After five successful years, the North Bend Film Festival has announced that it will no longer be running.
The festival, which was held annually, gained a reputation for showcasing innovative and boundary-pushing independent cinema. The hard decision to close the festival was announced in a letter by founder and director Jess Byers, who cited a loss of a critical and consistent line of funding as the reason.
Byers, originally from the Pacific Northwest, said at its inception, he lived in New York, where he helped found the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival with a group of creatives. They decided to take a chance on a smaller town and visited, speaking with every “main street” business in North Bend and Snoqualmie to gauge interest and concerns.
It was evident to the group that North Bend had the right foundation for a successful film festival, with its proximity to a major city, airport, affordable theater rental and pop culture relationship with Twin Peaks.
However, running a film festival is challenging, mainly because of funding. Said Byers, “Nobody wants to create a space that’s underpaying its staff or providing a subpar experience for visiting artists. We came into town expecting local organizations and the government to rally around a nonprofit arts event that brings outside artists to town with the aim of moving past Twin Peaks. Instead, we found it to be an uphill battle to get engagement and support, even on the marketing level, from those entities. Pretty quickly, it became evident that we had to focus on partnerships with Seattle organizations to produce programming and build an audience since the town wouldn’t help fill the theater.”
Ironically, the pandemic gave organizers some of the most successful years because they could reach a national audience through streaming; this helped buoy their finances for a few years, says Byers. The problem pre- and post-pandemic was local turnout and the rising cost of operations.
The funding gap between ticket sales and budget wasn’t shrinking, and unfortunately, they couldn’t hit the threshold they needed to continue comfortably. Last year’s fest felt like a successful “normal” year, and they decided to end on a high note.
Still, Byers wanted to shout out some of their consistent and positive partnerships, including Volition Brewing and Valley Center Stage, who both opened their doors to the festival in significant ways. He also noted his favorite part of the festival was “bringing out-of-towners to North Bend and seeing their eyes pop in awe of the natural beauty of the area was always my favorite part. It’s a magical place that deserves to be shared and supported.”
In a statement, organizers say they “wanted to thank YOU for coming out to the movies and supporting us over the years. We’re insanely grateful for our found family of Snoqualmie Valley locals, Seattleites and out-of-towners who showed up to create something magical in North Bend. A festival is only as good as its audience, and we sincerely feel that we had some of the best patrons we could’ve asked for.”
The festival was known for its unique programming, often featuring films that challenged conventional storytelling techniques. It had become a key event in the Pacific Northwest film scene, drawing filmmakers and film enthusiasts from across the region and beyond. It will be sorely missed by those who loved its unique blend of horror, sci-fi, and other genre-bending films.