Gone Fishing

Well, then. A couple months ago Team Seattle Metblogs got what seemed like an eviction notice. Or, rather, the sad and surprising news that Metblogs was on the verge of collapse [mb]. Most of us took this shocker as a charge to move out onto our own or to find new blogging homes in other cozy new places around town. However, since then, some nice people swooped in to keep the corporate mothership afloat [metblogs].

This means, that while the lights are still on here, nobody’s home. Maybe someday we’ll be back, but until then enjoy the archives whenever you’re feeling like taking a stroll down memory lane!

If you’re interested in colonizing, get in touch with the flagship for more information. I’m sure they would welcome new deckhands.

Greening the Emerald City

The Sustainable Sites initiative (SITES™) has selected four Seattle projects for the SITES two-year Pilot Project to promote sustainable land development and management practices. Projects include over 150 sites with and without buildings, in 34 US States, and Canada, Iceland, and Spain.

The four Seattle sites are:

9th Ave NW Park
Project Type: Open space – Park
Project Team: Site Workshop; WR Consulting; Advanced Electrical Services
Description: This project will transform a greyfield site in a residential neighborhood once home to a church, into a small local park which will include a community garden, a gathering plaza for community events, a skate-spot woven into seatwalls, and spaces for quiet introspection and children’s play. Community support for sustainability, articulated in several neighborhood workshops, will be implemented through material reuse and reclamation of road paving for rain gardens along the site’s street edge.

Bradner Gardens Park Development
Project Type: Open space – Park
Project Team: City of Seattle Parks and Recreation and Department of Neighborhoods; Barker Landscape Architects; Friends of Bradner Gardens Park; King County Master Gardeners; Seattle Tilth
Description: This park was designed and developed in collaboration with community volunteers. The result is a multi-functional, sustainable, accessible neighborhood park that includes community food gardens, organic gardening and ornamental, water-wise demonstration gardens, compost demonstration, a children’s A to Z garden, a seasonal wildlife pond and vegetated swale for on-site drainage, tractor play area, basketball court, native plant areas and a community gathering pavilion.

Project Type: Commercial
Project Team: KCTS 9; Mithün; Chris Webb Associates, Inc; WSP Flack + Kurtz; Swenson Say Fagét; Roen Associates
Description: This greyfield project envisions sustainable site design in conjunction with the redevelopment of the PBS station’s existing 60,000-square foot building to Platinum level LEED–EB performance. Focus will be given to the building’s 32,000-square foot roof, half of which will be transformed into a food garden to exhibit urban horticulture. On-site energy generation and water collection will occur on the roof’s other half, all of which will be visible from the nearby Space Needle.

Theater Commons and Donnelly Gardens
Project Type: Open space – Park
Project Team: Seattle Center, City of Seattle, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Weinstein AU, Magnusson Klemencic Associates,Pivotal/AEI
Description: Theater Commons, a 1.6-acre site within a major urban park and cultural center, revitalizes an existing campus vehicle entry into a pedestrian-friendly, multi-functional, tree-lined street overlooking new gardens, terraces and seating areas between two professional theaters. The site integrates sustainable design and highlights ecological features, such as Cascadia native plants and innovative stormwater infiltration, as a prototype for future campus projects.

There are seven additional projects in Washington state, including sites in Tacoma, Olympia, Fort Lewis, and Bremerton, among others.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative is an joint effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices.


And don’t forget to help save Metblogs!

Face the Music with the Maldives tonight

SIFF‘s first Face the Music feature in this year’s festival is tonight at the Triple Door where at 7:00 and 9:30 pm, The Maldives will be performing an original live score for the silent film Riders of the Purple Sage, starring Tom Mix, the mold on whom all future cowboy stars was cast. Mix had a busy career – he made over 300 films in just 25 years – and here you’ll have a great chance to discover why he was so popular, highlighted by excellent live music.

Are you looking for more SIFF coverage? Visit Art by Zee for previews, recommendations, reviews, interviews and more.

