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Originally published Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 6:20 AM

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3 SIFF documentaries tell Northwest stories

Seattle International Film Festival 2013 has an interesting slate of documentaries with Northwest connections, including “Her Aim Is True,” “Barzan” and “Evergreen.” The festival begins May 16, 2013.

Seattle Times movie critic

Festival preview

Seattle International Film Festival

May 16-June 9 at various locations, including SIFF Cinema at the Uptown, SIFF Film Center, Pacific Place, Egyptian, Harvard Exit, Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center (May 23-29), Kirkland Performance Center (May 30-June 9). For tickets and information: 206-324-9996 or

3 Minute Masterpieces

The winners of The Seattle Times / SIFF’s 3 Minute Masterpiece digital-film contest have been selected. They’ll be shown in a free public screening at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown (see for details). They’ll also be streamed online beginning Wednesday at, where you can vote for your favorite.

The winners are:

“Alone,” Travis Vogt

“A Final Conversation,” Scott Graves

“Come Along Spring,” Madeline Lootens

“Freddy Hits the Pipe,” Parker Lachlan Briggs

“History Is Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes,” Eric Pokorny

“Laser Rabbit,” Matt Wells, Chase Helgeson

“The Last Slice,” Caleb Melvin, Jason Thompson, Ryan Trudeau, Travis Baechler, Phillip Baca, Erin Baca

“Like This,” Jessie Brugger

“Post Nuclear Family,” John and Lily Williamson

“Seattle Is Great,” Phoebe Wall, Jessica Salmon, Abby Salmon

“Tom Mcgee and the Offal Waffle,” Robbie Cribbs

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Here are the facts about the main character in the film 'Barzan'. Sarbarz Mohammed... MORE


The Seattle International Film Festival, which begins Thursday and continues through June 9 with several hundred films from around the world, has always been strong in the documentary category — those real-life stories that no scriptwriter could pen. Here’s an inside peek at three of them, all from our own backyard.

‘Her Aim is True’

“In my past life as a journalist and current-affairs producer in the U.K., I always used to look at stories from a different perspective,” said British-born filmmaker Karen Whitehead, director of “Her Aim Is True.” “There’s always something hidden, a story that’s not been told.”

For Whitehead, that story was Jini Dellaccio, a legendary rock ’n’ roll photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. A self-taught photographer, Dellaccio’s career exploded in the 1960s; first shooting local bands, then the likes of The Who, The Rolling Stones and Neil Young.

“When you think of women in rock photography, for me it started with Annie Leibovitz in my knowledge,” said Whitehead. “Here was someone who was clearly doing extraordinary pioneering work, that we do not know about.” Though based in Washington D.C., Whitehead came to Seattle to meet Dellaccio — then a vibrant 92 — and knew that she wanted to tell this story.

Assembling a local crew, with Seattle filmmakers John Jeffcoat (“Outsourced”) and Ryan McMackin as cinematographers, Whitehead shot the film entirely in the Northwest, in late 2010/early 2011. “I really thought it was very important to work with a local filmmaking team, as I was the alien,” said Whitehead, who laughingly noted that Seattle weather is “just like London!”

Northwest Film Forum came on as fiscal sponsor, acting as administrator for the many donations that funded the film. “This film only exists because of individuals who took a leap of faith with me,” said Whitehead. “We didn’t get any grants, no industry funding — it’s all about individual donors and in-kind services and the volunteering of many professionals that has made this film possible.”

Throughout, said Whitehead, Dellaccio was a dream subject — “There’s no question that the camera loves her, and she loves the process. Jini was totally up for it, totally comfortable. She’s a photographer, and she was able to bring across her love of the art form and visual storytelling.” The two spoke on the phone last week — “a lovely conversation” — and Whitehead said that Dellaccio, now 96, “is looking forward to the film being in the festival, and hopes to attend.”

(4 p.m. May 26 at Harvard Exit; 2 p.m. May 27 at Harvard Exit)


Directed by Alex Stonehill and Bradley Hutchinson, “Barzan” is a story about the war on terror, brought home to a Seattle suburb. Sam Malkandi, who immigrated from Iraq in 1995, lived in Kirkland with his family; they “had really assimilated, and were very excited about American culture,” said Stonehill. But in 2005, Malkandi was linked by the U.S. government to an al-Qaida operative. Held at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac for five years, he was deported to Iraq in 2010; his family remained here, and his wife still lives in Kirkland.

Stonehill, a photojournalist for the University of Washington-based news publication Seattle Globalist, had a hunch that this might make an interesting film. With Globalist writer Sarah Stuteville (who also writes for The Seattle Times), he flew to Iraq and interviewed Malkandi, who he found to be “very personable, very friendly and very American.”

As they crafted “Barzan,” the filmmakers saw its focus change slightly. “It started out with the question: ‘Is he innocent or guilty?’ ” Stonehill said. “It changed to be a lot more about: ‘What is he innocent or guilty of, and how do we as a society treat and judge people who aren’t citizens versus people who are?’ ”

Financed primarily through a $10,000 Kickstarter fund (with significant nonfinancial support from the U.W., which allowed Stonehill to devote time to the film), “Barzan” is the product of a partnership between Seattle Globalist and the local film production company The Last Quest, of which Hutchinson is a co-founder.

The film, which includes sand-animation sequences made by local animator Tess Martin, made its world premiere last month at the Sarasota Film Festival and sparked lively post-film discussion. After SIFF, Stonehill says the filmmaking team hopes to do some educational screenings — “using the film as a way to talk about the war on terror, and the way that we react as a society.”

(7 p.m. May 23 at Harvard Exit; 12:30 p.m. June 2 at Kirkland Performance Center)

‘Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington’

Last November, Washington voters decisively approved Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana use. “Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington” is the story of that campaign, both pro and con; begun in late 2011 by local filmmakers Riley Morton and Nils Cowan.

Morton, a Seattle native, and Cowan, a recent transplant from Washington, D.C., were talking at the time about a possible film project together. “One day we were reading The Stranger, an article about this initiative, and it just seemed like it had a very good chance of being the first (marijuana-decriminalization initiative) to pass,” said Cowan. The pair got in touch with the campaigns for and against 502, asking for access. “After a number of meetings, they finally agreed — and we were off and running.”

With Morton as director/producer and Cowan as producer/writer, the two collected approximately 500 hours of footage, later trimmed with producer/editor Jason Reid to a manageable 85 minutes.

At first, they hoped to find funding through a broadcast network, but couldn’t drum up interest — “they weren’t guaranteed a payoff if the initiative failed,” Cowan said. Later in the process, they solicited crowdfunding donations; just enough to finish shooting by the November election.

And they decided early on that the film wouldn’t take sides. “We realized that to give this issue justice and to tell a good story, we wanted to remain balanced and show history as it happened,” Cowan said. “We don’t actually have a narrator for the film — it’s all the words and actions of the people who went through this legislative adventure.” Many of those people, Cowan thinks, might show up for the SIFF screenings, and for potentially lively post-show Q & As.

“I don’t think these people have seen each other since the last debates and the last back-and-forth,” he said. “We’ll see if they’re able to put their differences aside and have a dialogue.”

(9:30 p.m. June 6 at Egyptian; noon June 8 at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown)

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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