These films, both shot in Washington State, will be featured as part of the Seattle Shorts Film Festival, running November 14-15.
Even the Walls
A short documentary co-directed by Sarah Kuck and Saman Maydani, Even the Walls details the experiences of the residents of a public housing neighborhood grappling with the forces of redevelopment and gentrification.
Over the next few years, developers will be transitioning Yesler Terrace, one of Seattle’s poorest neighborhoods, to mixed-income, mixed-retail use, thereby destroying the tight-knit community that has formed there for more than seven decades. Even the Walls, which won the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Short Film at this year’s SIFF, explores the impact this is having on its residents.
“On a personal level, Saman and I created Even the Walls to explore our personal interests in home, culture and community,” explained Kuck. “Both being global nomads from birth (my father was in the U.S. military and Saman’s was in global development), we are deeply interested in what it means to belong. In Yesler Terrace, we were able to see the type of connectivity we had always been curious about. Although its networks had already been slowly dissolving (news of deconstruction were announced in 2006), we were still able to witness the relationships that make a neighborhood a community and a house a home.”
Kuck and Maydani used a series of personal vignettes to weave the film’s story, taking viewers inside the homes, experiences and memories of the residents themselves.
“Even the Walls does not ask a slew of architects, builders, academics or public housing experts about Yesler Terrace and its ‘track record,’” said Kuck. “Instead it takes a more personal approach and speaks with the experts on Yesler Terrace and its efficacy: its community members. Those who know viscerally the reality of what will be lost and what we can gain by shifting our perspective from short-term financial gain to long-term prosperity for all members of our city’s communities.”
She added, “The film’s storyline focuses on personal stories, seeking to foster empathy over sympathy. It avoids divisive thinking and finger-pointing, and instead exemplifies the life experiences we all struggle with, the joys we’ve known, and the desire for home, safety and belonging we can all feel.”
The film, shot throughout 2014, was made possible in part by the Seedworks Foundation, which gifted the filmmakers with its initial funding of $25,000.
“Only partially funded, we moved forward with production because the deconstruction was happening quickly,” explained Kuck. “Between post-production and distribution, we started a Tilt Campaign (similar to Kickstarter), which raised $8,000.”
Kuck and Maydani hope that the film will resonate with all those going through the process of displacement, especially those being asked to move because developers have decided the location of their community is now prime real estate.
“To destroy a place like this without honoring its existence, recognizing its place in a chain of incredibly similar events across the country, or viewing it as a great loss to Seattle’s social systems would be a disgrace,” said Kuck.
“We hope that the universality of the characters’ stories will help everyone connect to why gentrification is painful. Many people feel gentrification is for the best, and have a difficult time connecting with why being asked to move would be painful. We see this film as a tool for building empathy.”
From director Julio Ramírez, the 12-minute short narrative Signs Everywhere follows a man who attempts to disconnect from reality, which results in an unusual visualization of other people’s struggles. As the images bring him into a deeper state of isolation, an unexpected event challenges him to break free from his unhealthy patterns.
The film, starring Tony Doupe and Cynthia Geary (Northern Exposure), was shot in Seattle over two and a half days, “which was a very ambitious schedule for the kind of script that we had,” said Ramírez. And time constraints weren’t the only tricky aspect of the production.
“We filmed in several outdoor locations that were challenging for us,” he added. “One of them was the intersection of Denny Way and Stewart Street, right across from the Orion Center. This was particularly challenging because I wanted to film during rush hour in order to create a more realistic world to immerse our main character. The other challenging location was the triangle park located at the intersection of Denny Way, Westlake Avenue N, and 9th Avenue, right across from Whole Foods. In both scenes we had a great deal of background talent participating, about 20 or more. We also used several cars as props, and had to stop the traffic with the help of the Seattle Police Department. I have to add that the Mayor’s Office of Film + Music was key in helping us reach our goals.”
For Signs Everywhere, TheFilmSchool—which boasts both Ramírez and the film’s writer Andrew Kwatinetz as graduates—not only served as the production house for the film but also partially funded it, along with two associate producers.
“The rest of the services and/or in-kind funding came from my own work and the work of many generous local and out-of-town filmmakers and artist friends who participated in the making, all of which accounted for at least 35 percent of the total budget,” said Ramírez. “That’s independent filmmaking right there.”
The film utilized 90 percent local cast and crew, the only exceptions being the music supervisor, two musicians involved in the film’s scoring, and the mixing and mastering of sound, which was done by a recording studio in Bogotá, Colombia.
“Seattle has a remarkable film community that is able to fulfill the needs of any professional film production,” said Ramírez. “(Our people) are the best asset that the state can offer to the film industry, followed by the richness of the region’s landscape. The sense of community that I have found in this region is simply hard to beat. And I mean in general, because I have found support from all kinds of people for every project that I have produced in Washington State.
“Many of them had never been involved in any film or artistic endeavor, but the idea of being a part of something that is bigger than any of us—that creates a sense of community and aims to make the world a better place—has always motivated people in this region to participate. I believe there is a natural desire here to support the arts, as well as the flow of ideas that challenges us all to move forward as a community.”
Signs Everywhere premiered in competition at the 2015 Salento Finibus Terrae Film Festival Internazionale, winning the award for best film in the international competition. After screening at various other festivals around Europe, the film had its North American premiere at the World Film Festival in Montreal.
“Now we’re happy to be able to showcase Signs Everywhere in the Northwest before continuing the journey through the festival circuit,” said Ramírez. “IndieFlix has partnered with us to distribute the film.”