Doors close, doors open


Tonight I was turning on my phone after watching A Little Help at the Harvard Exit to tell a friend that it’s totally worth watching when I learned the sad news. As he said, he and I have been around for the whole time and what a time it’s been. I have truly enjoyed writing for this blog and all the great people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had because of it. Thank you to everyone who has participated in some way, whether you’ve been an author, a regular reader or even an occasional lurker. It really has been fun.

One of those things I’ve been meaning to do for a while is to get serious about keeping up my own blog, created when I realized that while nobody really cared all that much about my artistic portfolio (the trials of being mediocre in a city filled with the gifted), people do sometimes want to read the things I write. The loss of Metblogs is a gain for my output there. All of the things that I would normally post about here – film, theater, visual arts, civic events, restaurants, bars, concerts, sports, my ongoing issues with zombies, our wonderful city parks, I will now be posting to my own blog, Art by Zee.

I would love to have you all join me there. I will be continuing SIFF 2010 coverage there, including feature pieces on A Little Help‘s Jenna Fischer and Linas Phillips, the Seattle-native filmmaker whose BassAckwards is likely to be a SIFF-hit this year. There’s additional content beyond Seattle-related events, and, who knows, I may finally start posting about Seattle Back in the Day, an idea I’ve terrorized my fellow Seattle Metblogs authors with for years now.

Thanks to the Metblogs network for hosting this party for this long, and, thanks again to you, our readers.

so long, farewell, the end is extremely neigh

photo by rachel-b [flickr] via our group pool [#].

It looks like the Metblogs World HQ aspirations of acquisition just missed the boat for cityblog network buyouts, leaving the network running on (or, rather, out of) fumes. After years of riding tides, bailing out leaky ships, and whatever other nautical metaphors float your collective boats, Metblogs is calling it quits at the end of the month.

This means that nearly six years after saying hello to Seattle, it’s time for this branch of Metblogs to say goodbye. Although Zee and I were here at the beginning, she’s the only one to have truly endured the marathon. Along the way, though, the site could not have existed without the generous contributions from dozens of wonderful writers, thousands of thrir posts, even more of your comments (almost always nice), and the tens of thousands of stunning donations made to our photo pool.

Sometime before HQ turns out the lights for keeps, we’ll update you with our forwarding addresses so that we can keep up once this extended summer camp has ended. Thanks for reading, see you soon, have a great summer, and stay cool.

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Cirque Dreams Review – Cute, Affordable

We were fortunate enough to be able to attend the touring Cirque Dreams Illuminations show last night at the Moore. Despite a little misunderstanding over what time the show started (we thought 8, in reality it was 7:30), we had an enjoyable time.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a Cirque du Soleil show. However, it doesn’t cost as much as a Cirque du Soleil show either. Tickets run from $30-$50 and for that price, you get a pretty decent show.
You can definitely see the Cirque influences – the circus director comic relief, the bendy girls in largely flesh colored spandex, aerialists, muscular men in sleeveless shirts, and of course, the music.
There were good acts and great acts, some funny moments, and some impressive stunts. In particular, I’d never seen anyone play the drums using little ping pong balls (well, I don’t know what they were, but saying little balls just seemed… wrong somehow).
If you go, and your tickets are in the first few rows, there’s one point where you might get a little wet and if you’re on the aisle, you could get pulled in for a little audience participation number.
Overall though, Cirque Dreams Illuminations is a nice evening out with the family.


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SIFF Day 1

If you too have been counting down the days to SIFF 2010, count no more as it has finally arrived.

The festival kicks off in grand style with a gala screening of The Extra Man tonight at Benaroya Hall. Paul Dano plays a young writer who rents a room from a playwright (Kevin Kline) who works nights as an “extra man” – an escort for wealthy widows unwilling to attend social functions alone. The two men soon become bonded together by their mutual insecurities. Director Robert Pulcini and actors Paul Dano and Alicia Goranson are scheduled to be on hand to walk the red carpet.

The Extra Man is, of course, but one of many great films that will be screened at the festival this year. This year’s SIFF features shorts and full length features, documentaries, fictional, and animated films from all over the world covering just about any topic you can imagine. Every year SIFF seems to get better and better and that’s in no small part due to its dedicated staff who work hard all year to make each festival the best it possibly can be.

