Northwest Film Forum (then WigglyWorld Studios) began when Jamie Hook and Deb Girdwood had the idea to turn a hefty King County Arts Commission Grant into a film-arts organization. Knowing next-to-nothing about non-profits and bylaws, they were put in touch with Bob Cumbow, an attorney who volunteered his time to help them form the structure of the organization Having no budget for legal fees, how far would they have gotten without his pro-bono support?
Eleven years later, Bob remains the longest serving volunteer in the organization, and still generously offers his time to NWFF and Seattle filmmakers. Bob is also a respected film scholar, having written on everything John Carpenter to Sergio Leone- and introduced numerous screenings.
Bob has supported many other arts organizations, and been a critical part of Washington Lawyers for the Arts. So much so, that WLA has created a new award in his honor- the Robert C. Cumbow Brio Award. On Monday, Bob became the first recipient of the Brio award at a ceremony at NWFF. I read some lovely letters from NWFF’s co-founders, an and we screened a 35mm print of one of Bob’s favorite films, RIDE LONESOME.
Congratulations to Bob. There is no one more kind and deserving.
We met with the lawyer we’d been referred to by WA Lawyers for the Arts, Bob Cumbow, before work in his favorite diner for breakfast. Over poached eggs, bacon, and coffee Bob reviewed our application for 501(c)3 nonprofit status, our bylaws, and articles of incorporation. Bob’s legal expertise was critical in establishing WigglyWorld–a youthful and idealistic enterprise. There were many such breakfast meetings; Bob invested his time generously. He helped us to draft and develop our nonprofit’s legal structure, one which could expand and mature into the future. And it worked beautifully as planned. That the Northwest Film Forum has always functioned with member participation, a healthy board, and clear and visionary principals was in no small part due to Bob’s early work and legal grooming. Every breakfast would end in talk of movies–Bob was not merely a legal volunteer for “the arts”, he was a critical part of our founding team.
Co-founder Northwest Film Forum
Bob Cumbow was with WigglyWorld from the start. When Deb and I decided to buy the Grand Illusion, Bob was the first and best supporter. It was a thrill to hear him say, “your plan looks good,” and to compliment us on how we’d structured the bylaws. At the time, I felt like such a profound trixster, a reckless dreamer foisting my ideas onto an unsuspecting public. Bob was the first one to really take those ideas seriously, and that made a huge difference.
The most enduring memory I have of Mr. Cumbow, however, is not of his incredibly supportive role as a mentor to the arts, but rather something different. It was December 20th, 1996, and Deb and I had about a fortnight to go before we were to pay out some $40,000 for the Grand Illusion. I think we had about $3500 in the bank. We were downtown, having just met with some corporate goon or other, and we bumped into Bob in th one of the more vulgar atria downtown. He was, as he never isn’t, jovial. “How you doing?” he said, signing the greeting with a smile. I immediately launched into a monologue abut how much money we needed, how out of our league we were, what a disaster was looming, and did Bob have any suggestions for folks who might be able to make a donation, I could go meet them as early as that afternoon,, etc. etc. Bob looked at me and frowned. “It’s Christmas, guys,” he said. “You should relax. There’s more to life than art, you know.”
I have remembered those words ever since Indeed, there is. And, truly, when you think of what it is that we honor in Bob here today, it is that which is more than art, that which Bob so excels at bringing into the room. Thank you, sir! And Merry Christmas!!!
Co-President, The Film Company
Co-founder Northwest Film Forum