Author Archive

72-Hour Film Contest Hits Tacoma

April 5, 2011

We all have that filmmaker inside us, tapping on the walls of our skulls and pleading for release in patient tones. This time of year, however, the polite knocking turns into an incessant pounding, as less than three weeks remain until The Grand Cinema’s 72-Hour Film Competition rolls into a town near you. The theater urges you to “Free Your Inner Indie”…but better step on it. The contest allows only so many teams to register, and as of this writing 11 slots remain.

OK, my Indie wants out, you say. I’ll sign up online, right? Wrong! Take your car, hop on the next Light Rail, do whatever you can and get to The Grand like lickety and add your name in person. And don’t forget the $50.00 entry fee. Payment gets you 4 complimentary passes to the May 6 Viewing Party, where yours and other shorts will light up the Rialto screen.

With signup completed, now you just count the days until The Grand beckons you back to its halls to receive instructions on Thursday, April 21. And three exhilarating, excruciating, sweat- (and most likely) rain-drenched days later, you and your faithful crew birth a new film into the world.

Congratulations…it’s an Indie.

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Seeing the “Light”

March 30, 2011

If you saw Tom McIntire’s Greenspoke at the 2009 Tacoma Film Festival, then you didn’t see it. Huh? To clarify, you couldn’t watch the short in the way originally intended by its writer/director. Besides the inescapable drop in visual quality when downconverting his high-definition footage to a DVD format, theater projection shifted the film’s overall color away from the tones McIntire (who also edited) had worked to achieve.

As the names Greenspoke and his newest work, What Light, suggest, this filmmaker places a strong emphasis on the interplay between shadow, light and color (and what is color but light emitted at different wavelengths?). He received a degree in studio art from Arizona State, and understands that decisions regarding contrast or composition will affect the final impact and meaning of each piece.

McIntire displays an eye for memorable visuals in What Light. Borrowing its title from Romeo and Juliet, the story concerns a woman who wakes up in a variation of Shakespeare’s tale. The director found part of his dreamscape in a very real (and apropos) place: Seattle’s Lighting Supply, Inc. He loves the building’s industrial beauty: “If you’re in Seattle at night,” McIntire says, “it’s actually kind of fun to drive by there, because the whole place is just lit up.”

With “ninety-five percent” of the project wrapped, McIntire is busy on – what else – color correction. For more updates, follow What Light on Facebook.

Join the “Revolution”

March 25, 2011

Cast and Crew Auditions for Joe O’Connor’s New Film

Movies are just fluff, right? Rest stops for escapism before easing back into our daily routines. They rouse our emotions for a short while, but the fire cools soon after. Rarely do we allow them to adjust our actions and change us in some fundamental, lasting way. If a film possesses this revolutionary spirit, it would surely rock the sociopolitical order.

Filmmaker Joe O’Connor is working on his own “revolution” of sorts, with the perfect city as his stage: our state capitol. He wrote and will soon direct “The Day the Revolution Came to Town,” a parable on the power (and danger) of ideas. His protagonist, an Everyman generically called Guy, disrupts the status quo and ends up fighting for his life.

For inspiration O’Connor watched other anarchist films he found inaccurate and unsatisfying. According to him, while these pictures “deliberately mislead the audience” by portraying a hate-spewing, destructive outsider, he “wanted to turn [this] image on its head by showing how mainstream society is violent to those who do not neatly fit into it.” Law and order may quell the opposition born on its fringes, but it also breeds that same intolerance at its very core.

Already O’Connor has disproved my theory; film did in fact spur him to action, responding with his own reactionary art. Maybe when “Revolution” comes to town (hopefully in regional festivals this year), his work in turn calls others.

To join this project, cast and crew auditions take place on two separate dates: April 3 from 12-4 P.M. at Seattle Center’s Theater Puget Sound (Room B); and April 10, same times, inside the Evergreen State College Communications building. For more information email oly-imc@riseup.net.