Artistic Director Carl Spence and Programming Manager Beth Barrett took a short break from their busy schedules to answer a few questions about the fest:

SIFF’s mission is to expose people to great film. Do you have any specific hopes for what people will get out of the films in this year’s festival?

Carl: To discover films that audiences might not ordinarily take the risk to see.

Beth: I hope that they are able to experience the world around them, and learn more about issues that are hot right now – for example, Lucy Walker’s COUNTDOWN TO ZERO became much more timely this spring with the new SALT talks, and renewed interest in nuclear energy. The stories we present are from some really new places – New Zealand’s gorgeous Ruahine Mountains shine in THIS WAY OF LIFE – yet the film is still a universal story of wanting to make it on your own, and the challenges we can face as a family.

Which films in this year’s festival are you most excited about? Are there any films that you think that audiences will be particularly receptive to? Are there any special events or expected guests you’re particularly looking forward to this year?

Carl: It is impossible to pick just one or even a few…..audiences will love THE EXTRA MAN, MAO’S LAST DANCER, FAREWELL, GET LOW, THE HEDGEHOG, MEDITERANEAN FOOD, SOUL KITCHEN, GARBO: THE SPY and WASTE LAND amongst others. I’m especially looking forward to the Edward Norton Tribute and also our live events – including Stephen Merritt of the Magnetic Fields performing to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Maldives performing to Riders of the Purple Sage and the “Live Documentary” Film presentation by academy award nominated filmmaker Sam Green.

Beth: I’m really looking forward to a couple of films – THE TOPP TWINS : UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS – the pride of New Zealand, inducted into the New Zealand Hall of Music Fame in 2008 – they are identical twin lesbian yodelers with a great stage show and infectious comedic songwriting – and they are coming to SIFF to present the film!

I am also quite fond of a South Korean film called CASTAWAY ON THE MOON- this is a very quirky love story between a shut-in and a castaway, who is on an island in full view of millions of people (and she’s the one that sees him)

I think that audiences will also find Jeff Malmberg’s MARWENCOL fascinating – it is about a man, who is beaten nearly to death outside a bar, and loses the first 38 years of his memories. In the process of his recovery from total amnesia, he builds a WWII era Belgian town called Marwencol, peoples it with Barbies and GI Joes named after people in his life, and then photographs it. The photos are stunning, and his intimate relationship with the town, and towns”people”, is quite deep. But it is really Mark’s story that emerges from this artistic adventure. Really well told, and compelling.

How does selecting films for the festival differ from selecting films for the year-round SIFF Cinema? Are there different standards that apply – for example, because there are so many films in the festival, do you feel more comfortable including films that might not have as big of an audience as others?

Carl: The size of the Seattle International Film Festival allows to show a diverse line-up of films and the huge interest in the festival allow helps when we show films that may not usually have a big audience. In terms of SIFF CINEMA – the standards are the same – we are looking for films that will allow the audience the opportunity to discover extraordinary films together as a community.

Beth: The goal of the Festival is to bring the stories from the world to Seattle, and to provide a platform for people to discover films and filmmakers. There are a lot of new directors, young filmmakers, and emerging talents at the Festival, and we are able to take some chances on unknown (to Seattle) films. With SIFF Cinema, we relish the opportunity to bring some of those films back, to re-introduce the classics to the big screen, and to provide a platform for independent cinema. The two opportunities really are intertwined, in our desire to create cinematic experiences, as a community.

Do you think it’s possible to predict which films will have the biggest audiences or are you ever surprised by which films people seem to like best?

Carl: We do try to predict which films will have biggest audiences – but we never know exactly what will spark a riot of attendees to go to a specific screening. Often we are pleasantly surprised.

Beth: A little of both – I think we have a good take on films that our audiences will like, or be entertained or intrigued by, but there are always films that I love that take me by surprise when so many others love them too! I think the energy of the audience has a great deal to do with creating those “surprise hits”.

What is it about SIFF that makes it such a huge, successful festival?

