The World Is Bright follows two Chinese parents as they investigate the circumstances surrounding their son's alleged suicide in Canada. Courtesy of NWFF

This Friday marks the beginning of the 2020 Local Sightings Film Festival at Northwest Film Forum. The fest, which will run online thru September 27, highlights films and filmmakers from all over the Pacific Northwest. For the most part, all films will be available on demand, so you will be able to tune in whenever you want. Individual screening tickets grant access to Viewing Parties and Q&A Sessions.

The spread this year is diverse. CHS Blog spotlighted Danny Denial's CONDiTiONER, Willamette Week dug into Roland Dahwen's Borrufa, and the Tacoma News Tribune highlighted Tacoma filmmakers. For the Stranger's Local Sightings roundup, we decided to focus specifically on the fest's can't-miss documentaries. Check them out below:


Seattle, WA, six films of varying lengths, exec. prod. by Cynthia Brothers & Martin Tran

Chinatown-International District staple Bush Gardens is at risk of closureTKTK.
Chinatown-International District staple Bush Garden is one of the local businesses featured in the series. Courtesy of NWFF
You've followed the account, liked the post, maybe left a memory or two in the comment section. Now, it's time to watch the documentary series. Vanishing Seattle, a project started by Cynthia Brothers, documents the "displaced and disappearing" institutions that make Seattle Seattle. This short series zeroes in on six different dearly beloved businesses that face potential displacement by developers keen on turning the city into wall-to-wall shipping container buildings.

This documentary series previously self-released shorts on Wa Na Wari in the Central District and Hardwick's Hardware in the U District, but this installment expands to four other locations: Scandinavian Specialties in Ballard, the Four Seas/Dynasty Room and Bush Garden in the C-ID, and the Capitol Hill Arts District. Separately, the stories embody the souls of their neighborhoods, but, taken as a whole, they paint a portrait of a city in danger of losing its rich past.

The Vanishing Seattle Series opens the festival, and it will stream live on Facebook, Vimeo, and the NWFF site tomorrow at 7 p.m., followed by a post-screening Q&A at 8 p.m. with Cynthia Brothers of Vanishing Seattle, Inye Wokoma of Wa Na Wari, Bjørn Ruud of Scandinavian Specialties, and karaoke legend Karen Akada Sakata of Bush Garden. JASMYNE KEIMIG


Vancouver, Canada, 115 min, dir. Ying Wang
The World Is Bright feels impossibly intimate. Courtesy of NWFF
I was surprised by this one. This tender, multinational documentary from director Ying Wang follows two Chinese parents as they investigate the circumstances surrounding their son's alleged suicide in Canada. What first appears to be suicide unravels into a story about mental health, immigration, and cultural differences between the East and West. The docu-thriller seems to span two decades—from the son's departure from China to the parents' gutting journey through Canadian bureaucracy.

The director and her team are deeply trusted by their subjects, earning confessions and revelations that feel impossibly intimate. The promo copy for this one indicated that Ying Wang's doc had "the patience and insight of a master filmmaker," which I initially thought was a little grand. After watching, I fully agree. There are so many ways this story could have fumbled. But each turn resolves, yes, masterfully. It's not an easy watch, but I found it cathartic, a testament to how a parent's love for a child can cross seas and shake countries. Highly recommended. CHASE BURNS


Sammamish, WA, 54 minutes, dir. Nils R. Cowan
This short documentary has a lot of heart. Courtesy of NWFF
Just a quick car journey away from Seattle is Lake Sammamish, home to the landlocked and critically endangered kokanee, a species of sockeye salmon. Once abundant in the lake and the surrounding wetlands, the "little red fish" have played an integral role in the lives of the Snoqualmie people since time immemorial. The arrival of Westerners in the 19th century slowly decimated the kokanee population. Further development and growth of the Seattle suburb in the 2000s pushed the fish to the brink of extinction.

Spawning Ground follows over the course of a few years three very different people who fight for the kokanee's survival, weaving together a compelling story about the ecologically and culturally important species of fish. It's a good, quick watch. It should be noted, that today the Recreation and Conservation Office announced that they would be giving $18 million to salmon recovery projects across the state—including almost $400,000 to improving habitats in Issaquah Creek, which the kokanee salmon also use. Maybe there's some hope for this little red fish after all! JASMYNE KEIMIG


Marion County, OR, 97 min, dir. Brandon Wilson

Mmm, that's life, baby. Courtesy of NWFF
Marion County, Oregon, is on fire right now. As you know, we're talking dark, catastrophic, holy-shit-it's-coming-into-my-house-all-the-way-in-Seattle fires. Most of the county has found itself under Level 3 evacuations, which means the area's dense, natural beauty is currently skewered. This brings us to Home in the Woods, an immersive visual documentary filmed over two years in Marion County. The camera captures the fodder for all this smoke: the baby spiders and slugs and bees.

It was strange to watch this huddled up inside my home, avoiding the smoke from fires burning in this same part of the world. Most of the film is abstracted, alternating between black-and-white and colorful psychedelia. What feels like bleak horror pivots to a drug trip, and back again. (Horror and psychedelia are a forest's two genders.) Don't adventure into this doc expecting a narrative. Just sit there and contemplate the deepness of the woods. Then look up at the sky outside your home. You see those particles in the air? You feel them in your throat? What you're watching crawl around in this film is what you're breathing in your lungs. That's life, baby. CHASE BURNS

Check out the full line-up of features, shorts, and events here.