Quick take from the Seattle Local Sightings Film Festival

From the Seattle Weekly, September 24, 2013

UPDATE: Alien Boy won this festival on October 3.

Just as the Seahawks draw fans from as far away as Anchorage and Missoula and Boise and even (gasp!) Portland, the Local Sightings Film Festival has become a regional showcase for cinema from the greater Northwest. Now in its 16th edition, the fest has grown to nearly 20 features and docs this year, plus several packages of shorts, offsite screenings, and seminars featuring talent like Lynn Shelton (Touchy Feely, Humpday). There’s no theme per se besides low-budget indie regionalism, so you never know what title will resonate.

James Chasse, the subject of Alien Boy, as a young music fan

James Chasse, the subject of Alien Boy, as a young music fan


The best and most infuriating title I previewed for LSFF is a documentary set in Portland’s trendy Pearl District circa 2006. In Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse (3 p.m. Sun.), its 42-year-old schizophrenic subject is football-tackled to the pavement by a cop for peeing in public. A dozen ribs are broken, a lung is punctured, Chasse is hogtied and taken to the station, and he soon dies of respiratory arrest. The case is like Seattle’s scandalous 2010 police shooting of John T. Williams, made even more timely by the recent Sounders stabber, Donnell D. Jackson, evidently also a schizophrenic failed by the system. Chasse was at the other end of the mental-health spectrum—a shy, frail, fearful man living in assisted housing who loved coffee shops and the library. Friends and family tenderly recall an avid music fan during the punk-rock ’80s who published a zine, then succumbed to schizophrenia during his late teen years.

In pursuing a story that was well-reported in Portland but not quite national news, director Brian Lindstrom spent a half-dozen years following public demands for police accountability and the lawsuit against the city. Depositions and station-house videos are damning, though Lindstrom grants a police-union rep space to respond. Incoming mayor Sam Adams eventually fires the old police chief, but as in Seattle, street-level cops are maddeningly untouchable—they have all the protections and benefits that Chasse was denied in his unhappy life. These overzealous officers also inevitably recall our own 2009 case in Belltown: Christopher Harris, permanently brain-damaged by King County sheriffs with a similarly aggressive tackle.

Alien Boy is a sad reminder of how, from Pioneer Square to the Pearl District to Times Square, our public places attract the indigent, the mentally ill, and those committing illegal acts. How we treat or police those people is a matter of public policy and spending priorities. The easiest option is to do nothing, making the life of James Chasse seem very cheap.