It may be summertime, but nobody is taking it easy at the Northwest Film Forum. A slate of new programs and projects are launching over the next two months. From Busby Berkeley to bicycles, NWFF has a program for everyone.
Writer/composer Chris Jeffries' latest work illustrates the fabled dance sequences of Berkeley with new songs. In a 75-minute live music performance opening on Thursday, July 20, at NWFF, Jeffries and six vocalists will accompany 16 film clips from the career of the man who could turn dancing legs into a kaleidoscope of surreal images.
Although NWFF is best known for showing arthouse films and archival classics, live shows like "Kaleidoscope Eyes: Songs For Busby Berkeley" also fit well into the forum's mission, said communications director Nick Vroman. "Implicit in our mission is to reach out to other artists in the community and to get them working with us. We have commissioned scores for silent films before, so this show fits well with that idea."
Executive director Michael Selwerath and Jeffries had crossed artistic paths in Seattle-both have been named "Genius" by the alternative weekly The Stranger-and the idea of live music and old film just felt right. "It's been planned for more than a year but it was serendipity that brought everyone together in the first place," said Vroman.
A more typical NWFF project was "Police Beat," the film based on the columns of Charles Mudede. NWFF helped produce the film, directed by Robinson Devor and set in Seattle. Like most low-budget independents, it then did the circuit of film festivals.
"The movie got great critical reviews and a terrific reaction at all the festivals, but, like so many, it didn't get a distributor," said Vroman. To take the film to the next level, NWFF stepped in and became the "Police Beat" distributor as well as producer.
"I think 'Police Beat' will help us create our own model for distributing," said Vroman. "We're doing it where we can and with the people that we know in Portland, Chicago, and Vancouver, B.C."
"We believe that Seattle has the potential for a very rich film culture and we want to do everything to grow it," he said. "We did not want to just make these wonderful movies that didn't really go anywhere, so we got into the distribution business."
NWFF is hoping that "Police Beat" will be available on DVD. "However, we are not getting into the business of selling DVDs. We're looking to license it to another company," said Vroman.
Vroman is working on some simpler promotional schemes, like strong word-of-mouth, to grow the audience for "Police Beat." In a recent NWFF e-newsletter, he offered to give any NWFF member a lift from Capitol Hill to a showing of 'Police Beat' at the Varsity in the University District. "People thought I was joking, but I would have done it," said Vroman. "If people need a ride, I'll be there."
Drumming up support for local movies is a big part of what NWFF does, he added.
"Right now we're working with David Russo, who has done some amazing work with animation and drawing, to create a non-animation feature. Our main mission remains to produce local features."
Besides producing live shows like "Kaleidoscope Eyes" and new movies like "Police Beat," NWFF wants to entertain and maybe even enlighten the neighborhood at their cinema on 12th Avenue.
"We have a great and loyal audience," said Vroman, "and we find different communities turning out for different programs. Our recent Samurai film program drew a lot of support from the local Japanese community."
Fans of French comedies should not miss the series of Luc Moullet films starting on Friday, July 21. A part of France's "New Wave" movement in the 1960s, and a friend of filmmakers like Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, Moullet's films apparently never received distribution in the United States.
"I thought I knew all the important French filmmakers but I had never heard of this guy until a couple of months ago. This is pretty wild and exciting to discover something new like this," said Vroman, explaining why both NWFF staff and audience continue to be intrigued by archival showings like the Moullet programs.
"Seven Wonders of Luc Moullet" begins on Friday, July 21, with the comedy "Brigitte and Brigitte" from 1966 about a Communist and right-winger attending the Sorbonne together. The film also features a number of Moullet's director friends in cameos. The last film in the series is a 2002 comedy "Shipwrecked on Route D 17" about a hapless truck driver caught up in the Gulf War and the hunt for Saddam Hussein. "Shipwrecked" opens July 26 at NWFF.
A popular event is the children's films shown at the NWFF. "In August, we will have three films from Iran. I guess you could say that we're showing films for children that reach across the Axis of Evil," joked Vroman. "More seriously, the Iranian children's films are just brilliant. 'The White Balloon' is one of the films that we are showing and it is a true classic." The Iranian film series begins Aug. 4.
At the end of August, NWFF will encourage cinema geeks to get out in the fresh air and meet some bicycle freaks. The "Bike-In" at Magnuson Park at Sand Point will feature movies with bicycle themes, live music from aptly named Bicycle and other bands, and support from the Cascade Bicycle Club.
NWFF is seeking short films by Northwest filmmakers to show at the Aug. 26 "Bike-In." Submissions must be made by Aug. 14 and further details can found at www. nwfilmforum.org/bike.php.
NWFF also has a series of Werner Herzog films to show this summer, a Salon discussion about the state of Seattle filmmaking in July, and a "make your own karaoke video" night planned for August. To get a full picture of NWFF's crowded summer, check out their website at www. nwfilmforum.org or drop by the cinema at 1515 12th Ave.
It may seem like a lot for a tiny nonprofit, but after more than 10 years on Capitol Hill, NWFF can handle it. As Vroman summed it up, "We are the spunky organization that never says never."
Rosemary Jones writes about arts and entertainment for the Capitol Hill Times. She can be reached at editor @capitolhilltimes.com.