As Washington’s film community mobilizes towards Olympia for Film Day 2017, some of the state’s filmmakers will be advancing Washington film on a different front, acting as ambassadors for the state as they premiere new works at South by Southwest, Austin’s yearly festival celebrating the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries.
“Washington’s profile in the film industry seems to go through ups and downs,” says Seattle filmmaker Wes Hurley. “I think people around the country do know that we have a lively independent film scene. But we have a long way to go in attracting bigger projects.” Hurley is an established member of Seattle’s independent film community. You may be familiar with his previous project, the candy-colored, dragtastic, and “done on a microscopic budget” web (and now, in Europe and Canada, television) series, Capitol Hill, but if you haven’t: get on it. Hurley accurately describes it as “a testament to how talented and resourceful Seattle film artists are.” It’s also pure camp hilarity.
Hurley’s new work, Little Potato, which will enjoy its world premiere at SxSW this Saturday, is a 14-minute-long filmic memoir spanning the time between his early childhood in Vladivostok (in the far east of what was then the USSR) to his coming-out-while-coming-of-age in Seattle. It’s a dense visual collage of video projection, undulating old videotape imagery, a poetic reenactment of Hurley’s childhood self, and an endearingly candid interview with his mother. Unlike lesser memoirs, Little Potato doesn’t waste a second on self-indulgence or navel gazing. It’s brisk, engaging, and incredibly eventful. Watch for it, when it returns to Washington.
Little Potato‘s credits are dotted with familiar names of Washington filmmakers and artists: Clyde Peterson, Mel Eslyn, Mischa Jakupcak, Lacey Leavitt, and Robyn Miller, to name a few. And though Hurley’s Little Potato is not a direct beneficiary of the film incentive, Hurley is quick with insight to that point: “Indirectly I think most local filmmakers benefit from it. Having an incentive keeps the core talent pool here in Seattle. Some of [those] same people are then able to work on my projects and other people’s projects,” he observes, “So there’s a kind of trickle down effect.” With the film incentive providing a basis for this ecosystem, it follows that independent film stands to lose as much as big budget projects if the incentive expires, simply because of the talent drain out of the state that would inevitably follow.
But that fate is not inevitable. We could ramp up investment, give in-state talent the tools to hone their craft here in Washington, building on the resources that already exist. Hurley hopes for this future. “I would also love to see Seattle/Washington invest more into film infrastructure. Really, the local corporations are the ones that ought to be doing it. With Amazon (and soon Microsoft) entering the original content market, we should be pressuring these companies to build up film infrastructure and make Seattle one of the major hubs of the industry. Between our huge pool of creative and technical talent and the fact that Washington has every type of filming location setting—we should be able to make any kind of film/TV show right here in the State.”
But he’s realistic as well. “We have to increase our tax incentive, otherwise we’ll always be upstaged by far less deserving regions who have better incentives.”
Also making its world premiere at SxSW this year is the feature film directorial debut of Seattle filmmaker, SJ Chiro. Her film, Lane 1974, is a narrative which takes the perspective of a young girl living on the fringes, picking up the story as she and her mother become alienated from their commune and find themselves itinerant in Northern California. This project has been in the works for a while, and for its coming to fruition on such a high-profile stage, Chiro deserves congratulations. The film’s production team includes more local talent, such as art director Erin O. Kay, whose previous credits include Captain Fantastic and Laggies, and of Seattle’s dynamo Mel Eslyn, whose long list of producing credits include both Lane 1974 and Little Potato.
We’d like to wish all the best to this wave of Washington filmmakers as they make their debuts in Austin. We can’t wait to see your films on Washington screens when they return to the Northwest!
For all the latest updates on “Lane 1974” and “Little Potato,” stay tuned to their official Twitter pages, @lane1974film and @PotatoDreamsUSA