The Bigger Picture

Northwest Film Forum returns, bigger, better, and easier to get to.

Cinéastes worried by the May closure of the old, tiny Little Theatre on 19th Avenue East should be reassured. Though its parent organization also divested itself of the U District's venerable Grand Illusion Cinema in February, a greatly expanded two-screen venue is about to rise at the new home of the Northwest Film Forum—right in the heart of the Pike-Pine corridor at 1515 12th Ave. Set for a Sept. 10 "soft opening" with programs of work by Howard Zinn and the Kuchar brothers, a formal grand opening will come in October.

The new NWFF space will also house editing and production facilities along with its own administrative offices, but the main appeal to moviegoers will be having their art films and repertory titles within walking distance of all their favorite bars and restaurants. Hipsters will no longer have to hoof it over to the east side of the hill to catch a cool flick.

Housed in a neat old 1927 light-industrial building, with a soaring two-story ceiling and mezzanine level to the rear, the 8,000-square-foot NWFF will contain separate theaters of 120 and 49 seats, allowing for simultaneous screenings and parallel bookings. (As some will recall, the Grand Illusion generally followed a repertory calendar, while the Little Theatre featured more avant-garde fare, often screened on video, and even some theatrical productions.)

As NWFF Executive Director Michael Seiwerath explains, "It's the hardest thing we've ever done. The fund-raising climate is worse" than in those halcyon dates of dot-comdom. (The nonprofit was founded in 1995.) Given a total budget exceeding $340,000, much of it in barter and volunteer form, the project has endured delays from its once hoped-for May opening. On the bright side, says Seiwerath, the NWFF will actually be paying less in rent than for its old 19th Avenue digs, and it will also profit from subletting space to organizations like Three Dollar Bill Cinema (sponsor of the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival).

Various public agencies, like the King County Arts Commission, and private philanthropies, like the Allen Foundation, are helping to underwrite the expansion, which will also likely include some equipment upgrades. (The NWFF left its old 35mm projectors at the Grand Illusion.) The bigger new facility will also relieve the NWFF of its occasional past practice of renting out the Seattle Art Museum's cinema for special events; indeed, it'll be more able to rent out its own screens for future functions—for a fee, of course, which ought to further help its financial position. That doesn't mean individual donations aren't encouraged, and you can also help the organization by becoming a member.

Brian Miller's Fall Favorites

From Angst, Love

Existential detectives? In I ♥ Huckabees, the new comedy from David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey, Flirting With Disaster), Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman play gumshoes in the psyche of disgruntled environmentalist Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore). Moreover, there are love complications in a romantic triangle among Schwartzman, Jude Law, and Naomi Watts; then you have Mark Wahlberg and Isabelle Huppert kicking around the movie—two disparate performers not exactly known for comedy. But the decidedly nonprolific Russell is known for being less than predictable, and his forte has been wringing laughter out of angst. Oct. 8.

Parker and Stone Superhero

Creepy wooden puppets. Virulent anti-Bush satire. Constant potty-mouthed swearing. Those two guys who created South Park. Talk about an easy sell during an election year. Trey Parker and Matt Stone promise that not only will their superhero world cop do-gooders have sex, they'll also get to kill and dismember one another in all kinds of R-rated ways in Team America: World Peace. And since Saddam, erstwhile star of the South Park movie, has long since been busted in his spider hole by Dubya's real-life world police, how can we resist the prospect of new villain Kim Jong Il, the tiny North Korean dictator who, not unlike Dubya, basically inherited his office from his more capable father? (Lesser baddies in need of policing include Muammar Qaddafi and Robert Mugabe.) Adding to the fun, Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn lend their voices to the cause. And did we mention the musical numbers? Oct. 15.

Wine Tour Turns Bad

Seattle-raised screenwriter Jim Taylor again collaborates with director Alexander Payne after their Election and About Schmidt. This one, Sideways, is an adaptation from a novel (by Rex Pickett), in which two old pals and would-be oenophiles go on a wine-tasting tour that turns into a petty-crime-filled bender. Sounds a tad too familiar but for the presence of Paul Giamatti (American Splendor) as the road-trip instigator; newcomer Thomas Haden Church is the best friend who's about to get hitched—prompting the tear through California's wine country. Again, this might play like your standard mismatched buddy vehicle, were Taylor and Payne not so utterly incapable of resorting to cliché. The movie might actually make wine snobbery fashionable again. Oct. 20.

Another Pixar Gem

Pixar is back with a new CG-animated feature, The Incredibles, and it's directed by Simpsons alumnus Brad Bird, who previously helmed The Iron Giant, my No. 1 film of 1999. He created the story of a superhero clan trying to live anonymously in the suburbs, temporarily retired from crime fighting, then developed it at the house that John Lasseter built. So it's no surprise that some of the voice talent is supplied by Toy Story's Wallace Shawn and John Ratzenberger, who are here joined by Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, and others. As with other Pixar gems, The Incredibles won't misuse dual-demographic humor to pander to parents with vulgar, over-their-wee-heads jokes like The Cat in the Hat. Anyone who's seen Giant knows that Bird respects kids too much for that. Nov. 5.

Wes Anderson goes under

If you thought The Royal Tenenbaums was precious, fussy, and overdesigned, The New York Times just reported that Wes Anderson actually got to use Gore Vidal's book-stuffed cliffside Italian villa on the Amalfi coast as a location for his latest quirk-fest comedy, The Life Aquatic. Bill Murray plays a Jacques Cousteau–like sea explorer/filmmaker/self-promoter at odds with family members and a boatload of freaks. Among them are Anderson vets Anjelica Huston and Owen Wilson; newbies include Jeff Goldblum as a rival mariner, Willem Dafoe as a German deckhand, and Cate Blanchett as, well, the girl. Ever the perfectionist (yet one who often savors the setup more than the joke), Anderson couldn't be content with actual undersea creatures and had them animated instead—which could be better than Shark Tale. Dec. 10.

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