Far away from the hype and noise of the commercial movie scene, Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum has earned a devoted audience by showing that cinema can be powerful as a local art form. What began in 1995 as a filmmakers’ collective in the historically LGBT and arts-oriented neighborhood of Capitol Hill has since become a hub for a wide array of visual culture, and executive director Courtney Sheehan has found innovative ways of using the theater’s two screens as a platform for artistic discovery and political engagement. The changing urban landscape has made the NWFF’s radical programming all the more vital: in a swiftly gentrifying area, the venue stands as a haven for the city’s vibrant arts community.
For the latest episode of Art-House America, now streaming on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, we dropped in on the NWFF during the twentieth edition of its Local Sightings Film Festival, an annual showcase of work made in the Pacific Northwest. The festival is a highlight of Sheehan’s year-round programming, which is filled with homegrown discoveries and guided by a mission to serve a diverse population. As she tells us in the episode, she hopes to strike a balance between “trying to introduce new ideas, new voices, and ones you want to champion” and “being attentive to our neighborhood, our city, and what they need.” In addition to hosting Seattle’s queer, Latino, and Asian American film festivals, the NWFF has recently shined a spotlight on essential work by unsung Filipino and indigenous artists. But nowadays the theater’s offerings aren’t limited to what it shows on its screens: it’s also home to parties, filmmaking workshops, and live events, including a Daily Show–styled comedy act that brings in political junkies from across the city.
Check out the full episode above, then head to the Channel to watch the first film in an ongoing series that NWFF will be programming for us: Robinson Devor’s 2005 Police Beat, a disarmingly surreal portrait of a West African immigrant who finds work in Seattle as a bicycle cop.