It's my favorite time of year. Yeah, okay, FALL, but also mid-September is the dominion of Local Sightings Film Festival. The festival, now in its 25th year, is put on by Northwest Film Forum and it celebrates short and feature-length projects made by filmmakers in the Pacific Northwest. The in-person and virtual festival kicks off TODAY—and it totally rocks. 

From experimental horror set in Skagit to a short film package centered around the particularities of love and heartbreak, Local Sightings has curated a lineup of films that weave an idiosyncratic portrait of our region.

In particular, former NWFF executive director and filmmaker Vee Hua's short Reckless Spirits and artist Tariqa Waters' pilot episode of Thank You, MS PAM are generating a lot of excitement (it's me, I'm the excitement generator). Both depict and explore segments of the Pacific Northwest culture often left on the margins, but with distinct perspectives that feel extremely refreshing to watch unspool onscreen. 

We've all been there haven't we? Accompanying a friend to what you think is a sobriety meeting and then—boom—you accidentally walk into a cult meeting where you may or may not get possessed by a spirit. Courtesy of NWFF

Hua's short film Reckless Spirits is a "metaphysical buddy comedy" that dives headfirst into friendship, anxiety, and freaky spirituality. The film follows Syd (Vico Ortiz), a gender-fluid Latine performance artist, and Yvette (Dawn Anderson), a deeply neurotic Korean-American therapist, on a strange and hilarious journey into the world of cults and fanaticism. 

Even though the film is set in the PNW, Hua and co-writer Lisa Sanaye Dring came up with the idea while living in Los Angeles, a city known for the fake spiritual types. They also wanted to see non-binary and of color characters that normally aren't depicted on-screen, ones that aren't always speaking about themselves in relation to their identity, but are "just normal people existing in the world," Hua told me over the phone. 

While the characters aren't exactly normal, the boisterous Reckless Spirits certainly delivers on that vision. Syd and Yvette have emotional breakdowns one minute and then do weird performance art the next. Their respective identities and cultures inform how they move through the world, but aren't the main focus of the short. It's a kooky-yet-tender portrait of a friendship between two people that Hua told me they hope to eventually spin the idea into a larger project.

You can catch the film at Local Sightings' opening night this evening or during the Hard Laughs short film program on Saturday, September 17. Hua will also hold a free in-person workshop on Monday, September 19 as an opportunity for audiences to learn how to run a production with a diverse crew while getting advice related to their own projects. 

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The other special presentation at Local Sightings is the pilot episode of Tariqa Waters’ new variety talk show, Thank You, MS PAM. The series is an energetic and inquisitive exploration of artists and the creative community here in Seattle. As the show’s host, Waters hops around the city, interviewing the likes of London Plane’s chef Danny Conkling, Eva Walker of the Black Tones, dancer Kisha Vaughan, and artists Aramis O. Hamer and Jazz Brown.

We get shots of Waters hosting the show on the Paramount’s stage as dance crew the ABC’s swan through the aisles. There are fun asides of Waters making Jiffy cornbread and getting a Marge Simpson tattoo. The through line of the entire episode is, "What’s in your lunchbox?," a question she asks of every guest. It's all gorgeously shot by director of photography A.J. Lenzi.

Reader, I’m obsessed with this show. Rather than depict Seattle in the expectedly dreary blues and greens, Waters highlights the confectionary underbelly of the Emerald City. Vibrant pinks, slime greens, lush reds, and soulful lavenders color in her vision of Seattle as she traipses through Pioneer Square or brings guests into her street-level gallery, Martyr Sauce Pop Art Museum (MS PAM).

The show is kind of like if Mr. Rogers and Pee-Wee Herman had a baby raised by Arsenio Hall on the set of Solid Gold that had re-runs of ArtZone with Nancy Guppy playing in the background. Which is to say it’s in its own lane entirely.

“I wanted to be a mixed bag, where [Thank You, MS PAM] could spread out to so many different pockets,” Waters told me over the phone. “Everything is so interconnected, through the arts and outside of the arts. I didn't wanna be boxed in… I wanted to be able to talk to any and everybody about all the things.”

Waters has a lot of plans for the show, hoping to air a new episode quarterly on local TV. While she has “big ambitions” and would love to explore different cities in Thank You, MS PAM, she said the concept is still “rooted in Seattle artists and creatives and shop owners.”

For Local Sightings, the episode is part of the festival's premiere tonight with an encore screening next Friday, September 23. And Waters will be decorating the entryway with some of the set pieces so you can feel like you've walked onto her show yourself.

Some other notable films screening at Local Sightings:

  • Nick Thompson's experimental and trippy horror film Skagit, which Stranger contributor Chase Hutchinson explored in detail yesterday,  
  • Vlada Knowlton's short film Well Actually, which follows a Black female software engineer who has to deal with microaggressions at her male-dominated workplace,
  • And Cypher, a short documentary from Mariam Ingrid Barry and Eva Anandi Brownstein about three artists of African descent struggling to make it in Vancouver, B.C.

Local Sightings Film Festival runs Sept 16-25. Get your tickets here