About Margo Vansynghel

Margo Vansynghel is a journalist and photographer based in Seattle. She covers news, human interest, business, art and lifestyle for newspapers and magazines and makes documentary photography series.

Wallflower, a movie about the Capitol Hill Massacre, finally released and screening in Seattle

“The thing that’s interesting to me, and unique about Wallflower, is this world of joy — at least grasping towards joy as the ravers would. Trying to be happy, intentionally trying to be goofy. It was a very accepting… tight-knit, welcoming community.” (Image: Wallflower)

Wallflower director Jagger Gravning

When, in 2011, Seattle filmmaker Jagger Gravning launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for his movie about the Capitol Hill Massacre, during which a gunman, invited to a rave-afterparty, murdered six people at an E Republican home in the early hours of March 25, 2006, the backlash was swift. Many believed the movie shouldn’t be made.

Now, that movie, Wallflower, is made and ready for its local theatrical release. Wallflower premiered in New York earlier this fall and will screen in Seattle’s Grand Illusion Cinema November 30th to December 3rd.

For Gravning, the road to this point was full of speed bumps and controversy. Before Wallflower premiered in Seattle during the Seattle International Film Festival in 2017, a co-producer pulled back from the project, and an associate producer and survivor told The Stranger she was dismayed at the film’s focus on the perpetrator and how Gravning had mined her PTSD.

But that, Gravning says, wasn’t the reason for the movie’s two-year standstill. Their distributor, as Gravning puts it, had “some issues.” For two years, as financial trouble and wildfires plagued Wallflower’s distribution company, and as its CEO became ill and ultimately passed away, the film’s distribution was put on hold. Now released from contractual obligations and with a new distributor, the film is now finally coming to movie theaters.

Much has changed. Gravning had cancer (he is now in remission), and became the father of a son, who is now three. Mass shootings have become more frequent and more deadly.

And some, Gravning says, have forgotten about the tragedy.

“We rented a house in the U District from college students,” Gravning told CHS about filming the movie back in 2016. “They didn’t even remember. This has been totally forgotten by a whole generation of people. This is a part of our history, really at the cusp of fading away.”

CHS spoke to Gravning about his movie ahead of the release. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

The movie retells that history, but parts are fictionalized. What’s Wallflower’s relationship to the event as it happened? 

Regarding the sequence of the shooting and what led up to it and how it all unraveled is exactly correct, as far as I’m aware. Even the clothing he was wearing, the truck he’s driving, the timeline.  Continue reading

With city debating funding for encampment sweeps, business-backed homeless outreach team on Capitol Hill, First Hill and C-ID now complete

(Image: Margo Vansynghel)

“Hi there, outreach here. Anybody home?”

The outreach workers from the Evergreen Treatment Services REACH program don’t have a door to knock on, nor a doorstep to wait on, but that’s how they treat their approach to the tents scattered across a hillside near I-5 on First Hill.

Traversing the steep hill, the team goes from tent to tent, some of which shiver with the gusts of wind and rain. They hand out small packets of food (crackers and cheese) and bottles of water, ask people what they need if they can get them referred to a shelter for the night.

Standing high up on the slope, Sara Mar, the new homeless outreach coordinator for First Hill, gets a man a bus pass and a referral for shelter tonight. Yvonne Nelson, also with REACH, takes down the name of another woman who can get into an enhanced shelter tonight.  Continue reading

Di$trict 3: $500/month for a Central District office? Campaign supplies from Amazon? Why did Sawant pay more than Orion for similar ad?

With only one more week to go before ballot drop boxes close at 8 PM on Election Day, we don’t have any results on who leads in D3 yet — be sure to check in here for updates on Tuesday.

What’s sure, meanwhile, is that District 3 is currently leading among other districts. With over 10,000 ballots returned, the District is again out in the lead for voter turnout among Seattle’s seven districts. And, with a total of $1,247,788 raised between incumbent Kshama Sawant and challenger Egan Orion, D3 also leads as the most expensive and, currently, only million-dollar race in the city.

No, CHS won’t theorize about the potential correlation. Instead, we’ll take a look at some fresh numbers on spending from the campaigns and PACs, as well as an update on complaints against Orion’s campaign with the State’s Public Disclosure Commission. But first, let’s start with a poll.

New poll likely cost a lot… but what does it say? On Monday, CASE, the political arm from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, sent out results from a new district-level poll conducted by EMC Research between October 17 and October 24. It’s not clear how much this specific poll cost, but according to PDC filings, CASE has paid EMC Research nearly $240,000 for polling/research during the campaign, which includes a recent expenditure of $14,800 — so it’s safe to say this poll was not cheap. Continue reading

Di$trict 3: Orion drops new ad about campaign funding, Sawant has cash ‘EMERGENCY’

A screenshot from the new Orion TV ad

Meanwhile, some our taking the production of pro-Sawant campaign materials into their own hands (Image: @NoBatteries)

“Who is funding our local elections?”

