D.I.Y. or Die in Seattle!

Community Media Conference

September 9–15, 2002

You’ve got to wonder what possessed the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the lobbyist for commercial television and radio, to hold their annual “Radio Show” convention in Seattle, site of the boisterous protests against the World Trade Organization in 1999. Maybe thoughts of cappuccino by the Pacific lured the lords of radio to the Emerald City. But when they leave their convention castle, they won’t necessarily be sipping lattés with people who share their agenda. A shadow convention called the Community Media Conference is forming to mirror NAB’s meeting on September 9–15. The organizers of the Community Media Conference aren’t planning a repeat of 1999, but there will be some protests. These activists are focused on coalition building, media education, and political change. “[Throwing] rocks might make us feel good,” conference organizer Jonathon Lawson states, “but [that] will not necessarily effect change. It is tedious policy work with the congressional and FCC regulations that will endow us with a media democracy.”

The conference will examine issues of privatization and corporate monopolies of now publicly owned media. Since President Clinton signed the 1996 Telecommunications Act, concerns about the private control of the nation’s airwaves have increased. Members of the Cascadia Media Alliance, the conference’s organizing group, believe that the preservation of democracy depends on an educated and mobilized public. That’s why the conference is not focusing on protests as much as forming alliances and actions, like targeting specific companies for boycotts. This conference is about building a movement to counter the political influence of NAB and others like it. The goal is a broad-based movement that will take the FCC and corporations to task, reclaim the public media, and create new models for independent networks. “There is a collaborative spirit afoot in Seattle,” says Susan Gleason, conference organizer, environmental activist, and mediamaker. “It’s a place ripe for D.I.Y. efforts.”


Reel Grrls

Originally intended as just another flavor of the week offering by at Seattle’s 911 Media Arts Center, Reel Grrls is now roaring into its fourth semester. The two-semester program gives teenage girls a leg up in media-making through workshops and mentors. Malory Graham, 911’s director of youth programs, together with Ti Locke at KTCS and Lucia Ramirez at the YMCA, developed this coveted, expanding youth program. The 50-student fall media literacy workshop takes a critical look at images of women in advertising. The five-person staff is supported by 25 guest instructors, who range in skills and expertise from PBS producers to Georgie Kunkle, an 82-year-old historian whose specialty is feminism in Washington. Other volunteers teach belly dancing, yoga, and Aikido as self-esteem strengthening strategies.

Registration for the fall workshop is first come, first serve. Students then move on to the more intensive spring program that takes place over weekends and spring break. Each of the 26 selected girls conceives of, scripts, and shoots a mini-DV project with a mentor. These range from 30-second public service announcements to four-minute documentaries. Last year, Reel Grrls productions were accepted into 10 festivals, including the Gen Y Studio at Sundance.

Originally, 911 offered this workshop free of charge, but last year the pro-gram’s major funder, the MacArthur Foundation, eliminated funding for media arts centers. This fall Reel Grrls tuition will be a subsidized $75.

Registration contact: Lucia Ramirez at YMCA, (206) 383-5332; or look up www.reelgrrls.org.

The Puget Sound

Cinema Society

Seattle native Omar Willey founded the Puget Sound Cinema Society based on a question: What would happen if a theater charged admission on the way out, rather than on the way in? The curmudgeonly cinema savant believes that the film industry’s ecosystem would change abruptly if patrons paid for the experience they actually had.

In 2001 Willey began screening an eclectic, educational mix of films with the intention of recreating the intellectual and aesthetic atmosphere of Cinema 16, the postwar grandparent of the New York Film Festival and avant-courier of documentary and experimental film for New York City and the country. In his shorts program, Depth of Focus, and features program, Depth of Field, Willey has played host to filmmakers Lynn Shelton, Robert DeChico, Kellen Blair, Susan McNally, and Ty Huffer.

“I don’t have to please people with my programming, but I do have to prove that I’m selling something of value,” Willey says. But the art of programming is partly the art of making films palatable, and Willey clearly understands this. He framed Ann Marie Fleming’s screening at the Puget Sound Cinema Society with palate cleansers like local filmmaker Armando Munoz’s mock horror The Killer Krapper and the Encyclopedia Britannica’s children’s education film How to Spend Money. “The key to programming is contrast,” notes Willey, who screens every film format from 35mm to 8mm. “You get jaded if you watch five experimental films in a row…. If you just show features, you warp people’s vision of the potential of film.”

The Puget Sound Cinema Society is also predicated on Willey’s own artist-as-troubadour ideology. “I adhere to the idea of playing for your meal,” he explains. But it’s the programmer, Willey, who’s proving his worth; filmmakers are feasted, as recent guest Fleming discovered. Before watching her films, cinephiles enjoyed a prescreening spread of vegetarian shepherd’s pie, pad thai, pineapple upside-down-cake, potato chips, and chocolate cake. Willey believes in taking care of people’s material needs before talking philosophy. “You have to give something back to the community as a show of faith that you’re not just a parasite living off public funds,” he explains.

