See something different this year at Doctober

Entrance to the Pickford Film Center on Sept. 16. // Photo by Zachary Jimenez

By Julia Phillips

The Northwests largest film festival, Doctober, is the Pickford Film Center’s annual documentary festival. In its 13th year featuring the most films ever this year – 61.

When it first started, Doctober used to run for one week, now it’s a month long festival with pre and post-screen events and multiple showings of films.

Showings will occur at the Pickford Film Center and also at the Limelight Cinema.

Doctober is what it sounds like, a month long documentary event in October. Although it starts September 27 and wraps up November 2, it’s showing feature documentaries from various producers that cover a wide range of topics.

The documentaries range from music, “Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind,”  to emojis, “Picture Character” to food, “Pizza: A Love Story” so there’s something for everyone in the lineup.

The Education Outreach Coordinator, Mikayla Nicholson, said this is the Pickfords flagship film festival.

“It’s the biggest festival we do here and it just gets bigger and bigger every year,” Nicholson said.

Marketing Manager Lindsey Gerhard joined the Pickford in 2013 and has seen Doctober grow from 30 films in 2013, to 50 in 2014, to what it is now. 

Gerhard said Doctober was inspired by the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri. 

The True/False festival was what got Doctober started in Bellingham, and still impacts it today. Nicholson said Jane Julian and Michael Falter the program director at Pickford attends film festivals, one of those being True/False. 

“They just kind of scout out documentaries that they think would be good for Doctober,” Nicholson said. “And then they all kind of get put on this collaborative list and we all take a look at them and give our input, see if we can even get the rights to the films for Doctober, and then we book them.” The format of that particular festival wasn’t the best, Gerhard said, but they learned Bellingham loved documentaries. 

“Our program directors had gotten to know the directors of True/False and that year they were trying to do breakout festivals all throughout different regions of the country that kind of mimicked the file, which is a documentary based festival,” Gerhard said. “And so we did a True False west out here in Bellingham that year.” 

They continued hosting documentary festivals, growing each year, and eventually it turned into Doctober. 

“It’s hosted in the month of October, which is traditionally a pretty light month for theatrical releases,” Gerhard said. 

Staff and help from local volunteers allow Doctober to run smoothly. Nicholson said the Pickford has 150 active volunteers right now. For special screenings, they have four or five volunteers and two managers help run each night, and for big screenings they have around 10 people helping. 

Jules Matragrano has been volunteering at the Pickford since May 2019, and attended her first Doctober four years ago.

She said she’s always been into film, but Doctober is what got her interested in documentaries.

During Doctober, there are punch cards attendees receive and if they stamp out a certain number, they can receive gifts and prizes from local sponsors.

“The first year was a whole grab bag of different things from all the sponsorships throughout town,” Matragrano said. So it was pretty exciting for me as a new Bellingham member to get a bunch of stuff from around town.” 

This year she’s looking forward to seeing as many as she possibly can, as there’s going to be a lot of things you can’t see otherwise. 

“The things that you can see are even better to see on the big screen with a group of other people,” Matragrano said. “You can talk about it after and you can experience it in the way it was meant to be experienced. I would recommend everybody come and see at least one Doctober film and maybe fill out a punch card and see what you can get for it.” 

Dorothy Burke has been volunteering at the Pickford for 10 years. She got involved with the Pickford after her daughter, a former Pickford volunteer, graduated high school. Burke said she usually goes for the food documentaries, but is excited for “Fantastic Fungi.” 

Every film focuses on something different and because of that, it gives the Pickford the opportunity to find a local partner that’s working in the same arena or focusing on that subject in order to enhance the screening, Gerhard said. 

“The Pollinators” directed by Peter Nelson, is about beekeeping and how it’s been changing.

From the Pickfords website it says, “It’s a cinematic journey around the United States following migratory beekeepers and their truckloads of honey bees as they pollinate the flowers that become the fruits, nuts and vegetables we all eat.”

Gerhard said the Pickford is partnering with the Community Food Co-op and the Outback Farm and on the two nights of this screening (Oct. 20, 1:30 p.m. and Oct.22, 8 p.m.) there will be information tables about beekeeping in Whatcom County. 

“There’s going to be honey sweetened snacks provided by the co-ops, treats, and then there’ll be some post-screening discussions with local beekeepers,” Gerhard said. 

35 different films are presented or sponsored by local communities in Bellingham this year.

Burke said Doctober is impressive because getting so many people in Bellingham to sell out the shows shown now wouldn’t happen 20 or 30 years ago. 

“This audience has been cultivated,” Burke said. “They know to come here for those things and it’s getting bigger.” 

The Pickford always has student and class rates available and you can find showings online by going to their “Calendar of Showings” at www.pickfordfilmcenter.org.

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