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Originally published Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Surviving the film festival | An assortment of SIFF tips ...

Where to park? Take the bus — please. Festival venues are served by numerous bus lines; call Metro at 206-553-3000 or see http://transit...

Seattle Times movie critic

Where to park?

Take the bus — please. Festival venues are served by numerous bus lines; call Metro at 206-553-3000 or see http://transit.metrokc.gov for information.

If you must drive, try the Harvard Garage at the corner of Harvard and Pine. It's across the street from the Egyptian, a pleasant walk from the Harvard Exit, and a slightly longer walk to Pacific Place. Prices there are a bargain: a flat rate of $4 for the day, seven days a week. (Note that the lot is not open to the public until noon Monday-Thursday.)

Pacific Place, at Sixth Avenue and Pine Street downtown, has comparable rates in the evening only ($4 if you enter after 5 p.m.), but is pricier in the daytime or if you stay more than four hours.

The handiest SIFF parking on Queen Anne is the Mercer Garage (across the street from SIFF Cinema and a short walk to the Uptown), but be aware that its prices vary widely depending on demand; ranging anywhere from $5 to $15 for the day.

Tickets, anyone?

SIFF's main box office is open on the second level of Pacific Place, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Sundays and Memorial Day. You can also buy tickets and passes by phone at 206-324-9996 or online — usually the quickest way to get tickets — at www.siff.net. Exceptions are the Student/Senior Reel Deal discounts and Secret Festival passes, which need to be transacted in person, at either box office. Telephone and online orders are subject to a $1 handling charge per ticket, capped at $5; no handling charge for in-person orders.

You can pick up Will Call tickets or buy individual tickets at any SIFF theater (it doesn't have to be the theater in which your film will show). Day-of-show tickets can be purchased online or by phone up to 30 minutes before showtime, as well as at any SIFF venue; check www.siff.net to see if a screening has tickets available.

A bargain option is a Cinematic Six-Pack (six admissions, $57) or a Film Buff 20-Pack (20 admissions, $160), both of which offer savings over the usual $11 per-screening price. You'll need to choose shows in advance for these packages; see www.siff.net for details.

What's my line?

At the theater, there will be three lines, sometimes in a confusing tangle: one for passholders, one for ticket holders and one for rush-ticket hopefuls. If you have neither a pass nor a ticket, stand in the rush ticket line. Nearly all SIFF screenings last year had last-minute rush tickets available five to 10 minutes before the screening (cash only). Get in line early; often only a few rush tickets are available.

Is it true that you have to wait in line forever?

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Not if you have a ticket. Ticket holders are guaranteed a seat up to 10 minutes before the screening. Those at the front of the line will get the best seats, but everyone gets in. (Things are slightly different for passholders, who should plan on arriving early: Seats are not guaranteed, though virtually always available if you're in line 30 minutes before the film.)

Can I bring in a sandwich?

Popcorn is divine, of course, but there's always the siren call of something a little more substantial: Nearly every SIFF venue has a big, enticing supermarket/deli or takeout joint just steps away. However, the official rule from SIFF is no outside food in the venues. (If you simply must, be discreet.)

What's the Secret Festival?

SIFF newcomers are probably most mystified by the Secret Festival, which veteran festgoers tend to shroud in a maddeningly superior "I'd love to tell you about it, but I can't" attitude.

Here's the deal: Movies at the Secret Fest (every SIFF Sunday at 11 a.m., Egyptian) come from a variety of sources: perhaps an early showing of something up-and-coming, a film that's tied up in litigation and can't be shown otherwise, a film that's making its "official" premiere someplace else, or a lost classic. You might be overwhelmed, you might be underwhelmed.

In any case, you have to buy a Secret Festival pass from the SIFF box office ($53 for the four movies; no individual tickets), and sign an Oath of Silence, meaning that you won't tell anyone what you've seen. Hence the maddening vagueness. SIFF is actually quite serious about enforcing it (understandably, as the availability of the movies depends on keeping them a secret), so don't go telling.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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