I write this in the haze of the morning after another SIFF opening. My history with SIFF goes back decades, to 1982, when the only films I could afford to see at the festival were the free weekend screenings. A few years later I sprang for a Secret Festival pass, then only $10. By 1985 I was writing about the fest for this, that, and the other publications that routinely sprang up around town like mushrooms, as well as serving as a volunteer usher at the late, lamented Market Theater. I loved Harry Dean Kitty, the friendly puss that inhabited the cinema.
SIFF was pretty loose and informal back then. It felt slightly subversive to want to spend so much time indoors, at just the point when the weather was starting to get better (or supposed to be, anyway). And wasn’t there something, well, un-American about going to the movies when you should be watching professional sports? (And weren’t founders of SIFF — Canadians?).
These days, of course, SIFF is bigger business (though I still know people who have never been, I’m sure to the chagrin of SIFF board members). And for all the complaints about the fest (too big, too corporate), you won’t find a more diverse array of cinematic offerings, and not just in Seattle (where there’s a film festival for seemingly every taste). Stack SIFF up against most other film festivals, and the key differences are that SIFF isn’t all about making deals, or the false lure of “celebrity.” It really is about trying to choose the best of film that’s out there, and available.
With SIFF ending on June 13, you’ve still got almost two weeks to get out there and see something. Edward Norton is honored on June 4 at the Egyptian with a special tribute featuring a screening of his latest film, Leaves Of Grass and a Q&A with the man himself. Stephin Merritt is the focus of the documentary Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields (June 6 and 7, SIFF Cinema), and he’ll also provide live accompaniment to a screening of the 1916 silent version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on June 9 at the Paramount. The Wildest Dream is set to be another IMAX spectacular, about George Mallory, who attempted to summit Mt. Everest, and Conrad Anker, the climber who found Mallory’s body decades later; it plays June 11 and 12 at the Pacific Science Center. If you’re in the mood for something cheesier, there’s a Grease Sing-Along June 12, SIFF Cinema.
Documentaries are a favorite genre of mine, and there are plenty of goodies at this year’s SIFF. American Faust: From Condi To Neo-Condi is a pretty searing portrait of former National Security Advisor/Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, screening June 2, Neptune and 3, SIFF Cinema. The Tillman Story concerns the cover up of the death US Army Ranger Pat Tillman, and plays June 4 and 6, SIFF Cinema. William S. Burroughs: A Man Within looks at the legendary beat writer and plays June 10, Neptune and June 12, Harvard Exit. It’s the licentious West against Communist rule in Disco and Atomic War, which screens June 3, SIFF Cinema, and June 7, Egyptian.
Some SIFF films are already headed into the theaters this month, including Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Ondine, and I Am Love. Linas Phillips’ latest road flick, Bass Ackwards, plays at the Northwest Film Forum June 12-17, followed by The Oath, a look at Abu Jandal, former bodyguard to Osama Bin Laden. I especially recommend Holy Rollers, based on the true story of a group of Hasidic Jews who worked as drug smugglers, opening June 25 at the Varsity.
What I also enjoy about SIFF is the chance to catch up with folks I generally only see at the festival. It’s one reason why I enjoy the parties so much. With opening night at Benaroya, folks made a bit more effort to dress up, though the crowds still made it a struggle to battle your way to the food tables and drink stations. It was still nice being such swanky surroundings, and soon attendees were loosened up enough to start dancing. My drink of the evening was rum and coke. And here’s a tip for better drinks: tip generously and in advance of the server making your drink.
The closing night feature is Get Low, about a curmudgeonly Robert Duvall as a backwoods dweller who manages to rile up the local folks. Following the screening at Pacific Place, you can enjoy hors d’oeuvres and drinkies at the Pan Pacific Seattle Hotel. It’ll set you back $40, but you do get two free drinks. Choose the $80 option and you can guzzle all you want. The beverage sponsors are Barefoot wines, Widmer Hefeweizen, and Don Q Cristal Rum, so you’ve got plenty of choices. Like I said, big business.