SIFF HAPPENED: Closing Thoughts on the 41st Annual Seattle International Film Festival

22 days of press screenings.  25 days of festival proper.  In those 5 1/2 weeks, I saw 48 films, including 25 press screenings, 5 archival films, 3 world premiers, and 7 North American premiers; worked 4 days out of the week at the Uptown and one day at the Harvard Exit (except on the second Sunday of festival, which I took off to see The Apu Trilogy); and saw five films on two occasions — on one occasion, six.  So, as both employee and patron, here are my final thoughts on the 41st Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

As an Employee

What our break room looked like at the beginning of festival...

What our break room looked like at the beginning of festival…

The start of festival.  When a friendly army of venue managers, house coordinators, and volunteers invade the Uptown Theater, and year-round staff slink behind the counter, firing up an overworked popcorn machine to keep up with the demand of bigger bags  — sprung on us just as festival began (the appearance of a popcorn warmer at the end of Week 2 helped).  Luckily, 99.9% of the customers are awesome.  On the last day of festival, I actually heard someone thank the box office staff.  At our final staff party, the managing director told us that operations staff (concessions, box office, events, etc) got positive feedback from everyone.  As for that .1% who complain about parking passes not being handed out when the shared lot is in the hands of its owners, or yell at volunteers over some real or imagined issue (REALLY?!!), or who text or talk during movies, there’s this great thing called Netflix, where you can stream movies at home and not bother those of us who wish to enjoy the communal experience of watching movies in the dark without your complaining or rudeness.

I could’ve worked press screenings again this year, the hardest component of which is waking up early, but I wanted a change, and I wanted to work at the Harvard Exit.  I got both wishes filled, with the added joy of seeing everyone in concessions jell by the second week into a fine-oiled machine, even when the popcorn machine — or signage — was doing its best to thwart us.  And I have to say, though I’ve enjoyed all the staff members I’ve worked with, this year’s crew was special.

..and at the end of festival.

..and at the end of festival.

As a Patron

I saw more movies this year than any other year — by a lot!  Watching so many press screenings before the festival officially began helped: 11 before opening night.

Some notable occurrences:

1. I missed seeing Liza, the Fox-Fairy during press screenings (it was a last-minute substitution for a noon film on Opening Night — and then the 2 pm screening of The Hallow was delayed 40 minutes), during festival (it went on standby), and during Best of Fest (I was working).  No other film did I miss seeing so many times.

2. During the Opening Night Gala, I spent a little too much time dancing near the speakers, the result being that my right ear felt blocked from Thursday night through Sunday, when watching Mad Max: Fury Road at the IMAX Theater removed the rest of the blockage (no joke!).

3. Besides Mad Max: Fury Road, I saw one other non-festival movie during SIFF.  On the first Saturday of the festival, I went from my shift at the Uptown to the Grand Illusion to see a restored copy of The Epic of Everest, a silent documentary with amazing visuals which filmed an unsuccessful attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.  Because I woke early that day, I zoned out a bit while watching the film.

4. The only time I tried to watch a movie that ended right as my shift began was the three-hour The Golden Era, so of course, that showing was delayed by 30 minutes, due to a theater swap that still makes little sense to me.  I should’ve left early, but I stayed till the end.

5. The day I saw six movies, I was fine, but when I saw five movies on the following Thursday (2 press screenings, 3 films), I felt chills during the third movie (The Birth of Sake), and yet stayed for two more.  While I felt a little better after eating, I canceled the shows I was planning to see after work on Friday and the one I was planning on seeing before work on Saturday.

6. I almost passed out during the press screening for Eisenstein in Guanajuato, which proves that my weak constitution can’t handle any sort of lengthy penetration in a film — by any object.

My Picks for Best of Fest

Though I saw some really good films during the festival, and even some great ones, none blew me away, as The Spectacular Now and Wolf Children did two years ago, unless I include the archival Apu Trilogy, which impacted me as greatly (but in a different way) as last year’s The Pawnbroker.  Though I saw it after festival, The Red Shoes also impressed, and there were a smattering of gems in the mix that ended up being better than they had to be, but there were no masterpieces waiting to be discovered, except for the ones I didn’t see.

Best Archival: The Apu Trilogy.  Technically three films, but really, how can I split them apart?  The World of Apu was my favorite by a hair, but I could as easily have picked Song of the Little Road or The Unvanquished.  Satyajit Ray may be my new favorite director.

Best Documentary: The Great Alone.  A documentary that is as much about the Iditarod as Hoop Dreams is about basketball.

Best Animated Film: When Marnie Was There.  Not the best Ghibli film, nor even the best by this director (I preferred The Secret Life of Arrietty), but still good.

Best Narrative Film: Snow on the Blades.  This would have just missed being in my top-tier the last two years, but that is not to take away from this excellent samurai drama.

Best Actor: Sir Ian McKellan, Mr. Holmes.  Why hasn’t the man won an Oscar yet?

Best Actress: Holly Hunter, Manglehorn.  Her scene with Al Pacino at a restaurant is the highlight of the film.

Best Animal Performer: Arrow Schwartzman, 7 Chinese Brothers.  The most enjoyable thing about this movie.  Maybe the only enjoyable thing.

Guilty Pleasure: The Astrologer.  More poorly put together than movies I rated higher, but amazing in its awfulness.  “You’re not an astrologer, you’re an asshole!” has to be one of the best lines ever uttered.

As for the Golden Space Needle Awards, you can find them here: http://www.siff.net/festival-2015/2015-award-winners

And for those of you wondering what the Fools picks were:

Most Liked: Corn Island, The Dark Horse, Me And Earl and the Dying Girl, Inside Out, The Passion of Augustine, Personal Gold: An Underdog Story, Little Forest – Winter/Spring, Secret #2, Love & Mercy.

Least Liked: Beach Town, Venice, The Hollow One, Not All Is Vigil, 7 Chinese Brothers, Chatty Catties, Uncle Kent 2, The Fire, Valley of the Sasquatch, Yosemite

Best Director/Cinematographer: Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Peter Greenaway/Reinier van Brummelen)

Best Script: Me and Earl and The Dying Girl (Jesse Andrews)

Best Music: Love & Mercy (Atticus Ross, The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson)

Best Actor: The Dark Horse (Cliff Curtis)

Best Actress: Phoenix (Nina Hoss)

Best “Guilty Pleasure”: The Little Death

Final Thoughts

This is the sixth festival I’ve helped out with, either as a volunteer (2010-11), concessionaire (2012, 2015), or press screening worker (2013-14), and the sixth I’ve attended.  It is the highlight of the year for me, despite its busy-ness.  I even managed to attend four of the parties this year (six, if you include the staff parties), and while I missed Centerpiece, I didn’t really mind.  I even attended the kickball match, though I didn’t play — partly because I arrived late, and partly because the temperature was in the 80s, and the field was in the sun.

For me, last year’s festival was more memorable, but perhaps that’s because I saw more great films, or due to it being the 40th festival.  This year, quantity did not lead to quality, as my Fool Serious Ballot attested to.  And while there are films I wish to see this summer (most of them festival films I didn’t get the chance to see), I don’t mind waiting in between viewings.  Watching almost 50 films in the space of a month-and-a-half takes a certain kind of insanity that, thankfully, is limited to one time a year.

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