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Film festival draws big crouds

David Nordmark – Whatcom Independent

Tonight marks the beginning of the seventh-annual NWProjections Film Festival.
The festival will feature films produced in either Washington State or British Columbia. More than 30 films will be screened between this evening and Sunday, including three narrative features, three documentary features and 33 short films drawn from 56 submissions.

“The film festival started with a bunch of people passing around Super 8 films in their living rooms, and last year we had 1,700 people come and see the movies,” said Max Kaiser, the festival director.

One of the films being shown is Oliver Tuthill’s Wounded Heart.

“The film is about life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, [which is] the poorest Indian reservation in the United States,” Tuthill said. “The life expectancy there is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti.”

Pine Ridge is located in southwest South Dakota, about 100 miles from Rapid City. The land there is “almost impossible to farm,” Tuthill said, and as a result the inhabitants are heavily dependent on U.S. government aid.

The people who live there are typically called the Sioux, however numerous Indian groups fall under that appellation, including the Lakota and the Dakota. The residents of Pine Ridge are primarily Lakota, of whom there are 30,000 at Pine Ridge alone.

Tuthill, who is originally from Chicago, has been making films since he was a child, playing around with 8 mm and 16 mm cameras. As he got older, he began getting more involved with music and playing in numerous rock bands. He eventually moved out to Hollywood, where he worked as a professional actor.

He moved to Seattle in 1995 and started a now-defunct, non-profit filmmaking company called Autumn Tree Productions. He is presently working on films with his new company, Blue Wood Films, working as a sports writer, and teaching filmmaking classes in Seattle.

The subject of Wounded Heart is important to Tuthill. As a child, he spent his summers in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, and had an encounter with the Sioux that he describes as “mystical.” He still returns to the area every two or three years, and considers it his second home. “I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said.
Tuthill believes the subject of his film to be a cautionary tale about American society in general.

“I think it’s really important for people to understand what’s happening to the Sioux,” he said. “They’re kind of a canary in a coal mine … for us as United States citizens, especially with public health. The way the Indians are being treated by Indian Health Services is the way we’re going to be treated in 10 to 20 years.”

Wounded Heart previously screened at the American Artist Film Festival in Kansas City, and has been picked up for DVD distribution by Passion River Films. It is 70 minutes long.

Another film that will be shown at the festival is The Curse of Blanchard Hill.
When asked what moviegoers might do to prepare to see the film, co-director Zach Klinefelter advised, “Don’t come in with a weak stomach.”

The Curse of Blanchard Hill is an ultra-low-budget slasher flick that doesn’t withhold any of the gory details. The film is about nature taking its revenge for centuries of pollution and logging.

“I came up with this concept that there’s a curse out in Blanchard that possesses people and forces them to kill … [it’s] nature versus man, or more accurately, nature versus the white man,” Klinefelter said.

Klinefelter studies journalism at Whatcom Community College. “I’m a big believer in freedom of the press,” he said, “which is why I fought so hard to keep certain parts of this film intact.”

He is a veteran of low-budget feature filmmaking from his days as a student at La Connor High School. As to whether or not the audience will enjoy the film, he said, “It just depends on what your brand of humor is. If you like Plan 9 and Evil Dead, then you’ll probably like this.” The Curse of Blanchard Hill is 75 minutes long.

In addition to all of the films, there will be numerous events going on all weekend. One of these events is a filmmaker convention, which will deal with independent film production.

“[The convention] is going to have, as our keynote speaker, Albert Pyun, who has done a lot of B-movies … horror, low-budget independent film,” Kaiser said. “He is going to speak about how to get your independent film made.”

The NWProjections film festival runs Thursday through Sunday. Festival passes are $25; individual tickets are $7 for films and $6 for events. For more information, please visit www.nwprojections.com.