Screening over 35 documentaries during October, Doctober 2023 brought a wide selection of films, topics and directors from international film festivals to Bellingham. Films are sponsored and presented by local organizations to bring important issues to the screen.
“The Pickford itself is a nonprofit and they magnify the numerous other nonprofits in town [by] bringing in films that relate to their themes or messages,” said Michael Feerer, the executive director of Whatcom Million Trees Project.
The Whatcom Million Trees Project is a nonprofit presenting the film Common Ground in this year's Doctober festival alongside Kulshan Carbon Trust, Sustainable Connections and Whatcom Peace and Justice Center.
Ever since the project’s conception just over two years ago, Feerer said he knew he wanted to work with the Pickford because they are a key communication piece for local organizations.
“In a climate crisis, we need community engagement, involvement and awareness to build our climate resiliency,” said Feerer. “We see the Pickford as an important piece of that because the immersive aspect of being in a Pickford movie is quite different than just staring at a screen.”
Doctober screenings offer an educational and social experience to attendees, as they feature after-the-film Q&As with guests involved in the production of the film and the organizations presenting them.
Local organizations play an important hand in the success of the Pickford’s festivals, especially Doctober.
The Pickford doesn’t have the marketing capacity to promote every single film during Doctober, so having local organizations promote the films they’re sponsoring is a huge help.
“Having partners is really essential to getting audiences for a lot of films because those partners bring in an audience of their own,” said Melissa Tamminga, the program director at the Pickford.
Tamminga curates the films for the festival along with the Doctober Associate Programmer Jane Julian.
Tamminga and Julian watch as many documentaries as they can throughout the year, attending film festivals both in person and virtually. They discuss which films they love and add those to the Doctober programming.
Lesley Schroeder was added on as a Doctober assistant this year and contacted local organizations to see which would partner well with the chosen films. Her criteria were based on what the organizations would want to promote and what benefits the organizations would get out of promoting the film.
“It’s a partnership; they help us promote the festival and we help promote them,” Schroeder said.
The partnerships reach further than just local organizations, pulling the bright young minds of students at local educational institutions into their theaters. Specifically, the Pickford also partners with multiple departments at Western Washington University for Doctober.
“They bring their students, which is really great and just helps everybody all around,” said Shroeder, the education and outreach manager at the Pickford. “We love working with Western on that.”
Western has partnered with the Pickford for different films and events numerous times over the past decade, including collaborating on films in last year’s Doctober.
“I walked out learning so much more than I anticipated,” said Carina Raffaelli, a Western film studies minor who attended a Doctober screening. “It made me want to get more involved with local organizations and start volunteering, as well as educate myself further on issues affecting our community.”
The educational experiences at Doctober extend to children through the Pickford’s Doc-Ed program, where they receive a grant to pay for kids to come see Doctober films for free.
“For a lot of these schools undergoing budget cuts, this is their only field trip of the year,” said Shroeder.
Community building, educational outreach and promotion of local organizations are part of what make the Pickford a special place in Bellingham.
The Pickford also provides audiences with the opportunity to see a wide range of festival films, foreign language films, auteur films and genres that aren’t featured in chain theaters.
“Having an art house theater in the city is so valuable,” said Eren Odabasi, a film professor at Western. “Institutions like Pickford are very important in keeping that system alive and providing people access to all sorts of films.”
The Pickford is planning on expanding from two screens to five after purchasing a building at 105 Grant Ave. to remodel for additional theaters. The remodel is funded by donations, including one from Feerer.
“[The Pickford] can open minds and hearts much more than just casual browsing through YouTube videos,” said Feerer.
Maria Kallerson (she/her) is a fifth-year creative writing major, journalism news-ed minor and film studies minor at Western. She enjoys hiking in the Cascades, live music, photography, writing short stories and reading. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.