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Originally published Monday, May 31, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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A Lake Washington sea monster debuts at Seattle's True Independent Film Festival

Seattle's True Independent Film Festival gets underway June 4. Among the offerings: "Willatuk," a faux documentary about a Lake Washington sea monster.

Seattle Times reporter


6 p.m. June 12 at the Jewelbox Theater at the Rendezvous, 2322 Second Ave., Seattle. Director Oliver Tuthill Jr. and executive producer Dan Schwert will answer questions at the screening and commemorate the late Lester Greene, a Makah Tribal member who starred in the movie.

Seattle's True Independent Film Festival

June 4-13 at the Rendezvous, Central Cinema, Northwest Film Forum and other venues. All-access badges ($50) grant entry to all films, music, comedy and parties. Go to for information and tickets.

Special events include:

• Opening Blowout with The Glitch Mob: 8 p.m. Saturday, Showbox at the Market, 1426 First Ave., Seattle; $16 advance or free with STIFF badge.

• Closing Party with Voltaire and Special Guests: El Corazon, 8 p.m. June 12, El Corazon, 109 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle; $15 advance or free with STIFF badge.

Of the 150 films and shorts in Seattle's True Independent Film Festival (STIFF), only one features a creature from the depths of Lake Washington.

Which is not to imply that "Willatuk: The Legend of Seattle's Sea Serpent," hasn't earned its STIFFY award for "best movie monster."

After all, the wily Willatuk is able to cruise between the lake and Puget Sound via a secret tunnel. Match that, Godzilla.

And Willatuk is a hometown boy — which gives him an edge at STIFF. Conceived in 2005 by local filmmakers, the festival is an alternative to the behemoth Seattle International Film Festival, which it audaciously overlaps. "We tend to show stuff that's a little edgier, maybe a little more rough around the edges," said managing director Clint Berquist. The festival runs at multiple venues from June 4-13. A third of this year's offerings are from local directors.

They include "The Lobster and the Liver: The Unique World of Jim Woodring," about the surrealistic Seattle cartoonist. Berquist's own "Seattle Komedy Dokumentary" chronicles the city's thriving stand-up scene in 2007.

The story of Willatuk grew out of Seattle director Oliver Tuthill Jr.'s twin fascinations with the Loch Ness monster and its ilk, and Native American culture and history. The Northwest has its own sea-monster legends, with supposed sightings from the coast of British Columbia to the San Juan Islands.

"I thought, why don't I create a whole world here?" said Tuthill. He spun a 300-year history for Willatuk and created a tribe whose mythology binds it to the beast. Willatuk's survival is threatened by pollution and the quests of two men: A cryptozoologist out to uncover the creature's secrets, and a hunter stalking the ultimate trophy.

Shot in a deadpan documentary style with splashes of camp, the film includes a guest appearance by Washington Congressman Jim McDermott. Academy Award-nominated actor Graham Greene ("Dances With Wolves") narrates.

Making the film was a three year labor of love — and credit cards, said executive producer Dan Schwert.

A Seattle native, Schwert directed his first movie in college. He never pictured himself as a producer, but after meeting Tuthill decided to use a small inheritance to help bring Willatuk to the screen. When bills outstripped the budget, Schwert borrowed against his house.

"I was going for my dream," he said. "But times were tough for dreamers."

Juggling a day job in industrial hygiene, Schwert also helped with lighting, blocked out scenes and became a logistical jack-of-all-trades. He played the role of the wild-eyed hunter, and nearly wound up hypothermic after one long scene in Lake Washington. A 13-foot boa constrictor wrapped itself around his neck in another scene.

But serpents aside, the film's primary message is ecological, Tuthill said. With oil fouling the Gulf Coast, he added, it could hardly be more timely.

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or

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