Spokane International Film Festival celebrates 20th year with ‘Benny and Joon’

February 2, 2018 GMT

Since its debut in 1999, the Spokane International Film Festival, or SpIFF, has come a long way.

For starters, the week-long festival was once called the Spokane Northwest Film Festival.

In its inaugural year, the festival featured three short films and four features, three of which were from Canada, over two days at the Metropolitan Performing Arts Center, now known as the Bing Crosby Theater.

Over the years, the festival’s size and schedule have grown considerably. Now in its 20th year, SpIFF 2018 will showcase 14 features and 27 shorts representing 16 countries.

“This carefully curated batch of films offers something for everyone, including national and regional documentaries, foreign award-winning dramas, animated features, indie comedies and mind-bending science fiction,” SpIFF Director Chase Ogden, a professor of film at Eastern Washington University, said in his director’s statement.

But the festival has never forgotten where it started, often paying tribute to Spokane’s cinematic history through its opening night films, like “Vision Quest” in 2016 and “Benny & Joon” (Friday, 8 p.m., Bing Crosby Theater) this year.

“It is my honor to direct this year’s festival as it celebrates its 20th edition, and I look forward to enjoying the best world and independent cinema here in Spokane for many years to come,” Ogden said.

Here’s a look at a few festival highlights:

Best of the Northwest – The festival kicks off with a collection of films, all from right here in the Northwest. Selections include two 50 Hour Slam winners (“Circus Rescue” and “Styx”), “Some Lived: An Idaho POW’s Story,” “Iron,” about a young woman who joins the workforce during World War II, an excerpt from “United by Water: Powwow at the End of the World,” and “The Manual,” about the last human on Earth who is being raised and protected by a humanoid robot. (Friday, 5:30 p.m., the Bing Crosby Theater)

“The Garageland Chronicles” – This Shaun Springer-directed anthology series of 12 films centers around the employees and customers of a small-town record store. If the title didn’t already give it away, each film features a scene filmed in Garageland. (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Magic Lantern Theatre)

Animation Showcase – The Animation Showcase features some of the best animated shorts from around the world, including “Hedgehog’s Home” from Croatia and Canada, “Catherine” from Belgium, “Threads” from Norway and Canada, “CORP” from Argentina, “I Like Girls” from Canada and “Min Börda (The Burden)” from Sweden. (Saturday, 3 p.m. and Wednesday, 6:45 p.m., both at Magic Lantern Theatre).

World Shorts – This collection features shorts from the U.K. (“Sweet Maddie Stone”), the United Arab Emirates (“Ranapakhara”), Kosovo (“Eternally Child”), Spain (“Foreplay”), Netherlands (“Silence”) and India (“Aaba”). “Eternally Child,” “Foreplay” and “Aaba” feature English subtitles. (Saturday, 6:45 p.m., Sunday, 12:30 p.m., Sunday, 6:45 p.m., all at Magic Lantern Theatre)

“Bronx Gothic” – Director Andrew Rossi follows writer and performer Okwui Okpokwasili on and off stage as she prepares for a final tour of her one-woman show “Bronx Gothic.” (Saturday, noon, Magic Lantern Theatre)

“All Our Father’s Relations” – This documentary from Canada follows the Grant siblings as they travel from Vancouver to China in an attempt to learn about their father’s roots and better understand his strained relationship with their Musqueam mother. (Sunday, 3 p.m., Magic Lantern Theatre)

“Armed With Faith” – This documentary from Pakistan follows the men of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bomb Disposal Unit in the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. (Sunday, 6:45 p.m., Magic Lantern Theatre)

“No Man’s Land” – From director David Byars, this documentary provides an on-the-ground account of the rise and fall of the occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. (Monday, 6:30 p.m., Magic Lantern Theatre)

“Expedition Alaska” – This documentary, produced by students at the University of Cincinnati, follows 20 teams as they traverse 350 miles in the Alaskan wilderness as part of a non-stop, seven-day race. (Tuesday, 6:45 p.m., Magic Lantern Theatre)

“Tehran Taboo” – Using rotoscope animation, this German/Austrian film, in Persian with English subtitles, follows four people who break the taboos of a restrictive Islamic society. From Iranian-born director Ali Soozandeh. (Feb. 8, 6:30 p.m., Magic Lantern Theatre)

“Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey” – The festival closes with this documentary about the legendary climber and author who had countless first ascents to his name. The German-born, Seattle-raised Beckey died in 2017. (Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m., Bing Crosby Theatre)

U.S. and Canada Shorts – This showcase of short films from the United States and Canada includes “The Ragman – A Hobo’s Story Untold,” “The Devil Needs a Fix,” about a reporter set to interview the Devil, “Game,” about two children coping with the death of their mother in different ways, “Swim,” about a young trans girl who finds “freedom in a secret midnight swim,” “It’s Just a Gun,” about a series of events set off after a young boy finds a gun, “The Curtain,” about two strangers who reveal secrets of their lives while sharing the same hospital room,” and “This Place Called Nuka: Courting Adventure in Wild Alaska.” (Saturday, 3 p.m., Sunday, 3 p.m., Feb. 8, 6:45 p.m., all at the Magic Lantern Theatre)

A Spokane story in Alaska

“This Place Called Nuka” tells the story of Spokane native Jeff Erickson and Angela Joy Brown, who wanted, as Erickson says in the film trailer, “a camping trip that would never end” and to see if they could live off the land.

So the pair packed up and headed north.

Twenty four years later, Erickson’s wish is still coming true, and he now runs a cliffside lodge called Granite Point Mountain Lodge.

It was at Granite Point that Erickson met director/producer/writer David Weich and director of photography and editor Michael Nipper, both with Sheepscot Creative.

The pair was originally going to create a short film about the process of building Granite Point, which required Erickson to pick-axe and clear land at the bottom of a bluff to install stairs, then clear land at the top of the bluff for the actual lodge.

Erickson used skiffs and helicopters to deliver materials, then carried all the tools and materials to the building site by hand, a two-year process.

But after learning about Erickson’s arrival in Alaska and the cabin he built in Nuka, Weich and Nipper knew they found the real story.

“We started talking and they enjoyed the story and they were like ‘Holy smokes, I think we need to bring this to life,’ ” Erickson said.

Over the course of a year, Weich and the film crew visited Alaska a few times, incorporating photos Erickson and Brown took and interviews with Erickson’s friends to tell the story of one particular winter early in their time in Alaska.

“It was pretty neat to go back and revisit those days and the beginning of our time here in Alaska and living out in the wilderness,” Erickson, who is currently featured on the DIY Network’s “Building Alaska,” said.

Erickson is proud of the film and hope it inspires viewers in a way that other nature-related documentaries might not.

“A lot of films like this will tell you how to save the planet and this and that,” he said. “Maybe this one will tell you why to save it.”