Film in the Blank

March 16, 2011

Seattle Contest Accepts Entries

Cinematic lore tells us that upon witnessing D.W. Griffiths’s 1915 epic The Birth of A Nation, President Woodrow Wilson called it “writing history with lightning.” Now you have a chance to (re)write your own history with film. Until Friday April 1, Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry will accept entries for its first “History Is _____” Film Competition. 

So what goes in the blank? Insert a word or short phrase of your choosing, then tell your unique story in any genre between 60 seconds and 5 minutes. With so many other contests stifling potential creativity and heaping rules on participants, this one stays as loose and free-form as its title. 

The Awards Gala happens on May 7. MOHAI’s providing some very cool prizes for its inaugural event, like a SIFF screening of your winning work in May, an exclusive meeting with documentary maestro Ken Burns, and a filmmaker’s best friend: moola. And Celluloid Seattle, an upcoming exhibit at the museum, will house the best shorts, making you literally a part of history.               

According to Helen Divjak, MOHAI’s Manager of Programs and Public Engagement, “History tends to be seen as this stuffy thing.” She hopes to dispel such a notion with this competition. “History is happening all the time – every day, to everybody.”

So go capture yours…with lightning. For more information visit http://www.seattlehistory.org/film. 


Olympia Awesome Film Festival: Almost Here

March 1, 2011

The first-ever Olympia Awesome Film Festival has hit an unawesome snag. Months ago, the fest’s organizers booked The Loft on Cherry for their inaugural daylong screening of cool cinema. Graphics, invitations and video advertisements all went out. Then on February 18, OAFF received word that their chosen venue would close on the first of March, just four days shy of the event.

“It really kind of knocked the wind out of my sails,” recalls Ken Carlson upon hearing the news. As co-founder of Mutually Assured Productions, a seven-member film collective that conceived OAFF, Carlson and his cohorts must now quickly regroup after a blitzkrieg marketing campaign they initiated last October. The Loft management has assisted in finding this festival a new home; some current options include The Olympia Ballroom and the Eagles Grand Ballroom. Carlson expects a triumphant debut in early April.

This somewhat last-minute change in plans at least gives filmmakers from all over more time to submit their works. OAFF has extended the original February 18 deadline to March 25. The rules are simple: a short under 15 minutes, any genre, narratives preferred. Visit www.oaff.org to get all the submission instructions.

Patience, Olympians – a fresh batch of awesomeness arrives soon. Find OAFF on Facebook for the most up-to-date updates.

Happy Film Day!

February 22, 2011

I’ll admit that I (and maybe you don’t much either) give scarcely a thought to film as it pertains to the world of politics. One comprises a vast collection of freethinking artists and technicians who aim to entertain the masses, the other a formal body of lawmakers governing those same masses. They cross paths at one crucial point, however: money.

On Wednesday, February 23, citizens can witness a rare union of these disparate spheres. Dubbed “Film Day” by Washington Filmworks, this Seattle-based organization invites moviemakers and cinephiles alike to join them from noon to 4 P.M. at our state capitol’s Cherberg Building in support of two pieces of legislation currently under discussion. If approved, House Bill 1554 and Senate Bill 5539 (what peppy names!) will reinvigorate the state’s Motion Picture Competitiveness Program, which grants funding to non-resident filmmakers who use Washington for their productions.

Denise Gibbs, owner of regional casting agency Foreground Background, knows firsthand the issues at stake on Film Day. “Our film community would be devastated with the loss of [the MPCP],” she says. “It is our number-one tool to bring and keep the big projects that come here [and] spend millions of dollars for crew, actors and support services. It pumps money back into our local economy and provides jobs even in a recession.”

Filmworks Executive Director Amy Lillard shares Gibbs’s viewpoint and offers us a straightforward, practical approach to the issue: “This bill is…not about Hollywood, or stars, or anything like that. It’s about keeping Washington workers employed.” She strongly encourages others to write their legislators.

If you can attend, register via email at info@washingtonfilmworks.org, or catch the committee meetings live on http://www.tvw.org. Download a Film Day packet from http://www.washingtonfilmworks.org.

