THE GOOD NEWS, while national theater chains go bankrupt and marquees dim, is that the industry slump has its local nonprofit exceptions. Celebrating its fifth anniversary with a Greatest Hits series at the Grand Illusion and Little Theatre, the Northwest Film Forum has carved out just such a niche for itself in Seattle. Looking back and planning ahead, the NWFF has ample reason for pride and optimism—which area filmgoers ought to share, since they've been filling the seats, mostly, and in some cases actually making the movies being shown.
For the public, the NWFF's smart, often oddball programming is a reliable draw. (See page 84 for this week's Greatest Hits revivals.) "Things that are quirky and have a really unique, contagious sense of humor do well in Seattle," explains Director of Cinema Programs Deborah Girdwood, citing Project Grizzly, American Pimp, and Hands on a Hard Body. Beyond its past Hou Hsiao-hsien, Robert Bresson, and Abbas Kiarostami retrospectives, ideas like January's wonderful Festival of Depression or 1999's Crackpots and Obsessives series are conceived in-house.
"Those categories come up very organically," says Girdwood, "almost like in the after-work, just-joking-around mode." So, in addition to this fall's Eric Rohmer series, we can look forward to potential themes including Monkeys, Outer Space, Bitches, Festival of Perversion (hey!), Food, Cross-Dressing, and the traditional summer kids' movie series.
Out of public view, with its workshops, courses, and editing facilities, the NWFF resolutely supports the aging medium of film. "Almost all of our equipment is old, and some people could argue that it's extinct," concedes Girdwood, but that's the whole point. "It's like old record stores," she says.
Still, stores have to pay their bills, and the NWFF's annual budget has grown to $460,000, Executive Director Michael Seiwerath explains. That comes from about 500 individual members plus various grant sources, including the King Country Arts Commission, NEA, Corporate Council for the Arts, Allen Foundation for the Arts, and Microsoft Matching Gifts Program. The theaters also contribute significantly. Says Seiwerath, "Both something we're proud of and that a lot of funders really like about us is that we're . . . entrepreneurial and that we do have a high earned income ratio." It's 60 percent, in fact, another number— besides five—to celebrate.