THE GEORGIC DECLENSION--good, better, best, bested--rings grotesquely and endlessly true in the cathedral of local filmmaking. Some years ago, during the height of the glibly engineered "American independent film" explosion, Seattle was determined to form a civic attitude about this attractive, newly burnished art form. Councils, advocates, and film commissions dragged out their bullhorns, dry-cleaned their pantsuits, and set up a banquet to feed our desire to be a "player." We built sound stages; lobbied Olympia for tax exemptions; founded slick, commercial studios; bloated our film festival to the point of rupture; and made a handful of crappy, glossy films about espresso jerks with firearms.

The problem was, we never bothered to ask ourselves what we really wanted. We matured too fast, bettered ourselves too quickly in the wrong expression. Like the macho varsity quarterback suddenly realizing his homosexuality, in the end, we were left alone, wearing the awkward costume of a false identity. Seattle is not a "player." It is a glorious backwater. So what, exactly, are we missing out on? Money? Glamour? Snotty waiters whose jobs are "beneath them"? Bartenders with boob jobs?

Fortunately, we can regress. Growing up is not a straight shot, it is more like trying to follow the course of a deciduous tree to its highest tip: One must occasionally survey the surroundings, back up, and start up another branch. Yes, it is best that we go back to the puerile, carefree days of childishness. We must remember what we did that actually made us happy--which was, generally, making small, amateur films, getting drunk, and watching them. We must remember the contexts in which we enjoyed consuming cinema, which was in cozy, hand-built rooms where we knew the projectionists and could hear the jukebox next door. We must remember the kinds of films we liked, which were often strange, frequently bad, but never predictable. Most of all, we must remember that we may live in a small city, but we live in an enormous neighborhood.