seattle International Film Festival. Drawing on the true story of a perfectly normal American girl who is kidnapped and imprisoned in a sex-trafficking ring, Eden takes viewers deep into the minutiae (second-to-second, day-to-day, year-to-year) of the child sex trade. The 90-minute film navigates plot points so fundamentally horrifying, they beg you to look away, but Griffiths makes looking away impossible, thanks to her deep empathy and seriously intelligent storytelling. Much of Eden's power comes from what we're not shown but left to imagine, with audiences piecing together the facts of this horrifying world in time with our protagonist. The film is a masterful creation, engaging our deepest emotions without ever toeing the line of exploitation. Had Eden been made by an 80-year-old Scottish auteur, I'd sing its praises just as highly. That Eden was made by a woman who lives in our city is cause for celebration. DAVID SCHMADER
Shaun Scott's 2009 documentary Seat of Empire is, in a sense, a failure. The sprawling 193-minute documentary about the history of Seattle isn't a failure because it's bad or because Scott lacks talent—it's too ambitious, too massive, too much of everything. In another sense, it's a great success, because Scott pulls off something new: blending the mixing art of a hiphop DJ with the narrative and visual intelligence of an experimental filmmaker. Empire looks like the work of a genius.
Same goes for Waste of Time, a documentary he completed in 2010. It concerns the history of consumer culture in Seattle, and it utilizes analytical tools and methods developed by the Frankfurt School to examine the foundations of a society that has no sense of the past or idea of the future, but only the present and its wants—more food, new home, new car. Scott, yes, is an intellectual.
Scott was born in Queens, New York, and raised here in Shoreline. He discovered his love for film while attending the University of Washington, where he was studying history. "When I turned 24, I decided to devote my life to making feature films, even if that meant competing with people who were 15, 20, 25 years older than me in the formative stages of my career," he says. "The field is deep, but I think my focus will set me apart. I'm 27 now, and what you see when you sit back and look at my body of work to date is someone who is preoccupied with time. That explains the pairing of contemporary music with older imagery in Waste of Time; explains the use of jump cuts and archival footage in my first narrative, 100% OFF; and explains my newest project, Pacific Aggression, which is a meditation on loneliness in the age of e-interconnectedness, in the form of a road movie about a travel writer."
Scott's time is now. CHARLES MUDEDE