by Corinne Whiting
– The Capitol Hill Times –
This week, film gurus of the Pacific Northwest gather to honor some of the region’s finest. During the Local Sightings Film Festival (Sept. 28 through Oct. 4), homegrown talent takes center stage. Produced by the Northwest Film Forum, the 15th annual celebration serves as this area’s premier showcase of new films, while connecting artists from Alaska to Oregon. The weeklong festival includes the programming of features, shorts and documentaries, juried prizes, artist conversations, art installations and industry networking events. Events take place at Capitol Hill’s Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Avenue, between Pike and Pine).
The opening-night film, “International Sign for Choking,” screens Friday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. and features filmmaker Zach Weintraub of Olympia, Washington. A synopsis of this film, set in Buenos Aires and inspired by Weintraub’s own ex-pat experiences in Argentina, reads, “With its Cubist-influenced framings, Weintraub’s mise-en-scene captures a modern foreigner’s sense of alienation.” Viewers follow the directionless young American, played by Weintraub himself, as he wiles away many hours against the floral wallpaper of his compact guest house room, navigates an undefined relationship with the American next door (played by “indie darling” Sophia Takal) and attempts to befriend local acquaintances from musicians to neighborhood skateboarders.
Those who’ve spent time in Argentina will enjoy nostalgic scenes of lazy park afternoons spent sipping Quilmes and making new friends over broken castellano introductions and the communal passing of the mate gourd. But anyone who has spent time anywhere foreign or unfamiliar will appreciate the universal, emotional tug-of-war that arises when one casts him or herself into unchartered territory.
Viewers ride along with Josh through the highs and the lows of his experience thanks to quiet shots marked by beautiful cinematography – cropped frames of new lovers acting on escalating electricity, an alcohol-fueled night with fellow American travelers in a loud, gaudy nightclub and the eerie, lonely glow of a computer screen reflecting in Josh’s glasses. In many scenes, dialogue remains scant, thrusting the audience into uncomfortable scenes rife with loaded silences, often shifting the focus on words not spoken. The end result? A moody yet lovely film that effectively examines the American experience of immersing oneself a foreign environment.
“Choking” screens with the endearing short “Green and Blue Lovers,” a film in which a teenager experiences relationship troubles with her older boyfriend. Perhaps the most impressive part of this film? The fact that its emerging filmmaker, Jimmy Bontatibus of Seattle, has been a regular volunteer with Northwest Film Forum since age 14 and is now only 16 years old.
Other films screening this year range from “Fast Break,” the rare 1977 documentary about the Portland Trailblazers, and “Code of the West,” a look at some of the issues still plaguing Montana’s medical marijuana business. In “Coast Modern,” Mike Bernard and Gavin Froome turn their lens on stunning examples of modernist architecture in Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle, and “Not That Funny” stars familiar faces like Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”) and Brigid Brannagh (“Army Wives”) in a comedy about how far we’ll often go for love.
Other Local Sightings draws range from opening and closing night bashes, a late-night lounge and an installation of new artwork from the Seattle Experimental Animation Team (SEAT). This exhibit in the Northwest Film Forum lobby uses mini-projectors to screen short works suspended in unexpected places, including a rotating selection of work by SEAT animators on kite-borne screens. The first Seattle Film Summit, a participant-directed conference for “anyone in Washington who has a stake in the production or distribution of media content” takes places Saturday, Sept. 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit localsightings.nwfilmforum.org for the full festival schedule.