Carl: The hungry Seattle audiences power SIFF – first and foremost. They are what has allowed and pushed us to expand.

Beth: We are driven as staff and programmers to bring the best in international cinema to Seattle, and I think our dedication and enthusiasm is a large part of the energy of SIFF. The audience is the other part – to have such a dedicated core audience, as well as new audiences every year who join the SIFF ranks, is what the wonderful feeling of SIFF is all about.

How long have you been with SIFF? How has the festival changed over the years?

Carl: I started at SIFF in 1994 – and except for a two year period in San Francisco – I’ve been here ever since. It has seen explosive growth since I first began. Our year-round staff grew from 2 to 12+. We again operate a venue throughout the year (the festival previously operated and owned The Egyptian prior to 1990.

Beth: I started in the publications department in 2003, and became the Programming Manager in 2004 – we have grown since then, not only in numbers of films and venues, but also as an organization. Operating year-round allows us to really broaden our ideas, and create new and different experiences. With ShortsFest being an Academy Awards ® nominating part of the Festival, we have seen growth in the quality of short films, and recognition from the industry for our efforts.

Big film festivals can be overwhelming for first time attendees. What advice would you give someone coming to SIFF for the first time in 2010?

Carl: Going to SIFF can be as easy as going to any other movie throughout the year. Just pick the dates you can attend and then see what is playing on that date and time you are available. Use our interactive web tool – The Siffter or download our iphone app. Our new full color 32 page free guide is also quite informative and chock full of ways to get involved.

Beth: Use one of the SIFFting tools available! You can use the SIFFter on the website or iPhone, and put in parameters of when you are available, the kinds of films you want to see, the venue you want to be at… the SIFFter can help you narrow down your choices.

Our SIFF Guide this year can also help – we have listed the films in sections, with a great genre index in the back. Find a genre you like and give one of them a try. Once you are in line, keep your ears open, and the folks standing in line will give many many more suggestions!

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Plants and Animals rock the Croc May 22

Plants and Animals play The Crocodile on May 22. Photo by Caroline Desilets

Montreal-based trio Plants and Animals describe their music as “post-classic rock” which is as good a label as any for an otherwise hard to label band. Warren Spicer, Nic Basque and Matthew Woodley make music that sounds a lot like music you’ve already heard before, only not quite – they definitely put their own unique stamp on their tunes. Plants and Animals manage a surprisingly complex sound for a group their size that starts from a solid melodic base and expands with influences from a variety of genres for an ear-grabbing, often hypnotic result.

They’re currently on tour to support their latest album La La Land and they’ll be here in Seattle on Saturday, May 22 at the Croc along with Frog Eyes and Lost in the Trees.

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SIFF recs: May 20 – 23

SIFF 2010 starts tomorrow! Here’s the first round of recommendations we have for you. Seeing something that’s not on this list? Tell us about it!

Prince of Tears plays SIFF 2010 May 23, May 26

Castaway on the Moon [http://www.siff.net/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=38764&FID=166]: Kim Seong-geun decides to end it all and jumps from a bridge into the Han River. He doesn’t die, but instead washes up on an island in the middle of the city. Since he can’t swim, and no one ever comes to the island, he’s nearly every bit the castaway that Tom Hanks was. After a few days of understandable despair, and another attempt to kill himself, he starts, slowly, to make a life for himself. Across the river, a woman who hasn’t left her room in three years finds him in her camera lens. They start an awkward pen-pal relationship and we see Kim’s efforts to grow his own food in a desperate attempt to make black bean noodles. May 21 4pm – Pacific Place, May 23 9:30pm – Neptune, June 2 9:15pm – Everett Performing Arts Center [Patricia Eddy]

