Peggy Sturdivant
S.J. Chiro and John Helde are two of the local filmmakers who will be featured on at the Nov. 20 Ballard Filmmakers' Night.

At Large In Ballard: Filmmakers among us

Behind the residential doors of Ballard lurk hidden talents. There are filmmakers among us. Not just Ballard High School students receiving accolades at Sundance and other film-festivals but adults passing as ordinary residents.

Filmmaker John Helde has been helping to flush out fellow artists for Ballard Filmmakers' Night, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Sunset Hill Community Club.

Although the filmmakers have been quietly building their works for years, the idea of featuring Ballard movie-makers was born last summer.

One night last July, I was definitely not minding my own business while looking for a rental at Rain City Video on 32nd Avenue Northwest. Two women burst in to ask the manager, Ray, if he knew any local filmmakers. Carol Beers and Susan Schneider were fresh from a planning committee meeting at Sunset Hill Community Association.

Ray ultimately had to make us leave, claiming that Rain City always closes at 10 p.m. on weeknights.

Since that first serendipitous encounter, four local filmmakers have agreed to show their award-winning short films, in addition to several locally made student films.

I had a chance to sit down with two of the filmmakers and chat with a third while he drove to Idaho for a showing of his film.

John Helde lives just blocks from the clubhouse and has taken the lead in putting together the program for Nov. 20.

He has been in the film business since college, working on documentaries for Mayles Films as an editor and production assistant. For the last five to six years, he has focused solely on writing and directing.

In 2003 he received the spotlight award from the local chapter of the Independent Feature Project to make the short film “Hello,” which he’ll be screening at Sunset Hill. “Hello” was filmed on a Washington State Ferry and stars Eric Stoltz, a well-known actor since his 1984 role as Cher’s son in “Mask.”

Helde’s documentary “Made in China” is currently showing on the Documentary Channel and available through Netflix. The film explores the childhood that his father never spoke of as a White American in pre-Mao China.

S.J. Chiro lives with her family just eight blocks away from John, but they had never met.

Her background was theater, as an actor and artistic director of Annex Theater.

She became increasingly interested in film and applied to the notoriously competitive University of Southern California film school. Although S.J. beat the odds by being accepted on her first try, she chose to stay in Seattle to hone her craft and raise a family.

As creator of Violet Films, she has now directed three films.

Her first, “Little Red Riding Hood,” was inspired by on-the-spot revisions she made to the fairy tale one night before her daughter’s bedtime.

“A Water Tale” was made through funding from Seattle Public Utilities and concludes at one of S.J.’s favorite settings, Golden Gardens Beach.

Shawn Telford arrived in Seattle with all of his belongings in a backpack in 1997. He bought a cot, later upgraded to a futon and aspires to one day own a bed. He received a Master’s from the University of Washington’s Professional Actor Training Program but has added filmmaking to his list of talents.

We spoke as he drove to Idaho for a Halloween screening of his film “Safe Passage.

Although his earlier works, “Gimme Shelter, Gimme Music” and “A Night in the Sunlight” had been well-received, Shawn was wearying of the struggle of working outside the (L.A.) mainstream. Then he and his writer, Michael Raymond, were chosen for the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival Fly Filmmaking Challenge.

Incredible in-kind resources through SIFF provided support from businesses (including an auto wrecking yard that provided and flipped vehicles for them on Sunday), post-production facilities and the name recognition to get permission to use the monorail for filming.

As Telford said, “Making 'Safe Passage' was the most incredible experience. The community recognized me and gave back to me.”

The filmmakers all voiced appreciation for community support in making their films – the fact that they could use the ferries, the monorail and the support of local businesses really made them possible to do.

The Ballard Filmmakers' Night will also include a clip from Jennifer Maas’ upcoming documentary “Wheedle’s Groove” and selected shorts from student works.

Adult and student filmmakers will be on hand for Q & A. This event will be free of charge.

With Ballard’s first film festival imminent, I’m still amazed that I was present just minutes after conception.

Sunset Hill Community Club is located at 3003 N.W. 66th St. Admission is free, refreshments available by donation. Screening starts 7:30 p.m. followed by meeting “the filmmakers among us.”

Peggy Sturdivant can be reached

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