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Originally published May 14, 2011 at 7:01 PM | Page modified May 18, 2011 at 10:18 PM

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How to SIFF: An insider's guide to the festival

FAQ for patrons of Seattle International Film Festival, 2011. It includes information on tickets, parking and the always-enigmatic Secret Festival.

Seattle Times movie critic

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Got questions? Here's a SIFF FAQ. Other answers can be found on www.siff.net.

Where do I find a printed SIFF guide?

SIFF's glossy guide, complete with a full schedule handy for carrying around and marking up, can be picked up at any festival venue or at participating Starbucks outlets.

What's the ticket protocol?

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 Secret Festival passes, Student/Senior Reel Deal discounts, Teen Tix (day of show only) and gift certificates, which need to be transacted in person at the box office. Telephone and online orders are subject to a $1.25 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, $180), both of which offer savings over the usual $11 per-screening price. You'll need to choose shows in advance for these packages. What if the movie I want is sold out?

Some popular titles will sell out their ticket allotment in advance — but that doesn't mean you can't get in. Generally at least a handful of tickets become available 10 minutes before the movie; go and wait in the standby line outside the venue (earlier is better) and you might luck out. Note that standby tickets are full price and cash-only.

Where to park?

Take the bus — please. Festival venues are served by numerous bus lines, helpfully listed on the venue pages at www.siff.net.

If you must drive, you'll pay dearly for the privilege — in downtown Seattle anyway. The best deal I know, if you want to park all day, is the Harvard Garage at the corner of Harvard and Pine, across from the Egyptian, which costs $7 for the day and/or evening, seven days a week. You can walk to the Harvard Exit and Pacific Place from here, if you don't mind a bit of a hike (approximately eight blocks and 10 blocks, respectively). Note that the lot is not open to the public until noon Monday-Friday.

Pacific Place, at Sixth Avenue and Pine Street downtown, is $6 in the evening (entering after 5 p.m.) for four hours or fewer but is much pricier in the daytime or if you stay more than four hours. The Mercer Garage on Queen Anne is convenient for SIFF Cinema — just across the street, with a covered walkway — but prices vary, from $9 to $15 for up to 10 hours.

Better deals are available out of town: At Kirkland Performance Center (hosting SIFF June 2-12), free parking is available for up to four hours at the Kirkland Library's Municipal Garage, about half a block west of the theater. The Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center (a new venue this year; May 20-26) has a free 150-spot parking lot; if it's full, a city lot on the next block offers free parking for the first two hours. At the Everett Performing Arts Center (May 26-June 2), there's no free lot parking but street parking is generally plentiful, as is true for West Seattle's Admiral Theater (open for the full run of SIFF this year, May 20-June 12).

How early do I need to get in line?

Depends on whether you have an attachment to a certain seat. Ticket holders are guaranteed a seat up to 10 minutes before the screening, so there's no need to be early if you don't care where you sit. Passholders, however, should plan on being early; seats are not guaranteed (except for platinum or gala passes) but virtually always available if you're in line 30 minutes before the film.

Can I bring in a sandwich?

The official rule from SIFF is no outside food in the venues. If you simply must, be discreet. Or eat while waiting in line.

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 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

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