It is, after all, the Seattle International Film Festival. Emphasis on Seattle.

That is particularly the case with the six feature-length films and a short film program that will be screened in the Northwest Connections section of the festival.

Pictures chosen for this section — “Know Your Place,” “I’ll Show you Mine,” “I AM DB COOPER,” “Buffalo Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts,” “Midday Black Midnight Blue” and “Sweetheart Deal” — are either the works of filmmakers with Northwest roots or are set in the Seattle area.

“Know Your Place,” by director Zia Mohajerjasbi, certainly checks both those boxes. Born in Lake City, raised in Kenmore and a graduate of the University of Washington, the 36-year-old Iranian American filmmaker shot most of “Know Your Place,” his debut feature, in 2018 in a variety of Seattle locations: Capitol Hill, Queen Anne and the vicinity of the city’s two stadiums.

However, “the beating heart of the film is the Central District, mostly between Madison and Cherry [streets],” he said.

It’s the story of two teens traversing the city on a mission to take a package to a friend. In the course of their journey, the startling changes in the physical and psychosocial makeup of Seattle are on vivid display.


The leads are Joseph Smith, an Eritrean American, and Natnael Mebrahtu, an American-born youth who traces his ethnicity to the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. Both were 15-year-old sophomores attending Garfield High School when the picture was filmed. They, like everyone else in the cast, were nonprofessional actors.

Mohajerjasbi had worked with Smith and Mebrahtu several years earlier when he cast them in his 2015 short “Hagereseb.” That film, shot in Yesler Terrace, was the genesis for “Know Your Place” as it dealt with the theme of a community facing displacement. He explores that more fully in “Know Your Place,” which screens April 17 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian and April 19 at Ark Lodge Cinemas.

Mohajerjasbi caught the filmmaking bug at age 7 when his Iranian-born father took him to the Seven Gables Theatre to see “The White Balloon,” now regarded as a classic of Iranian cinema. It was the first time he had ever been to a movie where Farsi was spoken. It was also the language spoken in Mohajerjasbi’s home, and so the picture quite literally spoke to him. It was “like opening a little portal in my mind,” he said, seeing the culture of his father’s country depicted on the screen. From that moment, he wanted to make movies like that.

He got his start shooting music videos for the likes of Macklemore and Blue Scholars in the mid 2000s. It was around that time that he started hanging out at a restaurant and community center at 20th Avenue and Jackson Street called Hidmo. It was a gathering place for people with East African roots, among others.

Mohajerjasbi made friends with members of the community. From them he learned about the displacement of residents of Yesler Terrace as the neighborhood was torn down to make room for urban development. And based on their experiences, he felt compelled to make movies about their community’s plight.

Since then, the pace of change and displacement in Seattle has only quickened. He said when he drives through Yesler Terrace, “I don’t even recognize that space now.”


At the other end of the spectrum of professional filmmaking experience represented in Northwest Connections is Megan Griffiths, director of “I’ll Show You Mine,” which is set to screen April 16 at SIFF Cinema Uptown and April 20 at Pacific Place. A Burien resident, she’s been involved in various capacities in the movie industry since 2000, working her way up from cinematographer and assistant director to a director of features for the big screen and episodes for series TV.

She was a longtime friend and artistic collaborator with the late Lynn Shelton, who was a major figure in the festival’s history. Shelton, who died in 2020 at the age of 54, had two of her films chosen as festival opening-night features, the first in 2012 and the last in 2019.

“We learned from each other,” Griffiths said. And the most important lesson Shelton taught her was how to create a set that was “a safe space for performance to happen.” A space where actors and crew were encouraged to “give their best work and take risks in a safe way.”

That lesson was crucial in the making of “I’ll Show You Mine,” Griffiths said. Set in the sunny living room of a middle-class home, two characters played by Poorna Jagannathan and Casey Thomas Brown spend a day talking over a variety of subjects ranging from child abuse to pornography to pansexuality.

The topics are explosive but the characters’ tones are conversational. However, as the day wears on and the talk becomes more pointed and probing, the seemingly mild atmosphere becomes tense and fraught.

Maintaining the delicate balance between subject matter and tone was a major challenge, Griffiths said, and she was careful to build an atmosphere of trust so the actors could feel comfortable in their roles.


“They could be vulnerable and take big risks,” she said.

“The atmosphere on the set was incredibly intimate and beautiful.”

In addition to “Know Your Place” and “I’ll Show You Mine,” the other features in the Northwest Connections section are:

● “I AM DB COOPER,” by filmmaker T.J. Regan, a tale of two bounty hunters who meet a man claiming to be the notorious skyjacker D.B. Cooper; it screens April 16 at the Shoreline Community College Theater and April 18 at Pacific Place.

● “Buffalo Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts,” by Dru Holley, a story of Black army units that served in the West after the Civil War; April 16 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian and April 17 at the Ark Lodge Cinemas. 

● “Midday Black Midnight Blue,” directed by Samantha Soule and Daniel Talbott, a drama about a man overcome with grief; April 21 and April 22 at Pacific Place.

● “Sweetheart Deal,” by directors Elisa Levine and Gabriel Miller, a story set on Aurora Avenue of four women addicted to heroin; April 18 at Pacific Place and April 20 at SIFF Cinema Uptown.

SIFF’s Northwest Connections

For more information on the Seattle International Film Festival, which runs April 14-24, and the Northwest Connections schedule, go to SIFF requires masks to be worn in all venues except when at your seat.