Bellingham and Whatcom County are quickly becoming a mecca for film-related activities. A vibrant part of the local film community is the film festivals that occur year round.
Some roll out over a long weekend while others span an entire month. I put them on my calendar well in advance so I can get my tickets early. Visitors can plan a trip specifically for a festival or incorporate film into a visit that includes a full exploration of the arts in our community.
This ten-day festival presents thought-provoking films gathered from around the world. Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival (BHRFF) encourages the viewing community to explore and engage in critical human rights issues. Incredibly topical films are shared each year with relevance to the heavily-debated issues appearing in the news each day. I like that this festival is spread across several venues including the beautiful Western Washington University campus.
The subjects of the films vary widely and include social justice, gender, immigration, climate change, war and other issues that face our culture. Most are followed by a discussion or Q & A session. The festival schedule includes films like Black Code, which examines the complex global impact that the internet has had on matters of free speech, privacy and activism.
The Bellingham Music Film Festival presents a collection of music videos, documentaries, and narrative pieces by regional, national, and student filmmakers from around the world. Awards and prizes are given out for best short, best music video, best regional music video or short, and people’s choice.
If you look closely, you can see me in the video below that screened at the 2017 festival. I’m the phantom in black. This music video was produced locally by my friends Benjamin Owens and Tad Beavers and features the music of my folkadelic friend Chrispy and the talented Jessica Young.
This event is edgy and fun because many Pacific Northwest filmmakers and musicians also attend to share in the celebration. I especially enjoy the grassroots music vibe of screenings of Make.Shift Art Space but also appreciate the more traditional and comfortable viewing environment of Pickford Film Center.
You can read more in my more in-depth Insider Blog post about the event.
CASCADIA presents an annual film festival showcasing films directed by women from around the world. The festival spans three or four days over a weekend and includes sessions of short films as well as features from many genres including documentary, dramatic, experimental, and student films. In 2017, I got to see almost all of them. I was so impressed with the quality of the films and how thought provoking they were.
Most sessions were followed by a Q & A with directors visiting or skyping from around the world. I met directors from New York, Italy, Russia and Australia in the lobby before or after the film!
Because the films are directed by women, many cover issues important to women or share the voices of women in our world today. Subjects are wide-ranging and include themes related to gender, survival, sexuality, coming of age, race, love and sports. I plan to see all of the 2018 films as well.
Month-long in October
This month-long viewing opportunity shares a wide variety of documentaries. There are usually over 50 films presented in a single month. Many are preceded by a reception or followed by a Q & A related to the fascinating subject of the film. You might meet the director or learn more about a topic from a community organization.
You can also earn prizes during drawings and raffles held for ticket holders and get swag from the Pickford if you’re able to attend several films. I’ve included trailers here for two of my favorites from 2018.
Bleedingham: Bellingham’s Horror Film Fest
The perfect way to celebrate Halloween, Bleedingham offers a unique opportunity for filmmakers and film audiences to see horror short films made by Northwest filmmakers. They compete for a prize and gain critical feedback on their narrative shorts from a panel of nine judges chosen for their experience in horror, filmmaking, and digital storytelling.
Before the festival, there is a horror comic-con that includes vendors, raffles, and a horror fashion show. Each year the festival grows, although its intimacy to the genre and audience size are what film festival goers enjoy.
My good friends have been putting this one-of-a-kind festival together since 2011 and many of my filmmaking friends have been submitting their work (and winning awards) year after year. That includes the short below by my friend Eddie Hayes that stars several of my acting friends. The short won four awards at the 2017 festival including Best Special Effects.
Since 1999, Mount Baker Ski Area has presented an annual collection of independent ski and snowboard films made by Northwest filmmakers. Lots of powder at this festival. Plus the event is free to Mount Baker Ski Area Season Pass Holders! These films document and explore the great outdoors and the thrill of winter.
You can glide alongside some of the best skiers in the world while glimpsing the beautiful landscape of the mountains. The event includes a Winter EXPO for an hour before the films begin where you can win raffle prizes and have a chance to win a Mount Baker Ski Area Season Pass!
In addition to film festivals, there are other opportunities for film-goers to make a trip great. Bellingham Film presents the Bellingham Commercial Awards in the month of December and an Annual Showcase, sharing the work of local and Pacific Northwest filmmakers who’ve filmed in our area.
Western Washington University’s Reel World Series also presents thought-provoking international documentary films on a regular basis throughout the year on the campus.
Most of the festivals share their dates more than six months in advance and some share their schedule and Official Selection at least six weeks in advance so visitors can book their travel and lodging well in advance. Many screenings sell out so be sure to get your tickets in advance through their websites. Then you’ll be sure to enjoy local, Pacific Northwest, national and international films in the fun, relaxed and beautiful Bellingham and Whatcom County any time of the year.