Focused On Film In Seattle

Focused On Film In Seattle

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Film festivals are a great way to travel: either to travel to a city where a film festival is happening, or to “”travel”” through the wonders of the cinema.

Some film …

festivals have become so famous that the cities they are in have become destinations: Cannes, San Sebastian, Park City (Sundance), Telluride. Other festivals are in famous cities such as New York or Toronto. The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) is now in its 27th year (they skipped 13, so this one was dubbed the “”28th annual””) and provides a great way to get to know Seattle. Since the venues are spread out over downtown and Capitol Hill, I spent a great deal of time walking between theaters, finding restaurants along the way, and just admiring the views of Puget Sound, Elliott Bay, and the majestic Olympic Mountains.

As far as travel through film goes, I spent three hours in the far north with the Inuktituts of northern Canada (The Fast Runner), some time in a cab in Santiago, Chile (A Cab for Three), bopped along to musicals from Thailand and Japan (Mon-rak Transistor and The Happiness of the Katikuris, respectively), and learned a sobering lesson about AIDS orphans in Uganda (ABC Africa).

Film festivals also challenge your perceptions about other countries. For example, who knew that the usually bleak Finns could produce a comedy similar to a “”Kids in the Hall”” sketch (On the Road to Emmaus) or that Swedish actresses had a sense of humor (Gossip)? Or for instance, that a Japanese vampire/samurai/gangster/zombie movie (Versus) could have a higher mousse::actor ratio than a John Waters film? If you want to see the truest movie about gay lovers that I’ve ever seen, mainland China would not be first place I would think of, but Lan Yu floored me with its brutally honest portrayal. No Will or Grace here.

As with any festival, you start learning what’s good from other ticket holders as the festival goes on. Films get to be known by a sort of shorthand. For instance, there was the “”gay Rashomon”” movie from the U.K. (Lawless Heart) and the “”curling comedy”” about the Olympic sport of Curling (Men With Brooms); or, you overhear people talking about a film “”that movie freaked me out”” and piece it together with what day it is and who’s talking to come up with this: a piece of crap Japanese movie about evil screensavers chasing high school students and convincing parents to kill themselves in their washing machines (Uzumaki) coming soon to a late night theater near you. Not that I’m advocating this, but if you really insist on seeing this stupid, stupid movie, then take a great deal of pharmaceutical substances first. I don’t know about you, but computer screensavers just don’t seem all that threatening to me.

Of course, a film festival isn’t only about films that you can see. SIFF is also full of filmmaker’s forums, where you can go to learn about various aspects of the filmmaking industry, network with directors, screenwriters, or producers, and listen in on panel discussions about various states of the industry. Even if you don’t take the time to attend a forum, you can get a taste of how a film came together, simply by hanging out at most films after the closing credits and listening to the director or star of a film take questions from the audience. If this is your focus, however, be sure to pay special attention to the program guide and see which films advertise that a guest will accompany the screening.

Seattle doesn’t have the festival party scene that you read about with Sundance or Cannes, but there are some parties. The opening night and closing night galas are part of your ticket for those events and can be exceptional fun. We went to the closing night film/gala this year and had a great time. The film was Passionada, directed by the cofounder of the festival, Dan Ireland and the party was at the new Elliott Hotel (Hyatt) at 7th and Pine Streets. The working class world of a Portuguese community in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and the grand lobby of the Elliott didn’t exactly complement each other, but they were both worth it. And how can you pass up a party where the drinks are free, the food is good, and you get to bump into the stars of the film or sit next to the guy who inspired the story of The Big Lebowski?

Now about those films: I saw 56 films in 25 days. Because of the way films are scheduled against each other, it isn’t actually possible to see all the films in the festival. Most of the films were new, but the festival was also doing a retrospective of the last golden age in American cinema (the 70s — a local theater was also showing 70s films as a festival sidebar), a tribute to cinematographer James Wong Howe, and its regular programming of archival films.

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November 27, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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