In the course of a personal email exchange earlier this year about the 2021 Pickford Film Center’s Doctober Series, Michael Falter, longtime program director of PFC wrote, “Moving on from PFC.”

Once I got over my surprise, I verified what I feared to be true.

I’ve only known Michael as the PFC Program Director, a position he’s held since 2002. In 2014, Michael moved to Florence, Oregon, where he and his wife Susan opened City Lights Cinemas, a four-screen movie theater. Michael continued programming remotely for PFC. When he announced he would be leaving his position at PFC, a nationwide search began.

Susie Purves, executive director of PFC, confirmed in a recent press release that Melissa Tamminga will take over the position of program director as of October 1, 2021.

Admittedly, Michael will be a hard act to follow—but Melissa, no stranger to Whatcom County or PFC, is up to the task.

Melissa grew up in Whatcom County and attended college in Iowa, where she graduated with an English degree, because, as Melissa says, “Film classes weren’t a thing.”

In 2006, she started teaching English, Writing and Literature at Whatcom Community College. “In fact,” she says, “Michael Falter and I were in the same new employee orientation group.”  Always a movie lover, she integrated various films into her class syllabus.

Melissa Tamminga is the new programming director for Pickford Film Center. Photo courtesy Pickford Film Center

Melissa has regularly published film reviews and articles, which can be found in Seattle Screen Scene, a website that features films playing in the Seattle area. She has also contributed to Think Christian, Muriel Awards and her own blog, A Journal of Film. She has appeared as a guest and contributor on Filmspotting, The Slash/Filmcast; The Frances Farmer Show; and David Chen YouTube.

Michael has had mixed feelings about leaving the Pickford. “Some would probably say [it’s] about time,” he jokes. Michael has worked remotely for PFC since opening City Lights seven years ago. “There’s a great team in place, but many of them don’t know me.”

Michael admits the job of program director for an arthouse theater is unique, and only a small number of people do this kind of work around the country. Because Melissa cares deeply about film culture and the community, he knew she would be perfect, having worked with her in 2016 when she curated a portion of PFC’s “West of What?” film festival.

“Plus, she’s a wonderful writer and film lover,” he adds. Michael called Melissa and suggested she apply for the open position.

Michael Falter is leaving PFC after nearly two decades as its programming director and is thrilled that Melissa was tapped for the position. Photo credit: Stacee Sledge

Melissa’s reaction to Michael’s encouragement? ”It took some thought,” she says. “I hadn’t considered changing careers.”

Michael is thrilled that Melissa was tapped for the position. He anticipates she will skillfully make the position her own, working well with the staff and the community. Michael has committed to being available to Melissa as she dives into the responsibilities of program director.

Melissa is planning to do it all.  She’ll take a step back from a full-time teaching load, leading only one class this quarter, as she steps up into her new role. Melissa intends to maintain the beloved programming that PFC is known for, including Doctober, the Children’s Film Festival, Treaty Day Film Festival, and Cinema East to name a few, while actively reaching out to new audiences by showing films made by historically underrepresented filmmakers from additional diverse communities.

Her hope is to “give the PFC audiences what they want, what’s already known, and challenge them with what’s new.” Melissa will also focus attention on expanding outreach to the community, welcoming those who have not previously been PFC audiences.

The proverbial “changing of the guard” is on October 1, the first day of Doctober, 2021 . Susie is confident that Melissa will succeed at PFC, “because she’s smart, she knows film, she’s from here, she knows the landscape of Whatcom County, and she has a really good sense of the community.”

One newly inspired program expected soon will be after-film discussions, keeping with Melissa’s love for teaching and sharing information.

As for Michael, with future Doctober programming off his plate, he anticipates more free time during the months of July and August, giving him ample opportunity to focus on home projects. He’ll continue to book films for a theater in Arizona. And, he hints, “like 90% of the population,” he may start a podcast where he hopes to talk to documentary filmmakers about their process of making particular films.

As Michael Falter’s tenure fades into the sunset, he expects PFC will maintain a central role in supporting the downtown district as it re-emerges from the past two years. He hopes for a return of a third and maybe fourth screen for the theater. Michael admits he will miss his PFC family, the members, the patrons, his co-workers, the projectionists, and many of the filmmakers and distributors he worked over the years. He promises he is only a phone call away.

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