Kurt Cobain repping Seattle at 2015 Sundance
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  • Kurt Cobain repping Seattle at 2015 Sundance

What you will not find at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, which opens today, is a film from Seattle. Judging from the lineup in the main categories, it seems all that will represent us is HBO's Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, a documentary that's getting some buzz and has the distinction of being fully authorized by Kurt's family and counting his daughter, Frances Cobain, as a producer. Seattle is bound to appear in the film's footage and "never-before-seen home movies." Save that, we got nothing.

I made the rounds and asked three local and nationally prominent filmmakers how they felt about this situation, this sad state of affairs, and if they had an explanation for it. The first to respond was the director Megan Griffiths:

I don't think there's been a year that Seattle hasn't had a film at Sundance since 2006, if I'm remembering correctly. And I don't think it's necessarily a bad sign, but we had far fewer contenders shoot in Washington last year since we hit our incentive cap so early.

The local cinematographer Ben Kasulke also attributed the curious absence to Washington’s film incentive fund, which is managed by the folks at Washington Filmworks.

The majority of the state incentive was used up by the ScyFy channel series Z Nation and the feature Captain Fantastic. While it was awesome to have some TV and Studio money come to Washington to hire our friends and patronize local businesses, the film incentive was gone early in the year. So a few movies that would have been made that may have gone a Sundance route had to push until the beginning of the incentive's coming fiscal year... Also, the other features that were planning to shoot here last year didn't get the incentive, so they all shot elsewhere (including one I EP'd called The Greens Are Gone, which shot in Boston).

Jennifer Roth, a local producer who has worked with Darren Aronofsky, feels that the root of the problem is the incentive itself, which is annually capped at $3.5 million.

In my opinion there isn't enough incentive money. Last year all the money went to Z Nation and Captain Fantastic, leaving a lot of Seattle filmmakers out in the cold.


Chris Swenson from the Seattle Film and Music Office pointed out to me that a number of organizations and unions are battling in Olympia for the maintenance and expansion program, which is funded by state B&O taxes. But at the time of this post, I failed to get an explanation from Washington Filmworks for why a large part of this fund went to two big projects in 2014. Nevertheless, it's hard to say that Seattle's no-show at Sundance can be entirely blamed on the smallness of this fund or on how it's managed. But I do know for certain that increasing the fund will make life better for local filmmakers.

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