Now Hear This: A Review of ‘Sunrise’

January 20, 2011

Last night I attended the Northwest Film Forum’s screening of Sunrise, a 1927 silent feature directed by F.W. Murnau. Rather than listening to a generic score typically tacked onto these movies from the pre-sound era, the audience enjoyed live accompaniment from two gifted musicians: Lori Goldston played cello, while Greg Campbell handled percussion. Over somber strings and ghostlike cymbals appeared the opening title cards, which reveal the filmmakers’ truly universal aspirations. First, Murnau endowed Sunrise with the subtitle A Song of Two Humans which, though aptly identifying sound as a key element in this tale (more on that later), has a somewhat poetically grandiose ring to it. The film’s bid for universality clarifies with a look at the cast list; no proper names exist for any of the characters, just general labels like “The Man” or “The Wife.” Finally Sunrise’s preamble rolls onscreen, a statement of egalitarianism which includes, “…in the city’s turmoil or under the open sky on the farm, life is much the same; sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.” Somehow to me this claim doesn’t resonate with the story of a violent philanderer who plots to drown his innocent wife for his lover.

Just another day on the farm I suppose, in the life of one ordinary American marriage. I don’t have a wife as of yet, so maybe I judge too quickly. Maybe daydreams about disposing your better half in the nearest river once marital passions fade are more common than I imagine. Right?

Needless to say (so I’ll say it anyway) watching this 84-year-old relic of a film unfold before my eyes had many surreal, starkly emotional moments. The cinematography by Karl Struss and Charles Rosher, groundbreaking at the time, photographs not only the physical action taking place, but peers deeper than that, casts light on the hidden desires of this struggling couple. In one early scene, The Man (an uncanny Jon Hamm lookalike) battles himself over leaving home for a late-night rendezvous. He looks offscreen, then we see what he sees: a simple meal resting on the dinner table, prepared by his faithful spouse. Dialogue couldn’t capture the reservoirs of agony in this simple series of shots. Words monopolize, espousing a single interpretation as sole truth. With Sunrise, Murnau displays a mastery of the silent form by letting his viewers fill in the gaps left open by unspoken (and due to technological limits, unrecorded) human speech.

Though we cannot hear the sounds bombarding this silent world, we can imagine. We can imagine the seductive lilt in a vamp’s whistle, the stern timbre of a minister’s words that leads to The Man’s redemption, and his own voice, warbling with franticness over the night waters as he searches for his missing love. Our imaginations ran further with help from Goldston and Campbell, who did wonders with the few instruments in their arsenal. How the former morphed her cello time and again into the perfect backdrop for every sequence I couldn’t tell you. But the haunting soundtrack made for an experience as strange, as scarily wonderful as a rowboat tossed across a stormy sea.

Sunrise is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Documents & Profiles: Last Day at Local Sightings

October 9, 2008

Growing up I was never much of a fan of documentaries – I guess narratives just seemed to have more exciting opportunities, documentaries too cut-and-dry. But I’ve ended up going to a few documentary screenings at the Tacoma Film Festival (which ends today), and I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen. Last night’s Local Sightings screening of a handful of documentaries changes my viewpoint of this genre even more.

The night started off with an old friend…I heard the audio from the short start to play and began thinking, “This sounds familiar…Oh no! It’s ‘Crustvaska!'” My friend Jeff and I had already seen this little movie play about two weeks ago at the first annual Seattle Couchfest, and we gave each other knowing looks when the short’s goofy main character appeared on screen. I didn’t enjoy ‘Crustvaska’ the first time – its Berlin backdrop and the meandering dialogue rang false for me. But it grew on me while watching it at LS. The main speaker has a likable easygoing way to him, as he tries to basically convince an American friend that his fanny pack is actually cool.

Documentaries sometimes dive into stories that most folk wish to ignore. Well ‘The Girls’ surely takes the cake. It takes an unflinching look at a truly global phenomenon: breasts. Turns out about half the world’s population is stricken with this condition…who knew? But hey, the woman of ‘Girls’ – who range from a self-proclaimed ‘fetish artist’ to one who actually had her mammaries removed – have no problem knocking their knockers around. They candidly reminisce over old “mam-moirs” (clevah!) in between shots of 50s pinup girls and other cultural references to our obsession with boobs. Yet surprisingly this doesn’t turn into a male-bashing romp. The interviewees don’t wag their fingers at misogynists; in fact, the film is more of a celebration of femininity, with several close-ups of women’s, you know, thrown in for seemingly for male viewers’ titillation. ‘Girls’ contradicts itself in its overal message, but hey its fun to watch.

