The State of Seattle Filmmaking

The annual complaint from local filmmakers about SIFF is, “Why didn’t my movie make it into the festival?” Well, having later seen a great many of these shoestring features and shorts, I would concur with the SIFF programmers: because most of them suck. The problem isn’t with the talents and ambitions of Seattle filmmakers per se. The ratio of good films to bad is probably about the same as anyplace else; what’s more discouraging is that so few of either grade are being produced here. Such were the issues discussed at a forum titled “The State of Seattle Filmmaking” last Saturday morning at the Broadway Performance Hall

While “Seattle is a really great place to make movies,” said Michael Seiwerath of the Northwest Film Forum, “It remains a really miserable place to make a living making movies.” He should know, having executive produced Police Beat, which made it into both Sundance and SIFF, a quietly ambitious indie that certainly falls under the $2 million threshold several panel members cited as the divide between local, nonunion pictures and out-of-town productions looking for economic incentives from the perpetually endangered and underfunded Washington State Film Office.

Speaking for the WSFO, Suzy Kellett reiterated that the state’s budget battles made tax incentives a tough sell in Olympia, where the constitution effectively prohibits giveaways to companies that are essentially asking for corporate welfare. (And yet this is never a problem when it comes to Boeing . . . hmmm.)

“The economics don’t make sense,” said producer Jennifer Roth, the tartest and most skeptical voice onstage. Higher budget productions are scared of Seattle, she added. As a result, said Seiwerath, unlike New York or Los Angeles, where you have a wide spectrum of film budgets, “Seattle only has the lower class.”

Yet allusions were made to certain unnamed higher-class Hollywood types who’ve been settling in the San Juan Islands. Problem is, they view the Northwest as a place to retire, not to make films or mentor young filmmakers. Also, in the age of craigslist, DV, and iMac editing (see Tarnation), some directors are bypassing the old institutions, and film crews, entirely.

That last point surfaced in the audience Q&A, where several film-world workers lamented the lack of a central nexus to hunt for jobs or network. Always on the periphery of the film industry, Seattle now has to contend with a moviemaking business that’s less centralized than ever. Scripts are written collaboratively by e-mail; financing comes from a dozen international sources; special effects are offshored; crews travel like gypsies to the cheapest locales they can find.

After leaving the discussion, I went to an Ingmar Bergman film that seemed almost cheerful by comparison.

The Seattle International Film Festival continues through Sun., June 12. Visit or call 206-324-9997.