Prince of Tears [http://www.siff.net/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=38817&FID=166]: Anti-communist fervor in 1950s Taiwan caused the White Terror period during which thousands were accused, imprisoned and executed as spies for little or even no reason at all. Writer/director Yonfan presents this tragic history on a human scale in this gorgeously filmed dark fable of intrigue and betrayal, centered around two young sisters, Zhou and Li. Daughters of a dashing air force pilot and his lovely wife, the girls learn first-hand about the personal in politics when their parents are accused of communist loyalties and arrested. Family friend Ding steps in to look after them, but their far-from-kindly “Uncle” has an agenda of his own and will allow no one, not even a glamorous would-be fairy godmother, to stand in his way. May 21 6:30 pm – Pacific Place; May 23 1:00 pm – Pacific Place; May 26 9:15 pm – Admiral. [Zee Grega]

Bass Ackwards [http://www.siff.net/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=41470&FID=166] : Linas Phillips (Walking to Werner, Great Speeches from a Dying World) makes his first fictional film, directing and starring as a man who retreats from his failed affair by taking a road trip across America in a mini sized VW van. Entertaining, odd, and often sweet, the movie shines the brightest in its small, quiet moments of low-fi discovery. May 21 9:45 pm – Harvard Exit, May 23 3:45 pm – Harvard Exit [Zee Grega]

Air Doll [http://www.siff.net/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=37953&FID=166] : An inflatable love doll “finds a heart” and comes to life in this thought-provoking fantasy from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda that takes a thoughtful and often poignant examination of loneliness, longing and the ways that people wall themselves off from others, neatly correlating the literal emptiness inside Nozomi with the more metaphorical sort inside the people she encounters as she moves through the city. Take a friend – this is definitely one of those movies you’ll want to talk about afterwards. May 21 4:00 pm – Neptune Theater, May 24 9:30 pm – Neptune Theater [Zee Grega]

Holy Rollers [http://www.siff.net/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=41519&FID=166]: Sam Gold is a nice young man living with his parents and working at his father’s fabric shop. He has typical dreams for a Hassidic Jew living in New York – he hopes to marry a a local girl and complete his rabbinic studies, but he wouldn’t mind picking up a few spare bucks which is why he lets his best friend’s older brother talk him into doing a bit of international smuggling. Sam’s so naive at first that he really believes he’s bringing “medicine” back from Amsterdamn, but he sticks around even after he finds out just what ailment Ecstasy is meant to “cure”. Sam tries to straddle both his old world and his new one, but he’s headed for at least one fall. A stunning debut from director Kevin Tyler Asch. May 22 9:00 pm – Pacific Place, May 23 4:00 pm – Pacific Place [Zee Grega]

From Time to Time [http://www.siff.net/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=38919&FID=166] : It’s WWII and young Tolly discovers that his grandmother and her employees aren’t the only people sharing the manor. Shortly after he sees the ghost of his long-dead great-aunt, he discovers that he can move back and forth between her time and his. As he waits for news of his father, missing in action in Germany, he spends his days both learning about his family’s history and taking part in it. A steady pace and an intriguing tale suitable for the whole family with plenty of appeal to both kids and adults; some scenes may be too intense for the very young. Oh, and bring tissues, you’ll need them. May 22 1:00 pm – Uptown, May 30 1:00 pm – Everett, June 13 1:00 pm – Kirkland. [Zee Grega]

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Charley’s Aunt charms at Taproot

Josh Smyth, Eric Riedmann , Emily Fairbrook and Steve West in Charley’s Aunt at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug

Jack Chesney and his Oxford schoolmate Charles Wykeham have a problem: they’re in love. Jack (Eric Reidmann) longs for the love of the charming Kitty Verdun (Anne Kennedy) while Charley (Josh Smyth) pines for pretty Amy Spettigue (Emily Fairbrook). Standing in their way is the complicated etiquette of Victorian England’s middle class morality – they can’t even invite the young ladies to lunch without a proper chaperon in attendance. Hope rises when the millionaire aunt supporting his education telegraphs Charley to announce her imminent arrival. Hope falls when a second telegram announces her cancellation.

What are the lovelorn lads to do? Why, convince their pal Lord Fancourt Babberly (Steve West) to put on the costume he bought for his theatrical group and impersonate the aunt no one’s ever seen, of course. Thus begins a madcap afternoon of mistaken identity, romantic confusion and the riotously funny results of well-intentioned lies in Charley’s Aunt, now playing at Taproot Theater.

