A still from "Hope Is Not Cancelled," a short documentary about Seattle's Covid-19 murals. 

Image: Courtesy NWFF

Nearly every larger performing arts organization in the city has gone virtual this coming season, but the turn for movie theaters like Northwest Film Forum has felt jarring. Yes, we can’t gather in theaters anymore, but NWFF has been putting out smartly curated streaming movies and festivals since lockdown began. Thus Local Sightings, the annual Pacific Northwest–centered film festival, is back.

This year the festival runs for 10 days, from September 18 to 27. It offers a slate of shorts programs (12) and feature-length films (11) that nicely balance this year's big stories with other equally human ones. Because it’s all streaming, most of the films are available throughout the festival. Prices run on a sliding scale: General passes are $75–$125, individual screenings are free–$25.

Friday night, the festival kicks off with screening of the Vanishing Seattle Series—six short films that dig into the popular hashtag, #vanishingseattle. The first two—about Wa Na Wari and Hardwick’s Hardware—are up on YouTube.

I’ve watched a few of the other releases. A Saturday doubleheader is very 2020. In the feature 24 Hours in the CHOP, Seattle filmmaker Tajuan LaBee spent all of June 15 (and a bit of June 16) in the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, as witness, speaking with various CHOP occupants about what the multifaceted occupation meant. It screens with the short “Hope Is Not Cancelled,” which tells the stories of artists who painted murals on the boarded up windows of businesses closed by the pandemic. Neither it nor 24 Hours will shock you with any new revelations, but both are meaningful looks into what’s happened this year.

My favorites, though, had nothing to do with 2020. The Invisible Father, a documentary, examines the peculiar case of Piero Heliczer, a beat poet with a near Forrest Gumpian ability to pop up in important spots in history. Was he making an art film about the Velvet Underground before Andy Warhol met the band? Yup. Help start the underground newspaper the East Village Other? Indeed. Hang out with Allen Ginsberg and also apparently appear as a young boy in the Italian touchstone Bicycle Thieves? Yes.

What imbues all this with more than curiosity is that the director is local Thérèse Heliczer, Piero’s daughter, who says at the beginning that she knew little about her father since her family tried to protect her from him as he became increasingly unstable. The movie becomes both a character study of Piero and an attempt for Thérèse to reckon with her familial past. 

Local Sightings Film Festival 2020
Sept 18–27, Free–$25 (individual), $75–$125 (festival pass)  

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