The Legend of Seattle's Sea Serpent


For information on this northwest film go here.

Article in Seattle Times by Sandi Doughton

Of the 150 films and shorts in Seattle's True Independent Film Festival (STIFF), only one features a creature from the depths of Lake Washington.

Which is not to imply that "Willatuk: The Legend of Seattle's Sea Serpent," hasn't earned its STIFFY award for "best movie monster."

After all, the wily Willatuk is able to cruise between the lake and Puget Sound via a secret tunnel. Match that, Godzilla.

And Willatuk is a hometown boy — which gives him an edge at STIFF. Conceived in 2005 by local filmmakers, the festival is an alternative to the behemoth Seattle International Film Festival, which it audaciously overlaps. "We tend to show stuff that's a little edgier, maybe a little more rough around the edges," said managing director Clint Berquist. The festival runs at multiple venues from June 4-13. A third of this year's offerings are from local directors.

They include "The Lobster and the Liver: The Unique World of Jim Woodring," about the surrealistic Seattle cartoonist. Berquist's own "Seattle Komedy Dokumentary" chronicles the city's thriving stand-up scene in 2007.

The story of Willatuk grew out of Seattle director Oliver Tuthill Jr.'s twin fascinations with the Loch Ness monster and its ilk, and Native American culture and history. The Northwest has its own sea-monster legends, with supposed sightings from the coast of British Columbia to the San Juan Islands.

"I thought, why don't I create a whole world here?" said Tuthill. He spun a 300-year history for Willatuk and created a tribe whose mythology binds it to the beast. Willatuk's survival is threatened by pollution and the quests of two men: A cryptozoologist out to uncover the creature's secrets, and a hunter stalking the ultimate trophy.

Shot in a deadpan documentary style with splashes of camp, the film includes a guest appearance by Washington Congressman Jim McDermott. Academy Award-nominated actor Graham Greene ("Dances With Wolves") narrates.

Making the film was a three year labor of love — and credit cards, said executive producer Dan Schwert.

A Seattle native, Schwert directed his first movie in college. He never pictured himself as a producer, but after meeting Tuthill decided to use a small inheritance to help bring Willatuk to the screen. When bills outstripped the budget, Schwert borrowed against his house.

"I was going for my dream," he said. "But times were tough for dreamers."

Juggling a day job in industrial hygiene, Schwert also helped with lighting, blocked out scenes and became a logistical jack-of-all-trades. He played the role of the wild-eyed hunter, and nearly wound up hypothermic after one long scene in Lake Washington. A 13-foot boa constrictor wrapped itself around his neck in another scene.

But serpents aside, the film's primary message is ecological, Tuthill said. With oil fouling the Gulf Coast, he added, it could hardly be more timely.

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com

DCS Films met Oliver some years back when the film was in its beginning stages. Oliver hired DCS Films to shoot a “point of view” sequence underwater as if the camera lens was a sea monster. After a few times in the water Mr. Tuthill had the images he wanted.

Several years go by without a word from Oliver or his crew, when I get a phone call. The soft spoken woman on the other end says I helped on a film that is premiering soon and they’d like me to come. I had no idea what she was talking about. At this time I had all but forgotten the meeting with Tuthill, until I read the newspaper article, and was reminded of this exciting idea one local filmmaker had and let me be a part of.

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