‘Click Whoosh’ is about the onrushing demise of the Polaroid camera and the people whose lives it touched. Sure there’s digital cameras out there with a bunch more features these days, but some still cling tight to the old-fashioned simplicity of a Polaroid snapshot. The main interviewee said the camera allowed him to get more intimate with his subjects – an interesting idea. ‘Click’ is also about our memories, and how technology affects even the shape and color of our past.

‘Heavy nectar’ was the downer of the evening. A lot of important things went wrong with this film. The main character would move his equipment jarringly while the main character told his story. Philip, a Seattle man who plays an obscure instrument called the harmonic canon, is a decent fellow I’m sure, but fills ‘Nectar’ with drawn-out monologues on his life and musical influences. When a character resorts to speaking cryptically and saying doozies like “reasonable facsimile” and “inclusive sentience,” I immediately tune out. I kept thinking, “Stop talking and start playing!” Surely the wondrous otherworldly sounds emanating from his exotic machine will redeem this film. Well he finally begins a-pluckin’. Otherworldly sounds? Yes. Wondrous. If you find a sound similar to cats getting neutered ‘wondrous.’ Are viewers supposed to be swept away at this point?

The din of cats stopped clamoring in my ears with the arrival of the next short, ‘Shikashika.’ Jeez – the things people will do for a sno-cone. In Peru, a family sells the treats at the town square every Sunday. When ice runs out, they go to Safeway to get more. By “Safeway” I mean the flippin’ Andes. A camera crew follows these weathered Peruvian vendors across jagged peaks to get a chunk of their livelihood. Next they have to lug a block of the stuff DOWN the mountain. Oh boy. The cinematography of this immense landscape only reinforces the film’s ‘triumph of the will’ themes. I especially liked the extreme close up of a cone in a person’s hand dissolving to a wide-angle shot of all those mountains…

‘Ed & Ed’ starts with a slow zoom in on a sepia-toned photo of a group of boys. The zoom picks out two of the boys, goes in either farther to seemingly isolate one in particular, but comes back and decides to rest on two smiling faces. Whose story is this? That’s the question of ‘Ed & Ed.’ What starts off as a sort of off-kilter comedy between two crotchety twin brothers living together (in Port Townsend, no less) turns into something much more shocking, laid out in the film’s final moments. Questions arise about the exact identities of the film’s subjects but are not answered, and that is the haunting appeal of ‘Ed & Ed.’

Next is my personal favorite, ‘Never Again: A Story of Yaeko Nakano.’ Well I may be biased because I actually helped make that film with two friends, director Meredith Swinehart and DP Jeff Axtman. Can I really approach my own work objectively in this blog? Probably not. All I can say is it was my first real foray into documentary filmmaking, production had its moments of intensity but overall it was a blast. I leave the real critics, you guys, to judge ‘Never Again’ for yourselves. (Psst: It rocks.)

Saving the best for last, eh Local Sightings? You dog you. ‘Forty Men for the Yukon’: it’s refreshing to see a short independent documentary that takes us places we never knew existed. ‘Forty Men’ is about two men, Frank and Geordie (I think that’s his name), basically waiting for death while living in a now-abandoned mining town. The ex-bartender has quips and a crustiness that makes him the epitome of “old guy.” The other has his own unique stories to tell, including a near-death experience. Geordie made a house out of bottles. Took him three summers. What he does now I haven’t the foggiest, but it’s a joy watching these two guys make a home out of this extreme desolate landscape.

Jeff, Meredith and I spoke with Tony Massil, director of ‘Forty Men,’ after the screening at the Satellite Lounge. Amidst screaming vocals he told us about the filming conditions in Vancouver (where he’s from), and his plans to turn his short into a feature. I wish him and Local Sightings continued success.