And Willey is anything but a leech. “There’s no question about grafting from the United Way. I will never take public money. A community should be able to support itself,” he pronounces. All funds for the Puget Sound Cinema Society come from what people to choose to pay on their way out the door. Sometimes it’s $3, sometimes $2, sometimes $.50. “It makes the programming very direct,” Willey says. But he’s happy to show films produced with government money. Fleming, for example, received a grant from Canada’s National Film Board. “I don’t have a problem with that. The material is irrespective of the Society. I just don’t like this nauseous marriage of commerce and art,” he elaborates.

Third Friday of the month, 8:00 p.m.; University Heights Center, 5031 University Way NE.

Seattle Resources

Alibi Room

Back in the Northern Exposure days, Rob Morrow and Tom Skerrit hosted readings and underground screenings here. Over the years, both AIVF and DGA have held meetings in this film-friendly bar. Current events include an art show on the first Thursday of every month.

85 Pike St., (206) 623-3180


The Artspot collaborative produces 30-second media art pieces designed for broadcast. Two of the spots have aired on KING, and there are eight more in the can. “We make art for art’s sake. The spots are not about illuminating or protesting, but presenting solutions,” founder Staci Simpson explains.

Collective meetings first Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m.; 1308 NW 70th; www.artspot.org

Cinerama Theatre

There are only three places left in the world where you can still see a movie in Cinerama, and only one currently accessible in the US—Seattle’s recently refurbished Cinerama. The other North American screen, LA’s Cinerama Dome, is closed for renovations. The third theater to feature the three-panel screens is in a museum in Bradford, England. In the past few years, more and more people have recognized the importance of the Cinerama art form in motion image history. As a result, serious efforts like those in Seattle and LA have been made to save the last remaining tri-panel screens to ensure that a whole new generation of movie buffs will be able to experience the magic of 70mm Cinerama.

2100 4th Ave.; www.seattlecinerama.com

Emerald Reels

Four years ago, Emerald Reels began mixing shorts with live DJ’s and serving up the cocktail at a Seattle nightclub. More of a cinema set in a nightclub than a nightclub with movies, the Emerald Reels Super-8 Lounge (ERS8) has screened over 185 films to audiences in Seattle, San Francisco, Telluride, and Vancouver, BC.

Last spring ERS8 returned to Seattle for monthly Monday night screenings at Sit & Spin, featuring soundtracks and ambience by Kid Hops, DJ for KEXP.org Expansions. “It’s a cinematic event. The DJ’s love it. They don’t have to have beats for dancing,” Emerald Reels programmer Reed O’Beirne explains.

Once a month on Mondays at the Sit and Spin, $6; 2219 4th Ave. (between Bell & Blanchard); www.emeraldreels.com. For submission questoions: www.emeraldreels.com/submit.htm (Dec/Jan 2003 for show in San Francisco or Switzerland)

Independent Media Center

IMC evolved out of Seattle’s loose confederation of videographers who distributed via satellite “Showdown in Seattle,” the independent news coverage during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests. Since then, over 80 Independent Media Centers have been setup on every continent through a decentralized, autonomous network.

The group also distributes its own newspaper in Seattle that they repurpose online. The site has logged over two million hits. It features hundreds of audio segments, Studio X, and Internet radio. America Online, Yahoo, CNN, and BBC Online all link it.

1415 3rd Ave. (between Pike & Union); www.indymedia.org

Linda’s Wednesday Night Summer Movie Madness

Every Wednesday evening in the summer, Seattle Underground Film Festival Programmer Jon Behren shows flicks on Linda’s patio. “It began as B-trash drive-in stuff. Then I added more television shows and some unique programming. I slip in a few avant-garde films with the kitschy oddball stuff,” Behren notes.

Tables and chairs are provided; don’t bring your own. And it’s a tavern, so don’t bring kids, either. Wednesdays at dusk; Linda’s Tavern, 707 E. Pine St.; (206) 325-1220

Little Theatre & Grand Illusion

The forty-nine seats are hand-me-downs, and the walls are lined with sheets of burlap in the Little Theatre. But this tiny movie house on Seattle’s Capitol Hill is well loved by Seattlites for its eclectic programming and concessions stand. “I love the Little Theatre.… You can’t see that stuff anywhere except in Europe, at the Walker, in Columbus, and in NYC,” says filmmaker Lynn Shelton. “And they have the best popcorn in town.”

Another theater worth checking out is the Little Theatre’s sister cinema, the Grand Illusion Cinema in the University District. Art films, independents and documentaries have been showing at the Grand Illusion for thirty years. Both of the houses are named after films by legendary director Jean Renoir, and both are owned by the Northwest Film Forum, a nonprofit filmmakers collective.

610 19th Ave. E; www.wigglyworld.org


The grab bag of screening series, Sneak never announces in advance what titles it is showing. On any given night, the members-only club could show an independent feature, a foreign-language film, a documentary, or a rough cut of any of these genres. The only thing that is predictable is that the film will not have distribution. Following the screening, a club moderator leads a discussion, often accompanied by someone associated with the film.

Pacific Place Cinemas, 600 Pine St.; www.sneakfilms.com

About :

Sarah Jane Lapp is a filmmaker and illustrator living in Seattle.