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A Northwest Film Forum without film? Outgoing director looks at future of 12th Ave media and arts ‘hub’

Sheehan (Image: NWFF)

What would Capitol Hill’s Northwest Film Forum be without film?

“It’s one that we discuss all the time,” executive director Courtney Sheehan tells CHS about one of the key questions on the future of the 12th Ave film-focused community center as she prepares to leave the organization she’s helped to grow over the past five years.

Sheehan has given her six months’ notice, she says, to give NWFF time to find a new leader and solidify its new foundation as a community hub that Sheehan has been helping to build since stepping into the director role in 2016.

“We’re really excited that for the first time the forum is really becoming a hub in the center of city,” Sheehan said.

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This year, Tasveer, producer of Seattle’s South Asian film festival,  and media nonprofit Seattle Globalist moved their offices into NWFF’s 12th Ave building joining indigenous arts group Longhouse Media which was already partnering with the forum in the space.

Sheehan calls it a “coalition and alliance with like minded organizations.” For arts nonprofits trying to hold — and maybe even grow — their place in the city’s core, NWFF’s template could be a model for survival.

Expect Sheehan to be a topic of conversation at Thursday’s annual Northwest Film Forum gala fundraiser. Yes, there’s her exit: “It’s an exciting time,” board vice president and filmmaker Megan Griffiths said in an announcement of the party. “We’re providing more access to filmmakers and audiences while staying true to our mission in a more inclusive and innovative way.” But there’s also Sheehan’s “Back to the Future Part Forum” costume plans  — “I’m going to be Barbarella,” she tells CHS. There’s also the traditional NWFF staff short to look forward to. This year brings a riff on Mystery Science 3000 — complete with real live Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy.

In 2015, the NWFF celebrated its 20th anniversary of gathering people on Capitol Hill around a common love of making, watching, and learning about independent film. NWFF traces its origin to the 1995 launch of WigglyWorld Studios, a post-production outfit that got its start in the neighborhood. The organization quickly grew into other aspects of film, including teaching and screening. Sheehan joined in 2013 as an intern and has worked her way to leading the organization.

While she isn’t yet sure what she’ll do next, Sheehan is confident that the overhauled forum is on solid ground operationally, economically, and artistically. “It’s in the best financial position it has ever been in,” she said. “We have a five-year box office high right now. And the least amount of programing that I’ve done in my time here.”

Don’t underestimate that last component. Sheehan said a key to what happens next at the NWFF is the breadth of programming the organization’s staff is pulling together. Along with important film screenings, the schedule at NWFF has grown to include more community and live events. The combination is a Film Forum Sheehan believes is ready to thrive without her — and with or without film.

The Northwest Film Forum is located at 1515 12th Ave. You can learn more at

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