The Western Front
Movie commentary and name-dropping filled the air at downtown Bellingham wine bar Vinostrology as glasses clinked to commemorate the first day of the 2018 Cascadia International Women’s Film Festival on Thursday, April 12.
Lacey Leavitt, producer of “Outside In,” stood at the bar as a group enclosed her, hanging on to every story she shared.
She said when she was 11-years-old, she recreated “A League of Their Own.” This time, however, her father did not tape over her footage with the Seattle Seahawks game.
Her new film starring Jay Duplass and Edie Falco takes this Seattle native back to Washington state. Leavitt filmed “Outside In” in Snohomish County around Granite Falls, Washington.
“We had the Northwest specifically in mind for this,” Leavitt said. The outbursts of rain and the run-down cafes in Granite Falls added to the somber tone of “Outside In.”
She said when planning a movie shoot, location is well thought out in advance. The same can be said for film festivals.
Situated between the film centers of Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Bellingham was not an accidental candidate for the festival.
Cheryl Crooks, executive director of CIWFF, said she doesn’t think Bellingham will ever be a mecca for filmmaking, but does see it growing in recognition for its location shoots and film festivals.
“We are ideally positioned for a film festival,” Crooks said. “You know Bellingham, never a dull moment: music, restaurants and we also have access.”
She said the airport, train station and I-5 open Bellingham up to visitors.
A handful of notable film community members such as Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a past
president of the governing body that votes on the Oscars, and Mel Damski, a director and producer, were in attendance.
In only two years, the festival has gained notoriety through the connections of the board members and social networking.
CIWFF hosted a number of film screenings and workshops at Western and around Bellingham in a span of four days, discussing topics such as finding film mentors and editing documentary films.
The festival concluded on Sunday, April 15 with a competition that chose three scripts to be read and critiqued by selected panelists.
The festival is the brainchild of Polly Miller, a Bellingham local. Miller is the chair of the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto. She said she wanted to bring a festival to Bellingham that was affiliated with FeFF.
“It got too complicated with nonprofit laws in Canada and the United States. We decided that in order for Bellingham to have its own identity, it really needs to have its own film festival,” Crooks said.
In 2015, the work began. Building from the same goals as FeFF, CIWFF showcases films directed by women from all around the world.
Members of the Western community have voiced their appreciation for the festival.
Dan Larner, a CIWFF board member and retired screenwriting professor at Fairhaven College, expressed the necessity for the representation of women in film.
“It’s notorious that it’s an unequal industry,” Larner said. “Women haven’t had anything like the opportunity that men have had. We want to highlight the great work that’s going on and help women advance.”
Larner said a common way for aspiring filmmakers to advance in the film industry is by submitting to festivals; the possibility of getting recognized by directors and producers is much higher than posting material online.
Larner said he encourages everyone, especially the younger generation, to take action in the realm of film and in all of life.
“Imagine yourself waking up at the age of 79 and having had said to yourself, ‘I haven’t done anything I said I wanted to do. I never took a risk to see if I was good at anything. At least I played it safe,’” Larner said. “That’s not what education is for. It’s not to teach you to be a coward, it’s to teach you to have the courage to acquire the knowledge.”
With networking opportunities, sold-out showings and packed workshops, CIWFF provides the environment for this kind of learning.
Until next year’s CIWFF, Bellingham has ongoing activities for filmmakers and fans alike.
On the last Wednesday of each month, Bellingham Film, an organization focused on growing the local film community, holds a script studio at the Mount Baker Theatre Encore Room 6-9 p.m. Anyone can submit and attend.