Lord Fancourt – “Babbs”, to his pals – makes a spectacularly awful Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, the widow from Brazil, “where the nuts come from”, but people see what they want to see to great comic effect.

Jack’s father, Sir Francis (Andrew Litzky), finds “Donna Lucia” appalling, but attempts to woo her for the sake of his son who will be forced to work for a living after graduation since their family title comes with no money attached. Misses Verdun and Spettigue seem far more interested in fussing over Charley’s “aunt” than being wooed by their would-be suitors, much to Babbs’ delight and his friends’ great dismay. Stern Stephen Spettigue (Nolan Palmer), uncle of Amy and guardian of Kitty, first disdains then desires “Donna Lucia”. Just when it seems things can’t possibly get any more out of hand, the real Donna Lucia (Llysa Holland) arrives with a young woman (Samie Dietzer) who has a history tied to more than one “Charley’s Aunt”.

First performed in 1892, Charley’s Aunt delighted its early audiences with its gentle satire of stuffy manners; while modern theatergoers will find the antiquated ettiquette even more ridiculous, the romantic comedy has aged very well by being at its heart a simple spoof of the silly lengths people to go for the sake of love, a theme that never really gets old. Director Karen Lund keeps the three-act play moving at an energetic pace and, as always, the Taproot production staff does an excellent job of transforming a simple stage into a thoroughly convincing set.

Among the cast, Steve West deserves special praise for making Charley’s false aunt so convincingly unconvincing. Don Brady is delightful as Jack’s put upon valet Brassett whose disbelieving asides at the madness going around him are uniformly amusing.

Charley’s Aunt continues at Taproot Theater through June 12. Tickets available in person at the box office, over the phone at 206.781.9707 or online.

As a special bonus, Taproot Improv Comedy returns to the stage on Friday nights following mainstage performances. Tickets are $10 or $8 with a ticket to Charley’s Aunt.

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Cirque Dreams Comes to the Moore

I admit it, I’m a Cirque du Soleil junkie. I’ve seen O at the Bellagio at least six times. I used to go to Vegas once a year and I saw it nearly every time for a few years there. I’m mesmerized by the colors and the music and of course, where O is concerned, the water. If I could do any job in the world, for a week, and be instantly good at it, it would be a Cirque du Soleil performer. The strength and control that the performers need to have over their bodies is mesmerizing.

Now if you want to see a Cirque du Soleil show in Seattle, you’ve got to wait until they have one of their tent performances at Marymoor Park. Those tickets can run over $100 and you usually have to buy way in advance, not to mention drive to Redmond to see the show. But Cirque Dreams Illuminations gives you the chance to see a similar style show downtown at the Moore, one of my favorite Seattle venues. The seats are comfortable, the views (particularly from the balcony) are superb, and of course it’s within walking distance of more than a few restaurants.

Now this isn’t actually a Cirque du Soleil show. It’s a Cirque Dreams show. Cirque Dreams was established in 1993 to combine the French style of acrobatics made famous by Cirque du Soleil with an American circus flair and Broadway theatrics. The company has toured with a number of shows and Cirque Dreams Illuminations is their latest.

Cirque Dreams Illuminations is playing at The Moore from May 20th through May 23rd. Tickets are $30-$50 and are on sale now through STG Presents.

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Help Design the 12th Ave Park

Seattle Parks Department is busy planning the newest park in our excellent public park system. The new park will be located at 12supth/sup Ave and E. James Court and the Parks department is seeking public input on the community’s priorities for this space.

Join the Parks Department at SU’s Admissions and Alumni building at 824 – 12thAve on Tuesday, May 18 at 5:30 pm.
For more information check out the project’s web page.

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Fiddler on the Roof comes to Seattle May 25

Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler on the Roof, photo c. 2010 Carol Rosegg

Fiddler on the Roof is a Broadway classic. Opening in 1964, it was the first run of a musical to break the 3000 performance mark on the Great White Way and was the longest-running musical in Broadway history until Grease came along a decade later. It’s still the fourteenth longest running show in history, no small potatoes. The original production won an astonishing nine Tony awards; a mark of the show’s enduring appeal is that all its major revivals have been acclaimed as well.

