On the Fly

Over the last few years, the Seattle International Film Festival has been doing a better and better job of showcasing local films. One of the most interesting areas where this is happening is the Fly Filmmaking program. By the time you read this, the screenings will have already passed (though sometimes they come back to the Little Theatre), but knowing that the directors volunteered their time for little more than the glory of it, I wanted to give them a little ink in return.

Here's the deal: Ten local documentary filmmakers were given five hours of tape stock, five crew members, five days to edit, and a five-minute time limit on a topic picked out of a hat. The topics were Art (Mark Titus), Coffee (John Jeffcoat), Education (Lynn Shelton), Fish (John Helde), Icon (Jen Peel), Music (Sherman Alexie, with Eric Frith and Holly Taylor), Sports (Brian Quist), Transportation (Shannon Gee), Trees (Leigh Kimball), and Water (Tanya Hughes, with Sandy Cioffi and Sarah J. Allen).

For some reason, the people who landed the topics in the first half of the alphabet made straightforward and on-topic movies, while in the second half the boundaries between topics became more fluid. Coffee was the one that everyone feared, but John Jeffcoat made it fun by profiling regulars at local coffee shops. What was even more surprising was how good he made it look using only available light. John Helde's Fish movie, Halibut Heads, was a turning point, in that it was mostly about fish, but could have also fit into the topic of Water.

Jen Peel's Icon might as well have been Music, as it unearthed the '80s Seattle band the Icons and proved they rocked. Sherman Alexie's Music movie was about perceptions of Native Americans (no big surprise) and was quite entertaining (again, no big surprise). Meanwhile, Sports could have been Religion, and Trees could have been Poetry. I had the pleasure of working on Shannon Gee's Transportation movie, and because it focused on the rarely discussed upside of mandatory bussing, it could easily have fit into Education. By the end, it wasn't just the topics that were being stretched. Gee's piece ended up pushing the limits of encoding for Microsoft's new video projectors, while the Tanya Hughes-led Water experimented around the edges of traditional documentaries. All in all it was a good batch, though next year it might be good to have fewer filmmakers do slightly longer pieces.

Speaking of local filmmakers, the Little Theatre is starting its Local Sightings series on Friday the 13th with a new batch of Gregg Lachow films. Then stop by for the latest edition of their Filmmaker's Saloon (Wed June 18), where there will be a gathering of filmmakers in various stages of production on Seattle-based feature films, such as the aforementioned Lynn Shelton (editor of Hedda Gabler), Matt Wilkins (Buffalo Bill's Defunct), and Christian Palmer (The Christmas Funeral).

andy@thestranger.com

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