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Double release jumps media railings at Northwest Film Forum

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Photo courtesy of K. Van Petten
Photo courtesy of K. Van Petten

Photo courtesy of K. Van Petten  

On Thursday last week, artists and allies gathered on Capitol Hill at the Northwest Film Forum (NWFF), for a double-release show of Seattle poet and songwriter K. Van Petten's new video poem, titled "For Jumping," and their new cassette tape, "For Someone." The event was a buffet of hybrid media; four other artists played music, sang, and recited poetry as opening acts before the film.

Some who hear the phrase "hybrid media" might lose interest or even run the other way, having heard tales of (or experienced for themselves) cacophonies of clashing sounds and overwhelming images. This show was none of those things, but rather a healing experience both gentle and intense — for the performers, clearly, and for at least a few members of the audience.

For those who have never visited the NWFF, it's a nonprofit movie theater (a "cinematheque") that was founded in 1995. It has gone through rebrands, location changes, and pandemics in its mission to provide "a nesting ground for creativity, an inspiration, and cultural anchor for so many people."

Its lobby signals that welcoming attitude right away. Armchairs rest before an old-fashioned TV, which plays black-and-white films. The concession counter and the ticket booth are one in the same. As of this article's writing, a decorative cave has been constructed to promote the forum's hosting of the upcoming Children's Film Festival.

Far from a vast and barren area only crossed for a rushed bathroom break or overpriced candies, on the night of the release, that lobby was full of mingling people and their voices.

Theater 2 could have seated about 40, and though the show was sold out, a row or two in the back was empty. By a show of hands, for a good third of the crowd, it was their first time in the building. Many knew Van Petten and the other performers personally.

Photo courtesy of K. Van Petten  

After a quick welcome and introduction by Van Petten, local poet B_Line_Dot presented a few of his works: short ones, which he said were "tweets, basically," and a few longer ones. He recited them in a flowing poetic prose style, speaking of memories of childhood, growth, and love "like oxygen," both as easy and as vital as breathing.

Singer-songwriter Connor Cash Colbert played a few of his own pieces on guitar. His vocals were beautiful, with a surprising range, and his lyrics were poems on their own. Again there were themes of a past left behind, this time in Illinois, where Colbert grew up.

Colbert was then joined onstage by master cellist Elena Denny and Van Petten for a live, collaborative performance of two tracks from "For Someone." The guitar and the cello blended dreamy notes with Van Petten's smiling poetry and vocals, over a track of sounds sampled from Port Townsend.

The final piece of the night was the other release, "For Jumping," a video poem written and voiced by Van Petten and edited by T.J. Hom. It was billed as a film about "coming into queerness" with the adventurous act of "jumping the railing" into unknown ground. It was short and sweet, but like any poem, a second time through yielded new depths of meaning and angles of interpretation.

This was true not only in a literary sense but in a visual one as well. "For Jumping" is a series of clips — "vignettes of memory" chosen to "serve the poem," as Hom put it — with some of the verse appearing in bold to emphasize them as Van Petten recited. The images' connection to the text isn't always direct, but that just means it's open to interpretation, as art should be.

"It all centers around that line, 'Do you want to jump the railing?'" Van Petten said after the screening, "and around this idea of jumping a metaphorical railing and coming into your queerness, or your identity, whatever that railing might be for you."

The film shows writers, travelers, paragliders — all sorts of people taking chances and trying new things in their own ways.

"What if we just went at it with that being the thesis?" Van Petten said of the project's beginnings. "Not trying to tackle some narrative or ambitious comic, but treating it like a poem, where images are flickering in and out and we're kind of just barely grasping at what's happening. It felt right to give it those really loose — grainy-eyed, if you will — edges."

Van Petten also praised Hom's visual intelligence as an editor, especially in the realm of color.

"Poets get to talk about color, but we don't often use it. ...Color is so important to film, whereas color is only important up here to poets," they said, tapping their head. "It was so fascinating for T.J. to have such a strong drive" in that area.

Van Petten added that being good friends with Hom, with a lot of trust between them, definitely helped.

"For Someone" is available for purchase online via Hello America Stereo Cassette, and at the Vera Project's cassette tape vending machine. Prints of "For Jumping" can be purchased via donation to Centrum Residences, a nonprofit dedicated to building greater inclusion through the arts. You can find out more about showings and events at the Northwest Film Forum at https://www.nwfilmforum.org/.