Jaime Keeling has been the lead film programmer at Northwest Film Forum for nearly five years, presiding over the most explosive growth period in the organization's history. She started off assembling a quarterly schedule of movies for a cozy 49-seat neighborhood theater in North Capitol Hill; at 28, she's become a major tastemaker in the Seattle film scene, responsible for bringing hundreds of films every year exclusively to Northwest Film Forum's two-screen cinematheque. This week she will pack her car and head to Arkansas to visit family. She plans to relocate permanently to New York City.
The new program director, Adam Sekuler, is the first Northwest Film Forum hire to be recruited through a national search. Sekuler (pronounced seh-COO-ler) currently books the nation's only dedicated nonfiction screen, at Minnesota Film Arts in Minneapolis, and boasts five years of experience in festival, art house, and repertory programming. The world of independent film exhibition is small, and programming openings are rare. Just how small are we talking? The last executive director at Minnesota Film Arts was the much-adored and just-as-much-maligned Jamie Hook, former Stranger film editor and one of Northwest Film Forum's cofounders.
For Sekuler, Keeling's departure was fortuitous. In the time since Hook resigned from Minnesota Film Arts in September, that organization has basically imploded. The positions of executive director and managing director are empty and there are no plans to find replacements, according to a staff statement distributed January 14. The other programmer left on January 17. Sekuler won't be arriving in Seattle until the end of February—he says he needs time to "extract myself from my job, which is in complete shambles, and my personal life, which is far from being in complete shambles." Northwest Film Forum is in better shape, but pursuing this line of work still requires an insane level of dedication. You certainly wouldn't do it for the money. According to Northwest Film Forum executive director Michael Seiwerath, Sekuler's starting salary will be an extremely modest $22,250 per year (see "Reel Pay?" p. 13).
The transfer of power won't have a dramatic impact on the kind of films you'll see on the Film Forum calendar, though Sekuler would like to program more short films in conjunction with features. It's helpful that Sekuler already has established relationships with the distributors that rent film prints to Northwest Film Forum. (While a theater's location, its total number of seats—and, in the case of chains like Landmark, the possibility of expansion or holdover of a film—dictate many of the choices distributors make about where to send their titles, personal relationships with programmers also have weight, especially when dealing with valuable archival prints.) Seiwerath says that the fact Sekuler is coming from Minneapolis—which, like Seattle, has a large number of Landmark screens—was also a point in his favor. He "understands the ecology" of that casual competition.
But expect subtle changes—a shift in tone rather than direction. Jaime Keeling was all personality. I don't see any more participatory theatrical adaptations of bad surf movies in the Film Forum's future (Keeling conceived and helped produce Point Break Live! at the Little Theatre in 2003), and I expect there will be fewer double-dutch jump-rope demonstrations at Film Forum parties (Keeling was a member of the local troupe On the Double). I haven't met Sekuler in person yet, but I suspect that when I do, he won't be wearing an astounding vintage coat with a collar made from the fur of some unidentified animal, as Keeling was when I saw her last.
When I talked to 27-year-old Sekuler on the phone, he started off with an anecdote about Thomas Edison and his hometown in New Jersey. He peppered me with questions about light rail. Though he still plans to help program the 2006 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival long distance, he had some tough words about the gluttony it inspires: "Film festivals are the double-edged sword. They bring films to town that would never have otherwise been screened. But it creates this binge culture. People say, I saw 50 films at the film festival, and it's like they were eating donuts or something—they're stuffed and they can't even move off the couch." Mr. Sekuler, welcome to Seattle.