I suppose there's something to be said about leaving while you're on top. News just came in that Helen Loveridge has resigned as Festival Director of SIFF. During her two years in charge, attendance has achieved record numbers and the festival's relationship with any number of local film organizations has improved dramatically. That probably won't change, but we'll miss her effervescent presence around town. You should know that she didn't quit because of any sort of conflict with the staff or board, nor did she leave to take a competing offer. All we know right now is that she'll be heading back to her home in England. Stepping in as interim Festival Director is former board President Deborah Person. No word yet as to who will permanently take the reins of the organization.
Turning back to the local filmmaking scene, you should take note that the deadline approaches for submitting to the Northwest Film Forum's annual Local Sightings extravaganza. Altoids is kicking in cash prizes of $5,000 for best feature, and $2,500 for best short. The best-feature winner will also land a weeklong run at the NWFF, and will earn profits off of that run; the best short will earn an additional $2,500 in equipment and services. The best part is that it's absolutely free to enter as long as your submission is postmarked on or before Monday, July 25. If you've got a movie, you really have no excuse.
This, of course, raises speculation as to the quality and caliber of this year's batch of homegrown films. During the Seattle International Film Festival, I hosted a panel discussion about the state of Seattle filmmaking. Initially, the discussion concerned the lack of Hollywood productions coming to town (and I'll tell you more about the rumored Warner Bros. production that may be gearing up this fall when I find out more about it). The reason we need outside productions to come here is so that our talented crewmembers don't feel the need to move to Hollywood to make a living wage. Once they're financially secure, they can help you out on your low-budget film and not feel too pinched by it. The obstacle to landing Hollywood productions is that our state government can't figure out a way to create the right incentives for big-budget filmmakers to come here.
Despite the lack of Hollywood money funneling in, movies are still being made. Local filmmaker Rick Stevenson mentioned how Seattle is one of the best places to make a movie for under $2 million. In fact, most of the movies made here cost way less than that amount. That's okay if, like what happened with the dreamy, locally made film Police Beat, the movie takes root on the festival circuit and is able to gather some notoriety. Police Beat has been good for the city because it shows off Seattle's colors and moods. It's not our breakout film like Slacker was for Austin, but it has turned some attention our direction.
One problem with the way movies have been made in Seattle over the years was pointed out by camera-rental magnate Marty Oppenheimer, who observed how Seattle filmmakers too often go into production with a script that's not as good as it could or should be. I attribute this rush to production to Seattle's DIY nature and distrust of anything too polished. I'm not sure what the art scene is like, but at least theater has built-in rehearsal time, and the local music industry filters the DIY bands through shows and experienced producers.
More often than not, films in town short-change pre-production and start shooting before they're ready. However admirable it is to stick to your guns and do what you want to do without commercial considerations, you can't turn around and wonder when Seattle will be discovered. The odds of another Austin-styled filmmaking capital popping up anywhere around the country outside of New York and L.A. are long (many have tried, none have succeeded, Chicago came close). Then again, we are but one filmmaker and one film away from gaining national recognition, however briefly. Let's make the most of it when that time arrives. And perhaps we'll see it first at this fall's Local Sightings. ■