UW News

October 18, 2016

Documentary, archive to remember the ‘Seattle Freeway Revolt’

UW News

A tree wraps its branches around the concrete pillars of one of the ramps that weren’t built due to the freeway revolt. Minda Martin of UW Bothell is directing a documentary about the protest.

A tree wraps its branches around the concrete pillars of one of the ramps not built due to the freeway revolt. Minda Martin of UW Bothell is directing a documentary film about the protest.Minda Martin

Minda Martin had not lived in Seattle long before, on a walking tour, she noticed the famously truncated “ramps to nowhere” in the Washington Park Arboretum. A filmmaker and faculty member at UW Bothell, she was fascinated — and inspired.

“I was stunned by these giant freeway stumps covered in ivy along land that didn’t seem to belong to anyone,” said Martin, who moved to Seattle in 2013. “But it was clearly important to a large variety of folks who spent time here.

“While photographing the stumps, I learned about the history of the freeway revolt that stopped partially and fully funded freeways such as the R.H. Thompson Expressway almost 50 years ago and the 20 freeways that had been drawn on maps, but never completed. The history and the site made me want to make a film.”

From that inspiration comes “Seattle’s Freeway Revolt: A Living Legacy of Civic Activism,” a documentary film and multimedia web archive about the successful late 1960s and early 1970s grassroots movement opposing those freeways in Seattle, which Martin is creating with colleagues Anna Rudd and Priscilla Arsove.

Minda Martin, UW Bothell faculty member doing film on Seattle Freeway Revolt

Minda Martin

Martin is an associate professor in UW Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences who teaches classes titled Gender in Film, World Cinema, the Essay Film, the City as Character and Documentary Production. She also makes experimental documentary films. “My work is intended to inspire the viewer to look beyond dominant histories and call for more multivocal approaches to history,” she writes on her web page.

Martin soon met members of Re-Collective, a group that calls itself “architects, designers, thinkers and tinkerers working in the urban landscape of Seattle,” whose members in 2014 turned the truncated ramp into a public art installation called the Gate to Nowhere.

Associations with Re-Collective led her to meet members of the group Activists Remembered, Celebrated and Honored. She also met Arsove, the daughter of UW math professor Maynard Arsove — an important figure in the freeway revolt and founder of the activist group Citizens Against RH Thompson — as well as Rudd, his neighbor and a fellow activist.  Rudd and Arsove coordinated interviews with activists of the era and became producers of the film and archive project.

The project, Martin said, is a video documentary and multimedia web archive that preserves the history of the movement through short video interviews with former activists, politicians and others involved at the time as well as images, information on the planned freeways and even audio recordings of citizen testimony against the development.

Martin’s “multivocal” approach to history seems to fit the documentary well; the trailer for the documentary has audio clips of activists remembering the movement.

“There was this big map on the wall, and it was the Seattle transportation plan, and I started looking at it and I thought, this has got to be a joke — it can’t be serious,” one person is heard recalling. “It had this dense network of freeways and bridges. At least 15 freeways within Seattle.”

The project is being supported with funding from the Simpson Center for the Humanities. Martin said the documentary will be complete in January 2017 and the archive website in September.


For more information, contact Martin at 452-352-3412 or mindam@uw.edu