Vashon Film Society will screen a locally made documentary about the famed Fremont Troll public art sculpture on Friday, December 6 for its monthly series of First Friday Art Films at the Vashon Theatre.
"The Hall of Giants" explores the creation and endurance of the Fremont Troll – a sculpture which sits under the bridge’s north end and ranks second only to the Space Needle as a beloved city icon. The film, named after the dramatic view corridor under the Aurora Bridge in Fremont, chronicles how public art can help define and revitalize urban spaces.
The film is also a celebration of Seattle’s scrappy underdog roots, given that this popular tourist attraction was once a dump site. Led by a team of volunteers, the grant-funded art project cost "less money than the city would spend on a new police car," as Troll lead artist Steve Badanes states in the movie. At its core, the film spins a cautionary tale about the specter of gentrification, where artists and citizenry are pushed out of areas by development, and how neighborhoods and entire cities can grow estranged from the cultural and artistic roots that once established them. It’s an old tale, but it’s one that still resonates in modern times.
"The Hall of Giants" is something of an underdog in its own right; it’s the first feature film that director Michael Falcone has ever produced, but it was well received and attended at its initial test screening last year at Hales’ Palladium. "People just kept coming through the door," Falcone said. "Before we knew it, we were looking at a near-capacity crowd in the same space that hosts large-scale events like The Moisture Festival. I was completely unprepared for that." When the film premiered its final cut at SIFF Cinema’s Uptown Theater this September, the house was nearly full again. "The Troll brings good fortune to those who are touched by it," says Falcone.
The film’s production started in 2010 with a modest grant from the Fremont Arts Council. Falcone teamed up with director of photography Hank Graham with the intent of making a short film to document the challenges involved with the making of the Troll. As interviews with the Troll’s creators progressed, much broader themes began to take shape, and the film’s arc widened.
"Once I saw that ‘Giants’ was less about a statue and more about larger issues like gentrification and art’s role in keeping that in check, I thought, hey, I think I might have a feature here," explained Falcone. He sought out the photographs and footage necessary to support a larger film narrative and eventually struck pay dirt when he discovered The Seattle Municipal Archives media collection. "It’s an amazing resource. I’m indebted to them for providing so much good material," Falcone enthused.
In 2012, Falcone won a Seattle CityArtist Grant and used the funds to hire Vashon-based editor James Culbertson to polish the rough film he’d cobbled together on an old underpowered MacBook. The two filmmakers began a creative partnership that transformed the film into its current polished state. A University of Washington test screening gave the project more positive feedback, and attendees volunteered their services to help with post-production work after viewing the rough cut of the film. "The Hall of Giants" is now complete, with a run time of ninety minutes – a feature film made for $3000 and no out of pocket expenses from the filmmakers.
"It’s not lost on me that the creation of the Troll sculpture has proven a fitting model for the creation of this film. ‘The Hall of Giants’ is a grant-funded and volunteer-driven project that had humble beginnings, but through the faith and sweat equity of a supportive community, bigger things have come to life. It’s been an amazing experience," says director Falcone.
The Vashon Film Society screening is at 9:30 pm on Friday, December 6, and both director Michael Falcone and editor James Culbertson will do a Q&A after the Vashon Theatre show. Tickets are $7 at the door.