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Originally published Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle's True Independent Film Festival is proud to showcase local talent

Seattle's True Independent Film Festival is the city's answer to SIFF, the biggest film fest in town. It runs June 5-14 at various venues in Seattle.

Special to The Seattle Times

STIFF stuff

Some of this year's STIFF movies were made available to reviewers for advance screenings. Among them:

"Bronx Paradise": A profanely blunt and occasionally shocking comedy-drama about small-time hoods in the racially-charged Bronx, with a knockout performance by unknown actor Wayne Gurman, essentially playing himself.

"The 8th Samurai": A whimsical tribute to Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai," from American Film Institute student Justin Ambrosino, in which a small-time actor dreams of stardom until his role is cut during production of Kurosawa's classic.

"Emerald City" and "Cranius Rectus": Two local shorts worthy of attention. The former is a nicely stylized rapper's lament, culminating in the narrator's untimely demise; the latter makes good use of CGI in a Terry Gilliam-inspired fantasy featuring a peculiar approach to brain surgery.

"Freeing Silvia Baraldini": A passionate documentary portrait of veteran radical activist Baraldini, who served a 24-year sentence for helping former Black Panther Assata Shakur escape from prison.

"Gangster Exchange": Cited by some STIFF staffers as one of the festival's finest, concerns a Japanese gangster's attempt to smuggle a toilet made of pure heroin into the U.S.

"Pissing Vocal Gold": Possibly the funniest short in the festival, a hilarious showcase for actor Rick Gomez as a self-loathing voice-over artist whose personal life is a train wreck.

Festival preview

Seattle's True Independent Film Festival

June 5-14 at multiple venues, including Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave., Seattle; The Jewel Box Theater at Rendezvous, 2322 Second Ave., Seattle; and Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., Seattle; price for individual events vary; all-access badges $50. For lineup and ticket info, go to www.trueindependent.org.

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Celebrating its fifth anniversary as a multi-venue celebration of alternative film, music and comedy, Seattle's True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) has survived another year as a counterprogramming alternative to the Seattle International Film Festival. You might think that scheduling against SIFF's final and busiest week would doom STIFF to obscurity, but with 130 films chosen from nearly 500 entries, the festival's devoted staff is dedicated to promoting films that fall outside the boundaries of the major festival circuit.

"A lot of these films have been rejected by other festivals," says STIFF programming director Brian Shelley, "but that doesn't mean they're bad. We have a lot of respect for bigger festivals like SIFF, but just because a film wasn't right for SIFF doesn't mean it's not worth seeing, and films chosen by SIFF may not be right for us. We have a different target audience."

That audience will appreciate STIFF's annual tongue-in-cheek "Stiffy" awards, given to films worthy of special recognition. This year's Stiffy's include "Worst Use of a Condom" (to the ice-climbing feature "Arnold and the Alps") and "Best Jewish Comedy," for local filmmaker Andy Spletzer's "Alistair MacLean: Y'did Nefesh."

In fact, STIFF has become Seattle's premier showcase for regional filmmakers (many of whom are, admittedly, still honing their skills). Including Spletzer's film, this year's lineup includes 22 shorts and 13 features, all locally produced. According to Shelley, highlights include Matthew Hickney's "Walking to the Cage," which offers an insider's look at rigorous training for mixed martial arts competition; and "Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia," an intimate father-daughter portrait of mental illness by local physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston.

As some of the film titles suggest (see sidebar), STIFF can be rude, crude, violent and daring — it's not for prudes or anyone looking for "safe" entertainment — but there's something for every taste, and there's hidden gold (and even a few recognizable actors) among these big-festival castoffs.

Combined with "Stiff Licks" concerts and stand-up comedy at Neumo's and the Jewel Box, the STIFF Film Challenge (in which filmmaking teams compete to create the best film in a two-week period), a STIFF pub crawl and an awards ceremony at the Jewel Box on June 13, STIFF has established itself as a bona-fide presence. For its local flavor alone, it's a festival to savor.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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