If you ask D3 city council candidates Egan Orion and incumbent Kshama Sawant, they’ll tell you to look in very different directions for the answer to the question that has become a flashpoint overshadowing other issues in this year’s election.

From the start, Sawant said the election would be a referendum on “who runs Seattle: Amazon and big business, or working people.”

Yesterday, a week after Amazon poured over $1M into the city council election, Orion launched a new ad with a voiceover leveling a de facto response to Sawant’s early rallying cry: ”Who has a voice in City Hall? The Socialist Alternative party or your neighbors right here in Seattle?”

CHS takes a closer look at the ad, plus, give you some campaign war chest updates as well as more insight into what exactly candidates are spending their money on, below.

Orion wants to talk about campaign finance too:  Orion’s new ad, in which he touts his local support, is titled “Who is funding our local elections?

Some, surely, would respond “Amazon,” but the 30-second clip doesn’t mention the cash the corporate behemoth and others have pumped in local elections via CASE, the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce, which has supported Orion with over $300,000 in independent expenditures.  Continue reading

In the Central District, an indigenous kayak builder and photojournalist finds a workshop and a home

(Image: Margo Vansynghel for CHS)

In late March, when Seattle-based photojournalist Kiliii Yuyan was looking for muskox in Kotzebue, Alaska, he nearly fell through the ice, which had warmed along with the climate. Just days later, a group of locals fell through the ice and died. In June, while trying to find gyrfalcons, he had to wear shorts during unheard-of temperatures on the Tundra.  A couple of weeks later, he was faced with record flooding while camping in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

Yuyan, who is Nanai (Siberian Native) and Chinese-American, has reported on social justice Indigenous issues for years. But this was the year, he says, where climate change was “in the background of every single story.”

When Yuyan is not in Alaska or the Arctic Circle reporting and taking photos for National Geographic, Bloomberg, or CNN, he calls Seattle home. And when he’s not out on reporting trips, he builds skin-on-frame kayaks in his loft in the Central District, near The Bikery.

His company, Seawolf Kayak, sells them and offers boat-building trips where participants learn about what it means to build a kayak through methods Indigenous communities have honed for centuries. Continue reading

On the List | Volunteer Park Halloween Pet Parade, Boys in Trouble dance, Iceland invades Liberty

Spooky season is upon us, so get ready for some eerie events on Capitol Hill (and Hilloween, which is back this year). Lusio Lights festival in Volunteer Park also makes an October appearance, though the light art installations and party amidst the tropical and other plants are more festive than frightening.

Next Monday at Pettirosso, The Traveling Chef Josh Ploeg cooks up a 4-course meal that must scare some meat and egg-lovers to death: it’s completely vegan. Dishes include “The Vampire’s Garden” salad with beet and tomato “aspic” dome, red pickles, black mushrooms and greens, a “Broomstick, Moonstick, Wrapped in Gloom Thick” pastry-wrapped yellow squash with mushroom gravy, as well as “A Ghast, A Ghoul, A Grave So Cruel” dark chocolate almond cake.

For what to do in the meantime, check out the events below or take a look at the CHS calendar.

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 16: Perhaps you haven’t heard of Knife Knights yet, but maybe, just maybe, you’ve heard of a band called Shabazz Palaces? 1/2 of the group, Ishmael Butler, teams up with Shabazz Palaces’ engineer Erik Blood under the Knife Knight umbrella. The result is ambitiously and unpredictably experimental music they describe as “soul and shoegaze, hip-hop and lush noise, bass, and bedlam.” For their Earshot Jazz Festival performance, the duo will be joined by KEXP DJ Stas Thee Boss and alto-sax expansionist Darius Jones. Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, 7.30 PM – 10 PM  Continue reading

Di$trict 3: Amazon pumps over $1M into Seattle elections — What it means for District 3

Sphere of influence (Image: Amazon)

Remember that time when we reported that independent spending from Political Action Committees had soared to unprecedented heights? That was a week ago.

Campaign finance has become even more, um, unprecedented this week with the announcement Tuesday that Amazon is pouring an additional $1.05 million into CASE, the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, right when ballots are sent to voters this week.

That brings the local corporation’s spending on this year’s local elections to $1.45 million, more than any other union or Political Action Committee.

With $241,257 already spent on his behalf by CASE (mostly on mail and canvassing), D3 candidate Egan Orion is its largest beneficiary.

To give you a sense of the magnitude of this week’s contribution: Amazon’s total contribution to the PAC now adds up to more than the combined $1.27 million City Council candidates opposed by the PAC have raised. That group includes incumbent Kshama Sawant in D3, who has raised the most of any council candidate — $387,730.

