The 2012 Tacoma Film Festival’s been up and running for three days now, but the first film I got to see was “Out on a Limb” by Northwest director Kevin Heutink. Screened Saturday morning in the cool grayness of Tacoma Art Museum’s lecture room, it wasn’t exactly the epitome of funky festival fun – an audience of ten, a 10-minute delay glitch and a room where the screen light is reflected off the shiny hard floor. Yet the film was a great example of what makes TFF shine: fascinating local stories told skillfully.
Heutink’s story of David Csaky, Seattle’s famous “Squirrelman” who hit national news when he was evicted from the treehouse he’d built for himself on east Lake Union a few years ago, raises more than the obvious issues of how we deal with our homeless population and how they cope with their own situations. Flipping between interviews with reluctantly-impressed neighbors, gawking tourists, sympathetic journalists and Csaky himself, Heutink probes into just why a treehouse touches us so deeply as humans. From quotes (treehouse guru Pete Nelson’s psychoanalysis of trees as prehistoric security) to unabashedly admiring shots of the house itself to the down-home rawness of the folksy guitar score, Heutink connects the dots between civilization and the human need for nature.
Is it biased? You bet. Though Csaky was indeed squatting on City Light land and building an illegal structure, the only negative comments you hear are brief voiceovers from KIRO TV and a second-hand description from P-I columnist Mike Lewis. Everyone else admires Csaky, and he makes a very good (if off-beat) case for himself: a well-groomed, articulate man who cares for animals and works hard despite no ID, home or family. Heutink does well to hand this guy’s own story over to him.
And while the plot’s a bit hard to follow (switching between Csaky’s urban past and rural present without any explanation, plus cameos of homeless Seattlites and Nelson’s own treehouse legal problems) the film does a great job in capturing that live-and-let-live attitude that most Northwesterners have – wherever they happen to live.
“Out on a Limb” also screens at 2 p.m. Monday Oct. 8 at the Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma. The Tacoma Film Festival continues at various city venues until Thursday. 253-593-4474, tacomafilmfestival.com