A preview of STIFF, which broadens its focus in 2015 to include video games, digital comics and interactive apps.

Share story

Once the home of Trinidadian restaurant Pam’s Kitchen, a U District institution which migrated to Wallingford, the double-deckered, red-and-green storefront on the bustling corner of Northeast 50th Street and University Way Northeast has been vacant since December of 2014.

Pam’s building will reportedly be demolished in favor of newer development, but for the short term at least the space is getting a fresh look as the inaugural art gallery of the Seattle Transmedia Independent Film Festival (STIFF) — which is also trying to reinvent itself.

STIFF began in 2005 as the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, conceived as a more experimental alternative to the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Programming director Will Chase said the large (and growing) number of film festivals in Seattle and a desire to seek out transmedia — like video games, digital comics and interactive apps — pushed STIFF to change direction this year. It’ll show independent films at local theaters, as usual, but also display digital media in a gallery setting for the first time.

Festival preview

STIFF: Seattle Transmedia and Independent Film Festival

May 1-9 at various venues in the University District; $12 for most screenings, $20 for shows at the Lucid Lounge (includes one drink), $100 all-access pass, gallery is free (trueindependent.org/schedule).

“We knew at some point we couldn’t just be that independent film festival anymore,” Chase said. “There’s something like 40 film festivals in Seattle now.”

Chase recently strolled around the now-gallery, pointing to various wall installations he envisioned in place of bare walls. Nearly everything inside had been painted white, including the tin awning that hung above what used to be Pam’s bar.

Makeshift posters adorned the gallery’s windows, inviting onlookers to pop inside. Gallery hours for the duration of the festival will be noon to 8 p.m. May 2-9.

On the ground floor, there will be wall mounted TVs showing different projects. Upstairs, in a small, dark room offset from the main deck, will be STIFF’s big-ticket attraction: an Oculus Rift installation called “Assent” by artist Oscar Raby.

An Oculus Rift is an immersive 3-D virtual world, viewed through a display on one’s face, with headphones. Raby constructed a simulation based on a story about his father, who was an army officer for dictator Augusto Pinochet during the Chilean coup of 1973. In “Assent,” the viewer takes the place of Raby’s dad as he witnesses the execution of political prisoners.

“[Transmedia] is taking all these different forms of media and challenging our perceptions of what media can be,” Chase said.

Moviegoers, fear not, though, STIFF will still have feature films.

Among the highlights of the festival from May 1 to 9 are Seattle-based filmmaker Jen Marlowe’s documentary “Witness Bahrain” (May 7 at the Grand Illusion Theater); Nathan Silver’s “Uncertain Terms,” a drama about a thirty-something man escaping marital troubles by becoming a handyman at his aunt’s country retreat for pregnant teens (May 5, Grand Illusion); and “Aspie Seeks Love,” director Julie Sokolow‘s chronicle of the love life and literary successes of David Matthews, a Pittsburgh writer with Asperger’s syndrome (May 5, Grand Illusion).

STIFF’s makeover into a transmedia festival is in a trial phase. The permanency of the gallery is still unsure, though Chase hopes it will stay open in the U District past the festival. Either way, Chase said, it’s been a positive risk for STIFF.

“If we didn’t jump into [transmedia] with both feet, we would be left behind,” Chase said. “We want to be at the forefront of the transmedia revolution in America and in the world.”