“The money CASE has raised is from local companies who care about the future of this city,” Markham McIntyre, executive director of CASE, said in a statement. “The status quo isn’t working: we have a dysfunctional, toxic environment at City Council, and employers, including our city’s largest private employer, want a return to good government.”

The contribution brings CASE’s total spending power for this election up to $2.68 million, of which it has spent $1.3 million.

In a statement, Orion called the influx of PAC money in city politics this year “completely out of scale with the grassroots campaign myself and many others are trying to run and is proving to be a distraction from the real issues.”  Continue reading

On the List | Homeless pets pop-up, Seattle Queer Film Festival, freestyle frisbee world championships, Capitol Hill Art Walk at (tiny!) new gallery Elbo Room

A pop-up dedicated to pets and people experiencing homelessness visits Cal Anderson Thursday (Image: Center for One Health Research)

October is not just a good month for creepiness and rain, it’s also an ideal time to wrap yourself in some softer varieties of music, including choral music during the Seattle Sings Choral Festival, running October 10 through 12, and acoustic music during the 6th annual Seattle Acoustic Festival this Saturday. Find more for acoustic aficionados, frisbee fans, and burger buffs below. And don’t forget — the weekend brings the first of three this fall without light rail service between Capitol Hill and SoDo.

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 9: No, your timing’s not off, it’s just Lit Crawl arriving early this year. The festival doesn’t start until later this month, but this week, the literary Capitol Hill event launches early with a kickoff and fundraising party slash open mic. The event will have music, food, and drinks and feature readings by some of Seattle’s “beloved literati,” Richard Chiem, Ching-In Chen, and Ari Rosenschein.

“The evening will also have plenty of opportunities to support Lit Crawl’s artists and ensure we can keep Seattle’s booziest literary night going for as long as it can,” organizers write. “Come prepared to give.” Capitol Cider, 6 PM – 8 PM 

Through Oct. 14: Some would say the burgers of Li’l Woody’s are perhaps already fast food, but this month, the local burger purveyor celebrates Fast Food Month by recreating one fast food classic every week, inspired by Wendy’s, Taco Bell, McDonald’s and co. Don’t miss this weekend’s Sourdough Woody, a Jack in the Box-inspired burger with Hill’s bacon, garlic mayo, grass-fed beef, Swiss cheese, and ketchup. It comes with curly fries. Li’l Woodys Continue reading

Di$trict 3: Independent expenditures now total more than $1M and favor Orion. Plus: Dale Chihuly, Scott Lindsay, Lyft and Seattle Fire Fighters join the fray

With ballots landing in mailboxes in just a couple of weeks and the November 5 General Election just a month away, campaigns for City Council are heating up — and so is the independent spending from Political Action Committees, which has soared to unprecedented heights.

For the final weeks of the run for the District 3 seat, CHS will keep you updated on the dollars with regular updates dedicated to looking at campaign finances. We’ll report where campaign money — whether from PACs or the candidates’ campaign coffers — comes from, and how it is spent.

With over $1 million raised in total and the two candidates headed to the general election with hundreds of thousands of dollars in their campaign coffers, the District 3 race keeps its top spot as the most expensive in the city. Incumbent Kshama Sawant has raised a total of $374,108; challenger Egan Orion tallied $296,728. 

Some notable recent Orion backers include the famed glass artist Dale Chihuly and his wife who donated $500 each, and Scott Lindsay, a former adviser to Ed Murray and father of the “Seattle is Dying” trope.  Continue reading

On the List | Creepy Capitol Hill history, Taco Day, Blessing of the Animals at Saint Mark’s

Start October off right by showing up for some good causes this Wednesday. A rally for reproductive justice at Westlake Park doubles as a commemoration of Rosie Jimenez. In 1977, the 27-year-old single mother and college student became the first person to die after the Hyde Amendment banned the use of Medicaid for abortions.

At Dino’s Tomato Pie, also on Wednesday, join a “dance party to combat homelessness” with all donations going to advocacy, education, and organizing through the Coalition on Homelessness. Find more things to do this Wednesday and throughout the week here below, or on the CHS Calendar.

THURSDAY, Oct 3: “As close as it is to Broadway’s bustle, Cafe Solstice sits on a surprisingly quiet and green corner at 10th and Thomas,” CHS wrote back in 2014 when Café Solstice arrived (again) on Capitol Hill. Broadway and the neighborhood have changed since then, but Solstice still feels like a quiet corner. Expect more hustle and bustle this Thursday during the inaugural Night Market at Café Solstice. Vendors will bring handcrafted ceramics, drawings, and illustrations, zines, Dew Drop desserts and photography from West Smith. Café Solstice, 5.30 – 9.30 PM  Continue reading