Northwest Film Forum laid off nearly half of its employees yesterday.

Executive director Derek Edamura confirmed that management told the small staff about cuts over Zoom calls on Monday. Five people were laid off immediately, and two more will be laid off in the next three months, adding up to about 50% of staff. 

In a Tuesday phone call, Edamura told The Stranger that the Forum is not at risk of closing. He said the “hard” decision to cut staff is a short-term strategy to avoid long-term financial deficits and any cuts to programming this year. 

Edamura said the layoffs were not performance-based and that they hope to bring back the positions in some form if NWFF’s financial health improves.

“We understand how difficult this is for everybody,” Edamura said. “We don’t do something like this without a lot of care and a lot of thought, but we also need to do what we feel is in the best interest of the organization long-term.”

Affected staff were given severance and short-term benefits. One affected employee who spoke to The Stranger on the condition of anonymity said they held no animosity toward the Forum but felt blindsided by the decision.

Northwest Film Forum, located in Capitol Hill and adored by the Seattle film community, has screened films, produced festivals, and held workshops for filmmakers for nearly 30 years. Compared with your average movieplex, or even your average indie theater, the Forum draws a niche crowd with a diverse international selection of classic to obscure films emphasizing the work of local and marginalized directors. 

For nearly two decades, the Forum has hosted the Local Sightings Film Festival, the city’s only festival dedicated to Pacific Northwest film, which has featured big names including Lynn Shelton and Megan Griffiths. In 2022, the Forum’s former executive director Vivian Hua stepped down shortly after it reopened its doors to the public. 

Edamura said NWFF faces the same struggles as other arts nonprofits, like the slow return of audiences that still lags far behind pre-COVID crowds, changing media consumption habits, and a decline in available funding. Edamura said the Forum plans to seek additional fiscal sponsors across the state, and potentially out-of-state, over the next two or three years.

“Everything is incredibly competitive for less and less resources,” Edamura said. “We’re seeing a lot of those things changing and we, as an organization, need to be able to adapt and evolve to the systemic changes we’re seeing across the sector.”

This story has been updated since its original publication. NWFF confirmed that five employees were laid off Monday, but originally said four positions had been cut.