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Distinct artists from all over the Northwest congregate and celebrate in one unique, stellar film festival every September – the Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings Film Festival. Now, in its 18th year, the festival is bringing back old gems in new ways (VOD IRL and Lynn Shelton’s We Go Way Back – read on!) and infusing the fest with a real celebratory nature – it’s the forum’s 20th anniversary!

Parties and new programs aside, the festival remains dedicated to the cohesion of northwest filmmakers as they share their work with one another and deliberate on the status of the statewide film industry at the concurring Seattle Film Summit.

The Artistic Director of the film forum, Courtney Sheehan, was kind enough to sit down with Washington Filmworks to discuss this year’s festival.

Washington Filmworks (WF): There have been many shifts at the Northwest Film Forum this year – has this impacted Local Sightings, or has it remained the same?
Courtney Sheehan (CS): No two Local Sightings are ever the same! Since becoming the Artistic Director of Northwest Film Forum, I have worked to shift the focus of our programs to be more socially-engaged and community-based, and to design them in ways that respond to changes in the film industry and in our city. Film so pivotally shapes how we think about and build the world. NWFF and Local Sightings are creating space to actively invite these wider public conversations around film. This change in direction is evident even on the first night of Local Sightings. Instead of a feature, the opening night on 9/24 is a Sprawl to Action: a program of short films about moments and feelings of change in Seattle – everything from a web series pilot about weed to an archival film from the late 60s made by a bunch of young architects and urban planners. The opening night will also be unusually epic because it’s the 20th anniversary party (of NWFF)! We’re throwing the most comprehensive costume party ever: dress up as any character from a film we’ve shown over the years (see a list of character ideas here). Another advocacy event in the fest is a special edition of Indigenous Showcase, our long-running native film series with Longhouse Media. The world premiere of Tracy Rector’s Maiden of Deception Pass, a documentary about a Samish tribal legend, will be accompanied by a panel discussion about reversing the erasure of indigenous people.

WF: Besides exhibiting work, what opportunities does the festival offer filmmakers?
CS: There are several events produced in the festival designed to connect filmmakers with new production opportunities at NWFF as well as resources and experts in the region. The most important gift of Local Sightings to filmmakers is also the simplest: the festival provides a space for local filmmakers to meet each other, share their work, spark new collaborations, and get down on the dance floor together. In an increasingly online era, it’s so, so vital to continue carving out these face-to-face interactions. That’s what real community building needs, and that’s what Local Sightings is all about! We are also very excited to be launching two new production programs during the festival. The opening night program Sprawl to Action will include the launch of Citizen Minutes: one minute-long videos about what’s happening in our city. We are working with local filmmakers, community members and groups to capture the city of Seattle. Several completed videos will screen in the opening night program. Then, the project will be ongoing: we’ll screen the videos as weekly newsreels in the cinema before films, as well as circulate them online and through media outlets. This initiative represents an effort to directly engage with both the filmmaker community and the neighborhood/city NWFF is a part of. Any citizen can make a minute, and the only requirements are the length (under 2 min is ok) and that the video respond to something that’s happening in the city right now. To find out more and get involved, email us at, and join the public Facebook group to meet other citizens making minutes. During the festival we’re also unveiling Cue Northwest: a new partnership with Brick Lane Records that will build the film and music community through residencies and community networking events. Our first project will fund a filmmaker in residence to create a short film for a narrative record released by Brick Lane Records. The resident filmmaker will have a budget of $5,000 to create the film, and it will screen at Northwest Film Forum during Local Sightings Film Festival in fall 2016. We will announce details about how to submit applications for the residency on October 3rd, during the 4th Seattle Film Summit.

WF: How is the festival cultivating and enhancing the Washington filmmakers?
CS: I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a brick and mortar home base for local filmmakers to meet each other – and to challenge themselves by connecting with new artistic ideas. As the only festival in Seattle dedicated to Northwest films and filmmakers, Local Sightings represents why NWFF exists: to create fertile conditions (no pun intended) for local independent film production.

WF: Are there specific storytellers who have grown from the festival?
CS: With an 18-year history of supporting emerging filmmakers in the region, you bet! One awesome full circle story from this year: Local Sightings was the first US festival to premiere the films of Zach Weintraub, 5 years ago with Bummer Summer. This year he’s returning to the fest with his latest film, Slackjaw, fresh from its world premiere at Locarno! And of course Lynn Shelton, Megan Griffiths, Drew Christie, the list goes on – Local Sightings screened all their early work.

WF: What can audiences expect this year, in terms of programming and panels?
15 features, 55 shorts, an expansive spotlight on Pacific Northwest animation, including a retrospective of living legend Bruce Bickford and the launch of a new Northwest animation organization called Haptic. Plus, an industry first: VOD IRL, a video-on-demand screening in real life – we’re kicking off this new series with a rare screening of Lynn Shelton’s first feature We Go Way Back, with Lynn in attendance! Go to for the full lineup and schedule!

WF: The Seattle Film Summit is occurring in conjunction with the festival – what makes this a successful partnership, and how do both missions align with one another?
Ben Andrews and I partner on producing the Seattle Film Summit, and this year we’re bringing together several local film organizations to present a day-long series of events that will focus on technological evolutions in the region’s creative industries. It’s another way for NWFF to open its doors as a community center. The presenting organizations include the Seattle Film Institute, TheFilmSchool, Puget Sound Access, the Seattle Composers Alliance, Washington Filmworks, and more. The full schedule will be up soon.


About Courtney Sheehan, Northwest Film Forum Artistic Director: Courtney Sheehan is the Artistic Director for Northwest Film Forum. She has curated film programs and produced events for theaters and festivals on three continents. On a year-long Watson Fellowship, Courtney investigated the organizational structures, community roles, and programming strategies of twenty film festivals and media centers in India, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia. As a journalist, Courtney has covered film events ranging from the world’s largest documentary festival (IDFA in Amsterdam) to South America’s largest animation festival (Anima Mundi in Rio de Janeiro) and her publications include Bitch Magazine, Senses of Cinema, The Independent, and NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies.