FIlms allow viewers to connect with the destination before they've even arrived — Photo courtesy of Visit Seattle/SundanceTV
The truth is that we each absorb a landscape, a people, a culture, a vibe in entirely different ways. Countless factors shape initial impressions and lasting takeaways of a place – from one's personal story and unique points of reference to circumstantial details that affect any given day.
Travel is a cumulative experience and a narrative we create. It's the characters you encounter, the weather you endure, the food you savor, the mishaps you navigate, the treasures you unveil.
Some adventurers like to do their homework ahead of time, familiarizing themselves with a destination before arrival. Perhaps by listening to local musicians, reading travel guides and books or watching movies set in a certain locale, many attempt to "see" a terrain long before stepping onto its soil.
For these types of travelers, we're happy to reveal a recent collaboration – Project Five by Five – dreamt up by SundanceTV and Visit Seattle. With this groundbreaking concept, five prominent filmmakers (Clea DuVall, Drew Christie, Ian Cheney, Martha Stephens and Terence Nance), some of whom had never before set foot in the Pacific Northwest, were asked to turn their lens on Seattle.
At Sundance, five filmmakers shared their creative vision of the Emerald City — Photo courtesy of Visit Seattle/SundanceTV
Each of the five short films uses one of the five senses (smell, touch, taste, sound, sight) to engage and immerse viewers; the filmmakers had limited research time and only one day to shoot footage that would capture their vision. While DuVall says she had already fantasized of one day living in Seattle, Nance admits that his city knowledge didn't extend far beyond "Nirvana and rain" before receiving his assignment and quickly hopping on Wikipedia to learn more.
Thanks to their brilliant onscreen outcomes, premiered on a recent snowy Tuesday at Park City's Sundance Film Festival, viewers can now make pre-arrival connections with Seattle from the comfort of their couch. And afterward, once visitors have returned home, the videos generate a sense of nostalgia by revisiting now-familiar sites, sounds and feelings, too.
"Jimi Could Have Fallen from the Sky" by Terence Nance — Photo courtesy of Visit Seattle
The end products prove distinctly unique and stunningly mesmerizing, covering themes from local heroes Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix to the towering trees that beautify the city and often get "transformed" in the hands of Seattle's mill workers and woodworking artists.
In the films, viewers get glimpses of the snow-capped peaks, deep blue waters and vibrant characters that together make up the fabric of this inspiring city.
“The Seattle story is not one that can be told; it has to be experienced,” comments Ali Daniels, Vice President of Marketing for Visit Seattle. “The filmmakers developed their film ideas based around one of the five senses and then came to Seattle to bring that vision to life. The result is five very unique short films that show, in a sensorial way, the rich texture of Seattle. Ultimately, we want people to feel inspired to visit.”
"Scent of a Sasquatch" by Drew Christie — Photo courtesy of Visit Seattle
One film appears as an animated sketch starring Sasquatch (smell), another feels like an extended performance art piece (sound), and yet another is an exquisite tribute to one local dairy's farm-to-ice cream cone journey (taste). For the latter, DuVall explains why she chose to include no dialogue. “I wanted it to be about place, not about people," she says. "And not about any one person's journey, but like you all are going on a journey.”
And although filmmakers like Cheney had never been to Seattle before, he viewed this as an advantage. His film was able to "bring outsiders’ eyes to the city," exploring the destination with a fresh sense of wonder.
"Touch of Seattle" by Ian Cheney — Photo courtesy of Visit Seattle
Other cities on the Sundance screen
Other cities also took center stage in feature-length films at Sundance 2017. For example, sun-kissed Los Angeles stars in appropriately named “L.A. Times.” Written and directed by Michelle Morgan, it's a classically-styled “comedy of manners,” in which sophisticated thirtysomethings try to determine whether ideal happiness found via coupledom is actually a far-fetched urban myth.
“Lemon” stars a protagonist whose life unravels after being left by his blind girlfriend, and also makes an onscreen point of revealing that it was shot entirely in LA.
New York-centric films included "Crown Heights" and "Golden Exits" which tells the story of a young foreign girl whose arrival disrupts the lives of two Brooklyn families. Yet perhaps the most distinctive ode to the Big Apple – and the vibrant city's unique cast of characters – can be found in "Person to Person" written and directed by Dustin Guy Defa.
The future of travel
In just one year, Visit Seattle has produced six series and more than 120 pieces of video content that appear on VisitSeattle.tv as well as on YouTube, Amazon Fire TV, REVOLT TV, Matador and Vox Media. Is this a glimpse into how travelers will interact with destinations in the decades to come?