FESTIVALS: Seattle's Satellites: Screens From Outer Spaces
by Karla Esquivel
(indieWIRE/ 06.26.01) -- Since the birth of Slamdance, there have been a gold mine of alternative film festivals popping up worldwide in unified resistance to their mainstream counterparts. Let's face it, since Slamdance, more and more indie films are making it into the mainstream, which in turn makes room for the truly subversive cinema to rise from the depths of basements, trailers and parking lots and find that wider audience.
Take Satellites 2001: Screens from Outer Spaces, an orbiting film and media showcase that took place during the massive three-week long Seattle International Film Festival. The founders started this "compliment" to SIFF five years ago -- not as a way to compete with the international giant, but rather to garner more awareness of Seattle's thriving independent and experimental film community.
This year, Satellites was made up of ten local film and media curators who banded together to show off their distinctive local and international venues. The Seattle Underground Film Festival, 911 Media Arts Center, Emerald Reels (Super 8 Lounge), and The Northwest Film Forum were just a few of the organizations involved. Screenings, panels, and multi-media parties took place in ten "satellite" microcinemas thoughout Seattle. And while there were a few specialized events created solely for Satellites, the majority of programming was business as usual.
"This kind of programming goes on all year," said Joel S. Bachar, Satellites co-founder and curator of the monthly microcinema screening series Independent Exposure. "One of the main goals of Satellites is to educate and inform the public about the unique and diverse programming that we are all doing throughout the year. Satellites is a perfect platform for developing awareness of Seattle's thriving independent and alternative film & video arts scene."
There was a nice variance to the programming. Events ranged from a touring Super 8 show, complete with live music, bingo and sing-a-longs to panels on independent distributions and media. There was also a finely tuned multi-media party at Seattle's infamous Experience Music Project, called Spaceboat TV, where the bands played melodic sets between a solid assortment of international underground films and psychedelic projections.
Other events included the Tiny Picture Club, a show of 20 Portland-based sci-fi themed shorts where the filmmakers brought their own instruments to create one-of-a-kind soundtracks for their films. In addition, a line at the 911 Media Arts Center crept around the building to see the Reel Grrls video screening -- a collaboration of video work done by Seattle teen girls that deconstructs stereotypical images of women. All of this enthusiastic involvement proves that even with a major festival like SIFF in town, there is still enough audience to go around.
Satellites also encouraged local filmmaker Dave Hanagan to premiere his latest film, "Jack Strange, Literary Hero." This impressive 30-minute film shot entirely on 16 millimeter is a visual and cerebral cross between "Naked Lunch," Kafka and "Alice and Wonderland." It deals with a novelist who loses his words and must confront the ghosts of dead literature to get them back. Hanagan, who had just finished editing only five hours before the screening, expects to start shopping his film around the festival circuit.
"It meant a lot for me to premiere my film at Satellites because I have worked with many of these people in many respects throughout the years," Hanigan told indieWIRE. "A lot of the people in the film community helped me make the film, so it was nice to be able to give back to that community."
There is something to be said about strength in numbers. If left on their own accord, many of these venues would be just another event going on during SIFF. But by creating this alliance via Satellites, these smaller micro-curators are able to create a solid film and media community where they can share information, venues, talent and financial resources to aid in getting the independent word out to a larger crowd.
According to Peter Mitchell, a local film curator and Communications Director at 911 Media Arts Center, "All of the participants of Satellites are doing very unique and different things. We all have our specialties, but what joins us together is our common passion for independent media arts," he said. "What makes us strong is the fact that we have a friendly independent media community that is extremely dedicated to producing their own vision outside the mainstream."
There is a strong sense of camaraderie in Seattle. Four days before Satellites kicked-off, the illustrious Speakeasy Cafe burned down. The back room of the Internet cafe was utilized for art, performance and film screenings for the past six years. Joel Bachar's indie film series Independent Exposure became a mainstay every final Thursday of the month and the Speakeasy was to be an official Satellite station. At the last minute, Bachar was able to make use of a friend's record store, directly across the street from the smoldering building.
"The independent film community prevailed," said Bachar. "It was naturally a traumatic experience watching the Speakeasy burn down and it's a blow to our arts community. But people still showed up to support the cause. We moved the CDs out of the way and set up the projector and the screen. There were few seats so people sat in the windowsill and on the floor. It was very homey, relaxed and fun."
In the past SIFF has received a great deal of heat for holding this giant international film festival and ignoring local film projects. This was the obvious reason for starting a festival like Satellites -- to fill the local and international experimental void that SIFF in all it's grandeur could not fill. This year however, SIFF jumped on the bandwagon and embraced local filmmaking through its On Location: Shooting in Seattle series, which showcased films, videos, and scripts produced here in the Emerald City. For this specialized event, SIFF turned to the local indie film curators within the community for assistance in programming.
According to Debra Girdwood, Director of Cinema Programs at the Northwest Film Forum and a juror and panelist for SIFF's Shooting in Seattle Series, "Seattle's indie film programmers are a highly creative bunch that are very much in touch with filmmaking in Seattle -- and I don't mean commercial filmmaking, " she said. "It was great step forward to finally be represented and recognized by one of the largest film events of the year."
If anything, SIFF's genuine interest in local filmmaking and programmers says something significant about Satellites. They have actually succeeded in doing what they set out to do five years ago -- bring awareness to Seattle's unique and now unified film community.
[Karla Esquivel is Seattle-based writer.]