Mission & History
Northwest Film Forum incites public dialogue and creative action through collective cinematic experiences.
A nonprofit film and arts center located in Seattle, Northwest Film Forum presents hundreds of films, festivals, community events, multidisciplinary performances, and public discussions each year. A comprehensive visual media organization, the Forum offers educational workshops and artist services for film and media makers at all stages of their development. Artist services include access to space, gear, fiscal sponsorship, and an edit lab. Northwest Film Forum is a member-based organization.
A world where all people have the power to express themselves and connect with each other through visual storytelling and culture.
Based in the city currently known as Seattle, we acknowledge that we are located on the ancestral lands and territories of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish Tribe (Dkhw Duw’Absh), who are still present among us and leading much of the important cultural and societal work in the region.
In recognition of the role of the arts as a vehicle for social change, we are committed to undoing systems of oppression in our work and lives. We are working every day to learn and dismantle racist, sexist, and inequitable systems in our lives and organization.
The humble but profoundly aspirational beginnings of Northwest Film Forum can be traced back to the inspiration of founders Jamie Hook and Deborah Girdwood in 1995. Filmmakers themselves, they formed a collective to help fellow artists through the post-production process in Seattle. Their idea took root, found funding, and has never stopped growing. Originally founded as WigglyWorld Studios in a tiny Capitol Hill storefront, the collective’s activity soon expanded to film exhibition, as they became the operators of Seattle’s longest-continuously running movie theater: the Grand Illusion Cinema. The name Northwest Film Forum was adopted in 1996 to encompass the new film arts organization’s programs in both production and exhibition.
Never content to rest, the team soon pursued building out an additional facility back on Capitol Hill. The Little Theatre on 19th Avenue East housed a filmmaker’s lounge, library, gallery, theater, gear, workshops, and summer camps. In 2003, realizing there simply wasn’t enough space to accommodate the rapidly growing organization, a veritable armada of staff, volunteers, members and board members mobilized for their biggest lift (literally) yet: moving into our current venue at 1515 12th Ave. The complete transformation of the space into a unique cinematheque and film center took nearly a year. Such a massive renovation project couldn’t have happened without thousands of hours of community labor — and a trusty used rock van, purchased on Craigslist from heavy metal radio station KISW for hundreds of hauls to and from the construction site.
The new home on 12th Ave made it possible for all of the Forum’s programs to live under one roof. By no means did that mean the organization turned into a homebody–over the years, the Forum’s national reach has included premiering films at the Sundance Film Festival, distributing features, organizing national film series and retrospectives, traveling with live shows, and touring the renowned Children’s Film Festival Seattle.
Today, Northwest Film Forum carries the founding ethos by striving each day to provide what one member called, “a nesting ground of creativity, an inspiration and cultural anchor for so many people.” Every year, we screen over 500 short and feature films through annual festivals, curated series and local premieres. In addition, we host screenings and events for many local film festivals. Filmmakers are frequently in attendance to present their work. Many emerging artists behold their film for the first time on the big screen in our theater. Artist commissions for live, multidisciplinary performances that push the boundaries of the movie theater continue to find strong audiences and critical acclaim. Film and media makers at all stages of their development can enroll in 100 different workshops and summer camps each year. Community groups and partners frequently co-present events at the Forum, and a free space access service makes one of our greatest physical resources readily available to the community at a time when space is at a premium, especially in Capitol Hill. Artist services range include fiscal sponsorship, access to gear, the edit lab, and dozens of mentorship and industry networking opportunities throughout the year.
Northwest Film Forum and our programs exist thanks to the support of hundreds of volunteers, members, donors, funders, and partners, as well as a tireless staff and board that work every day to keep independent art alive and accessible for King County. This mission has been our work from the beginning and will continue into the future — to incite public dialogue and creative action through collective cinematic experiences: exhibition, community collaboration, education and artist development.