SIFF 2019: A decade of the Seattle International Film Festival

As mentioned in my final post from SIFF 2018, this year’s festival will be the tenth I’ve attended. Since moving to Seattle in late 2009, I haven’t missed a festival, starting with my first one (and first film festival ever) in 2010, where I volunteered at the Neptune Theatre, back when Landmark was the biggest independent movie chain in Seattle, and the Uptown Theatre was run by AMC. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this would be the last festival where almost everything was projected on film, and digital copy meant “DVD.”

Neptune Theatre, SIFF 2010

After festival that year, the Uptown would close, only to be officially reopened the following year (on October 20) as the first year-round theater run by SIFF (previously, they’d used McCaw Hall’s Nesholm Lecture Family Hall to show movies on a limited basis throughout the year). Before the reopening, however, I attended my second festival as a volunteer. STG had taken over the Neptune Theatre by that point and converted it into a live performance venue, but they allowed SIFF back in for a second year. The first week, we used folding chairs for seats! By the second weekend, the Sundance Film Festival had donated seats for us (possibly the same ones that were originally there). I later found out that much of the insulation had been stripped from the walls, which is why, even with a new sound system, the sound was awful that first weekend. This was also the first year where DCPs and other digital formats (such as HDCam) started to appear, though many movies were still shown on film. That would change in the ensuing years. Except for the rare film donated from someone’s personal collection, all the films from the last few years have been projected digitally, and DCP has become the dominant format.

2012 was the first year I worked the festival as a paid employee, and the first year the Uptown was open as a SIFF venue (and not just a satellite location) for the festival. To say there were growing pains would be an understatement, but the festival has since become a well-oiled machine.

In 2013, I dedicated my festival posts to the late Roger Ebert, who had passed away the previous month and had inspired me to write about SIFF, following his lead in Cannes and elsewhere. I also worked the press screenings, freeing up my nights for movie-watching.

Meeting Roger Ebert, Ebertfest 2011

In 2014, I applied for and was granted my first press pass for the festival and worked my second (and last) press screenings. SIFF acquired the Egyptian that year and bought the Uptown outright, the latter thanks to a generous donation from David and Linda Cornfield. I also retired my point-and-shoot camera in favor of a DSLR, which resulted in better pictures (though when I didn’t have it handy, I ended up taking shitty photos with my phone). Oh, and did I mention SIFF celebrated their 40th festival that year (though, in the interest of full disclosure, there was no 13th festival)?

The following year, I asked for and was allowed to work a few shifts at the Harvard Exit, which Landmark had exited and which is now the Mexican Consulate. The last movies shown there were the ones shown during the festival. I applied for another press pass, but was rejected (not that it affected my coverage one bit).

2016 saw the press screenings move from the Uptown to AMC Pacific Place. There was a tribute to Dan Ireland, one of the founders of the festival, who had passed away a mere two years after coming back to celebrate the 40th SIFF Festival and show (in 35mm!) his movie The Whole Wide World. It was also the first (and so far, only) year that I bought a Secret Festival badge and attended the movies there. And though we didn’t know it at the time, it was also the final festival for SIFF’s longtime Artistic Director, Carl Spence.

I didn’t bother applying for a press pass that year, nor the next year. In fact, I didn’t cover the festival at all in 2017, though I did attend.

Last year I applied for and received a press pass and announced my glorious return to the blogging ranks, though I only made it to one press-only screening, since the other ones occurred on days that I worked.

Every year I’ve covered the festival, I’ve found ways to vary my coverage. Some of the coverage has been dictated by time constraints, others by review embargoes (though I think they’re bullshit, they do ensure that I post movie reviews past festival, even when my main coverage has ended). Certainly I wrote longer and more in-depth posts when I worked less and watched fewer movies. I also used to write out all the Q&As during the Q&As I attended, a practice I ended in 2015.

This year, most of my posts will be from festivals past. They’ll be unchanged, except for new introductions. The plan is to write at least five posts from this year’s festival. And who knows? Maybe I’ll even sneak in a post from SIFF 2017 (you don’t think I didn’t take notes, did you?). Posts about working at the festival will be kept to a minimum, since 1.) not much changes year-to-year, and 2.) this is my seventh year working the festival, so I’d prefer to focus on the movies I see and the events I attend versus how long the concession lines were. Since I write for myself and not for SIFF, this’ll also prevent people from confusing me as some sort of spokesperson for either the festival or the organization, of which I am neither.

So, are you ready to take a journey with me through nine years and ten festivals? Tonight, the press launch. Tomorrow, the press screenings. In a couple of weeks, the world.