The 25-day SIFF delivered the sublime, the delightful and the annoying
The projectors are still, the lobbies are quiet, and the popcorn no longer flows: Yes, the Seattle International Film Festival has come...
Seattle Times movie critic
The projectors are still, the lobbies are quiet, and the popcorn no longer flows: Yes, the Seattle International Film Festival has come to an end. Screening at six primary venues in Seattle and Bellevue, this year's edition included 405 films: 211 narrative features, 61 feature-length documentaries, 12 archival films, four "secret festival" offerings and 117 short films. And, as always, it brought a variety of experiences: some sublime, some delightful, and a few ... well, we'll get to that.
If you thought the festival overall seemed just a little more crowded than last year's, you'd be right: SIFF artistic director Carl Spence and managing director Deborah Person confirmed late last week that festival revenues were up approximately 5 percent. Though attendance totals weren't yet tallied, Spence and Person noted that ticket prices were not raised since last year, so the increase represents additional ticket buyers. Passholder numbers were similar to last year's, with a slight increase in the premium Platinum Pass category.
This year's festival was more spread out than previous editions, with theaters in Queen Anne, downtown, Capitol Hill, the University District and Bellevue. The Eastside offerings were greatly expanded, with 18 days of programming at the Lincoln Square Cinemas (on, as it turned out, the festival's largest screen). Person described the Bellevue expansion as going "phenomenally well," with a number of sellout films.
Spence noted that the Eastside audiences were primarily people who have not attended SIFF before. "We've definitely expanded our reach," he said, "not just spreading the audience around."
And the new and very blue SIFF Cinema at McCaw Hall made a fine showing in its festival debut. (More ladies' room stalls than the Egyptian! Bravo!) As the festival's year-round cinema, it will soon host an ambitious summer calendar of films, beginning with a film-noir festival July 6-12. (See www.seattlefilm.org for details.)
After the 2006 festival's lack of an actor/filmmaker tribute, the appearance of Sir Anthony Hopkins this year was a welcome sight. On the stage of the Egyptian to receive SIFF's Lifetime Achievement Award, Hopkins was a genial and witty interviewee, sharing his spot-on impressions of Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, David Lynch (who, Hopkins said, would request additional takes on "The Elephant Man" with a vague "Let's do it again; I don't know why"), James Ivory, Ismail Merchant, John Gielgud and Sir Laurence Olivier. He explained succinctly his similar approach to playing Hannibal Lecter ("The Silence of the Lambs") and impeccably proper butler James Stevens ("The Remains of the Day"): "Just stand still and move about quietly."
Hopkins also hosted a friendly Q & A following the screening of "Slipstream," the rather mystifying experimental film that he wrote and directed. (Refreshingly, Hopkins, too, seemed mystified by the film, though very happy with it.) Other prominent guests at the festival included actor-director Steve Buscemi (for "Interview"), actor Adam Goldberg ("2 Days in Paris"), musician Lisa Gerrard (subject of the documentary "Sanctuary: Lisa Gerrard") and many filmmakers.
On screen, many of my favorite films were documentaries — a category in which SIFF has really shone in recent years. Some of the sparklers:
• "For the Bible Tells Me So," Daniel Karslake's thoughtful and passionate examination of the religious conservative view of homosexuality (illustrated by the very personal stories of five families).
• "Girls Rock!" Arne Johnson and Shane King's irrepressible cranked-up-to-11 story of girl power.
• "Made in China," local filmmaker John Helde's touching tribute to his father. • "King of Kong," Seth Gordon's wildly entertaining tale of arcade-game rivalry, starring our own local hero, Redmond's Steve Wiebe.
What else did I love? Among the features:
• Patrice Leconte's smart, funny tale of not-quite-friendship, "My Best Friend," screening to a packed-to-the-rafters and very happy audience at the Neptune.
• "The Bubble," from Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox, a haunting tale of love and loss in troubled Tel Aviv.
• "La Vie en Rose," Olivier Dahan's gloriously over-the-top tribute to Edith Piaf (which I saw at a press screening, but heard that it received one of the festival's few standing ovations at its regular showing).
• "Once," John Conley's entrancing Irish mini-musical.
• Jeffrey Blitz's oddball coming-of-age charmer, "Rocket Science."
• Local filmmaker John Jeffcoat's winning Seattle-to-India comedy, "Outsourced."
And "The Life of Reilly," Charles Nelson Reilly's screaming funny and yet tender monologue about his eventful life ("Eugene O'Neill wouldn't have gone near this family!" he said of his parents, and he wasn't kidding), screened with a special poignancy: Reilly died, at 76, on May 25, just as the festival began.
On the negative side, this year brought an alarming scourge to SIFF audiences: an epidemic of texting during films. Despite hearing rumors, I didn't believe festivalgoers would do this — until I sat right behind somebody busily keeping up with friends (or enemies) during one of the festival's most moving dramas. The gentleman in question will never know how close he came to having a Diet Coke "accidentally" spilled on him.
Other problems were the usual and perhaps inevitable: occasional technical glitches, long lines, and yes, by the end, a sense of too many films. (Ask any weary member of the press corps who covers this event, and who by this time has seen a few too many mediocre movies among the gold.) SIFF staffers, over the years, have often mentioned trimming the festival a bit, but it never seems to happen; here's a vote for some moderate tightening.
But SIFF's vastness is both its weakness and its strength. There's no way you can see all or even most (or even half) of the films in this festival, and ultimately that's sort of freeing — you can get happily lost in this festival's vastness, knowing you're getting only a taste. You end SIFF dreaming of those wonderful, out-of-reach films that you missed; the ones that got away. Maybe next year.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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