First, some sad news from Susie Purves, executive director of the Pickford Film Center, who recently announced a closure of The Limelight. The Limelight on Cornwall Avenue was where it all began back in 1998 and it was home to so many of the best and weirdest films throughout the years.

Read the full letter from Purves:

Alice Clark, founder of the Pickford, had this to say on her Facebook page:

“This little theater gave us everything she had. It was here that the Pickford Film Center dream was born and she continued to give the community a sweet, cozy place to see so many amazing films over the 20-plus years she was open. I will always remember her as the tiny but mighty theater with such positive mojo that touched so many. I’m sad to see her go.”

Thankfully, the Pickford Film Center continues on…and now it’s time for Doctober.

Charles Wilkinson’s “Haida Modern,” one of the films in the PFC’s Doctober lineup, explores how British Columbia artist Robert Davidson brought Haida culture back to its people. Photo courtesy Pickford Film Center

Over the years, Doctober has grown to be the largest documentary festival on the west coast, and this year it’s going fully virtual! With a lineup of more than 25 feature documentaries and shorts, Doctober works with other organizations in Bellingham to bring important issues to the community, frequently with filmmaker and guest Q+As and discussions. 

This year there are shorts as well as features and some interesting opportunities to watch films for free, beginning October 9. There will even be concessions available for you to purchase and take home. Plus, you can still take part in the Doctober challenge. 

Program Director Michael Falter says Doctober’s roots go back 20 years to early PFC hits, like “Endurance,” which suggested a desire by the broader community to see more documentary film, which, until The Pickford Cinema (now The Limelight) on Cornwall Avenue opened, was rarely available on commercial screens. 

“Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” is a musical chronicle of Carter’s campaign, presidency and beyond, with glimpses of his friendship with Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers, and Bono. It’s featured in the PFC’s Doctober festival. Photo courtesy Pickford Film Center

“The continued emphasis on the documentary form locally coincided with the new golden age of documentary that was only just beginning with the advent of more democratic means of filmmaking,” he says.

“Subsequently, beginning in 2003, I travelled to Columbia, Missouri as a moderator and occasional programmer for True/False Film Festival. Discussions then evolved into taking the festival nationally, with Bellingham the first regional hub—and thus was born True/False West, with our first and only festival in 2006.” 

A spring festival was too much of a hindrance with other regional festivals, he says, so the marriage didn’t last—but from the ashes of that experience rose Doctober, in 2007. “Utilizing the entire month cleared up one frustration people had—they didn’t have enough time to see 30 films in one weekend. So the format of a month-long festival made perfect sense for Bellingham.” 

Falter says Doctober is not a festival built on submissions, which means it’s a curated festival. The programming generally begins with Sundance in January, SXSW in March, and then more in earnest with Falter’s attendance at Hot Docs in Toronto in April or May. 

This five months of lead time is generally about right for a healthy selection of films to remain with ‘festival’ availability, Falter says; that is, they’ve not yet obtained a theatrical distributor.

But, Falter says, all rules are made to be broken, so it’s an evolving world—and in the age of COVID, even more so. 

“White Riot” combines interviews with archival footage to recreate a documentary about anti-immigrant hysteria and National Front marches. Photo courtesy Pickford Film Center

“Many films were punted early to TV or streaming giants like Netflix, so the landscape for this year’s selection of films evolved monthly, if not weekly. We—myself, our assistant programmer Jane Julian, and staff at PFC, watch all films included in the festival. Reviews from other festivals are helpful to seek out films to evaluate.” 

How can people support and insure PFC’s continued existence? 

Falter says that while the big streamers take on many documentary titles, there are still hundreds, thousands of independently made films that seek to connect audiences with real stories. 

“There remains a need, a necessity, for independent screens to add the myriad voices of our world to our cultural conversations,” he says. “The small technical hurdles that we ask our audiences to make are a small price for keeping our screens—and independent films—available for generations to come.”

Here are some details of how Doctober will run this year:

Opening Night: Friday, October 9

This year, the PFC is moving to a more ‘theatrical’ model and making Doctober selections available to purchase and watch for weeks, instead of limited dates at specific times. This will allow for more accessibility and you can watch at your convenience.

Range of ticket prices, some free

Ticket prices will range from free and sliding scale admissions to $12, and member discounts will be available whenever possible. Half of all ticket proceeds go to support the Pickford (unless otherwise noted), and because of security and film licensing protections, most films will be hosted on their distributor’s sites and will require a different ticket (and possibly a different login) for each film.

Q+As will be live & pre-recorded

There will be workshops, live Q+As and discussions, and ideas of how to interact virtually this year. Purves is excited that many of the Doctober selections will come with pre-recorded Q+As and educational resources, so you can watch at your convenience.

For details, go to


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