OC Film Alum’s Salmon Documentary Wins First at an Olympia Arts Festival

Andrew Wright grew up fishing for salmon with his grandfather in Sinclair Inlet, in Kitsap County. He remembers watching the water for hours as a teenager without a single bite on the line. Frustrated, he’d blame the Suquamish Tribe’s gillnets that could scoop up totes of fish at a time.

Kings of Gorst Creek movie poster

A few years later, after returning home from university, Andrew learned the truth about those gillnets—the Suquamish Tribe used them to catch fish that they had raised for that purpose, so that their anglers could continue to do their work amidst declining salmon numbers. 

“Once I learned the story of Gorst Creek, I knew that it needed to be shared with the community,” Andrew said. “Within six months, I was enrolled in film classes at OC.”

While in the OC Film School’s bachelor’s program, Andrew produced a documentary called Kings of Gorst Creek as his thesis project. In May, it won best short film at The Center Salon, an arts festival in Olympia hosted by the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. It won in a contest between 40 films, some of which were submitted from outside the U.S.

The film traces the path of the hatchery salmon raised by the tribe, from being released as smolt into Sinclair Inlet in the summer, then heading to the Pacific Ocean where they remain for three years before returning to the inlet as the adult salmon at the center of the struggle between gillnet and recreational fishers. The salmon are a primary income source for gillnet fishers, who sell to local restaurants and, in some cases, export to countries such as Japan.

Making the film was an ambitious undertaking for Andrew, as he was a complete novice with neither interviewing experience nor access to the tribal gillnet fishers he would need to interview. He sent a handwritten letter to the tribe explaining his vision for the project, but that strategy stalled for almost a year. 

Meanwhile, he was learning how to use cameras and audio equipment at OC. During his studies, Marq Evans, a documentary filmmaker, joined the film staff at OC, and became an adviser on Andrew’s project. Marq suggested that Andrew send the tribe a sizzle reel, a short video meant to preview the documentary. The sizzle reel, along with a pitch deck, worked—within a couple of months, the tribe’s lawyers approved the project and granted Andrew permission to film and interview the gillnet fishers.

With interviews lined up, $5,000 raised through a Kickstarter campaign, and help from a crew of other OC film students, Andrew was off and running. He recalls the surreal feeling of filming gillnet fishers on their boats. 

“It was something I had always dreamt of while talking to friends and family about this story,” he says. “You really feel like a documentary filmmaker when you’re out there bobbing on the boat, nets getting pulled in with fish.”

During Andrew’s time at OC, he got to try out being a filmmaker in a variety of other settings as well. For one class, he created a promotional music video for the OC Film School with rapper and fellow student Lil’ Man Da Energy Ball. It now has almost six thousand views on YouTube. 

Andrew graduated from OC in June of 2022, primed for a career in film. He is currently working for local directors as a video editor, pulling selects, cutting short videos, and continuing to sharpen his skills. At the same time, he’s planning to produce more of his own documentaries about human conflict around salmon. He and his fiancé, an environmental scientist, have a shared motto: “Salmon is never on our plates, but always on our minds.”

Visit our website to find out more about the OC Film School.

Blog Post by Jen Monnier