Local Sightings Film Festival

Notable nonfiction includes true crime and mobile gardens.

When local filmmakers hit it big, they premiere their movies out of town. So it is with Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister, which recently debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, where it also earned a distribution deal. Back home in Seattle, however, the Local Sightings Film Festival must be content with less splashy fare—shorts, docs, and features later bound for public TV, Hulu, YouTube, and community screenings in church basements. That's not a putdown, since there are good things to be found at this year's fest, featuring works from the greater Pacific Northwest and B.C. You've just got to set your sights accordingly and keep your expectations modest.

The festival begins with the neo-horror flick The Oregonian (7 p.m. Fri.), not screened for the press, which earned mixed notices at Sundance this January. (Calvin Reeder, formerly based in Seattle, directs.) However, it's followed by an opening gala party where NWFF's liquor license should be put into good effect.

Documentaries and other non-narrative films drew my eye among a shopping bag full of advance DVDs this year. One of the longest and strongest efforts is Confluence (7 p.m. Sat.), an hour-long true-crime documentary about a rash of killings during the '70s and '80s near the southeast corner of our state. In the age before cell phones, the Internet, and DNA testing, cops on the Washington and Idaho sides of the border were slow to link the string of five murders. Far from Seattle, the population hub of Lewiston, Idaho, was—during the late '70s—a place where children roamed freely and parents never worried about their kids becoming faces on milk cartons.

Filmmakers Vernon Lott and Jennifer Anderson intersplice new interviews with white-haired parents and retired cops with home movies and snapshots, occasionally training their camera on the wide, uncaring landscape and sky. Over three decades since the initial 1979 disappearance of a 12-year-old girl, her body never found, memories have dimmed and newspaper clippings yellowed. "The police did nothing," says one irate father, but the pattern of victims—a child, a female cyclist, and two young women and a man working in a community theater—didn't scream out like those of Ted Bundy or the Green River Killer. (Also, significantly, the cases were rural and undercovered by the media.)

Today, there is no easy CSI-style resolution. Though old evidence is being tested for DNA, says one police official, "We're kinda stalled out." A grieving mother asks rhetorically, "What's 'closure'? I haven't experienced it. I don't know."

On a happier note, seen at SIFF this year, is Seattle filmmaker Eliaichi Kimaro's family memoir A Lot Like You (7 p.m. Wed.). It's a candid, loving account of her complicated Korean-Tanzanian heritage and a rumination on where, along the mixed-race spectrum, she fits. As she told me this spring, "Here, I'm black. When I go back [to Tanzania], people think I'm Chinese."

A whole package of short documentaries (7 p.m. Tues.) makes for an entertaining buffet of characters you might not otherwise meet on Capitol Hill. Among them is a falconer from up north of Bellingham whose wife, he chuckles, has somehow remained married to him for 35 years despite his dedication to raptors. Two genial Ballard dudes convert an old Mazda pickup truck into a rolling urban planter (complete with chicken coop). There's a This Old House–meets–Monster Garage vibe as they dodge welding sparks while discussing organic farming. The final product earns Mayor Mike McGinn's approval, which may be a mixed blessing. We also meet the drug-addicted mothers, and the nurses who serve them, in King County's MOMS Plus program, recently hit by state budget cuts. And, love it or hate it, the Fremont Troll's history is recalled by the artists responsible.

Lastly, though not a documentary, I recommend the solo dance-performance film Tracings by Marissa Rae Niederhauser (part of a shorts package, 9 p.m. Tues.), in which she thrashes around a crumbling old house, sometimes in reverse or accelerated motion, slamming at the walls and afflicted with what seems to be a spreading, virus-like tattoo. It's like a cross between Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations—only without the wedding cake.


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