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Originally published Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 5:41 AM

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Seattle's True Independent Film Festival begins

Seattle's True Independent Film Festival, or STIFF, gets under way May 4, 2012. Many local, independent pictures are among the 32 features and 100 shorts that will unspool at four venues.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Film festival preview

Seattle's True Independent Film Festival

May 4-12, several venues including The Grand Illusion, Varsity Theatre, Wing-It Productions and Central Cinema, Seattle; $8 individual tickets, $50 all-access badges (206-650-7470 or trueindependent.org).
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For years, Seattle's True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) has run concurrently with Seattle's International Film Festival (SIFF) in a cheeky attempt to draw attention to more independent, underground and zero-budget films.

But this year on its eighth anniversary, STIFF will step out of SIFF's shadow with a festival that runs from May 4 to 12 at various theaters in the University District.

STIFF program director Will Chase said it's time for STIFF to distance itself from SIFF, because operating simultaneously invites unwanted comparisons.

"It's like comparing apples and oranges," he said. STIFF's emphasis is on local, independent movies — though not to the exclusion of international films. It offers a full slate of 32 features and 100 shorts.

As STIFF has increasingly aligned with the Seattle film scene, the change of dates became a pragmatic issue.

"It was purely for selfish reasons," joked Chase. "The local community wants to be involved in both events and I want to attend some of [SIFF's] events."

On May 4, STIFF kicks off with a screening of 10 local shorts at the Grand Illusion, where many filmmakers and cast members are expected to attend. Among them are "Summer Home," a heartbreaking film about a homeless couple after a crisis, and "Belltown 98121," a short portrait of a local artist who sold work at Pike Place Market for 12 years. An opening-night party at the University Heights Center will follow the first screening.

Other highlights of the festival include "Caretaker," an Australian film featuring the alliance between a vampire and a group of humans in a country mansion and "East of Nowhere," a raw mumblecore film about two best friends in the Midwest.

The documentary "Changing Lives," which premieres May 9, tells the story of Seattle doctors and nurses who partner with a hospital in Ethiopia. Following the film is an after-party at Kokeb Restaurant, a fundraiser for Seattle Anesthesia Outreach's continued work in Ethiopia.

Organizers look for intimate films with a strong sense of Seattle's independent film community to set STIFF apart from other festivals in town.

"We want to change the reputation of [the quality of] independent films," said Chase. "We want [STIFF] to grow and have a long history, but we aren't looking to have blockbusters."

After eight years and a projected attendance of 3,500 people at the upcoming festival, STIFF is solidifying its presence at home, in Seattle.

"People here speak their minds; they're not sheep," said Chase, citing the 1999 WTO protests as an example of local spirit. "It's perfect fermentation for the independent film community."

Sandi Halimuddin: 206-464-3765 or shalimuddin@seattletimes.com.

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