Based on a book published in 1894, Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of Tevye, a poor milkman in 1905 Russia, his sharp-tongued wife, Golde, and their five daughters. Tevye struggles to keep his family together and the cultural traditions alive as each of his three oldest daughters insists on choosing her own path while all the while their entire village is threatened by the Tsar’s campaign of pogroms and expulsions.

The much loved musical’s best known numbers include “Matchmaker”, “If I Were a Rich Man”, “Miracle of Miracles” and “Sunrise, Sunset”.

Fiddler on the Roof comes to Seattle’s Paramount Theater for eight shows starting May 25 with Harvey Fierstein, a multiple Tony winner himself, in the pivotal lead role. Fierstein won praise for his performance as Tevye in the most recent Broadway production and considers it one of his favorite roles.

Tickets are available online and at the Paramount box office.

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SIFF spotlight: Midnight Adrenaline

RoboGeisha plays SIFF 2010 May 28, June 8.

The first truth about Midnight Movies is that any movie can be a midnight, it simply needs to be screened at midnight. The second truth is that some movies make better midnight movies than others. Just what makes the ideal midnight movie is a question that could lead to endless debate, but the primary difference between a true midnight movie and just a movie screened at midnight is some slight edge to the film that makes it mean something at midnight that might not be there at another time of the day.

Take Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example, perhaps THE midnight film of all midnight films. Watch it at home on video in the afternoon sometime and it’s just not the same movie that you grew to love in the theater. I discovered the strength of the midnight effect a few year ago with The Wizard of Oz.

Like most cinephiles, it’s impossible for me to name just one favorite film, but The Wizard of Oz comes close. Having lost track of the number of times I’ve watched the movie all the way through somewhere around 150 many years ago, I was sure that nothing about the film could surprise me – and then I went to a screening of Wizard at midnight at The Egyptian and quickly learned that watching Wizard with a group of openly-vocal Friends of Dorothy definitely made it a whole new experience.

Audiences are a key factor in what makes a good midnight movie – midnight movie audiences are definitely unique.

SIFF’S Midnight Adrenaline programmer Dan Doody says that one of the biggest misconceptions about midnight movie audiences is that they are drugged out or just plain bizarre. He allows that a very small minority might be weirdos out for mischief, but adds that even they want a film that will engage them. Perhaps more so than any other movie audience, midnighters have a real need to interact with the movie they’re watching. This doesn’t have to be physical interaction – it’s not all shouting out lines or tossing rice – but midnight audiences aren’t into passive entertainment. They embrace the unusual, the quirky, the outright strange. Midnight audiences want a movie that moves: “The biggest criteria,” Dan says, “is that it’s well-paced and gets its hooks into you.”

He adds that the midnight audience is “the hardest to please. If they get bored, the audience has no compunction about walking out.”

As a long time midnight movie fan myself, I know this to be true myself, but I’ve also noticed that in some ways midnight movie audiences are also quite generous. As long as it brings the fun and keeps the story flowing, audiences will embrace midnight movies that aren’t quite technically perfect. It’s how the movie feels that matters most.

Over the years Dan has watched enough midnight audiences to have a good feeling about what will sustain an audience’s interest and he’s pleased with this year’s selections. Having seen a few of them already myself, I agree with his enthusiasm. My hate/hate relationship with zombies will (probably) keep me from the new Romero flick, but otherwise I’m hoping to see you all at this year’s screenings.

The 2010 Midnight Adrenaline series features:

Amer: A three-part giallo style erotic thriller from Belgium about three key stages in a woman’s life, all of them more than just a bit gruesome. Directors élène Cattet and Bruno Fortet are scheduled to attend.

Centurion: A small platoon of Roman legionnaires survive an ambush by the Picts they have sworn to exterminate. Quintus Dias must lead his small band of soldiers through the dangerous wilds of Scotland to rescue their general while being pursued by the remorseless, relentless “barbarians” out for revenge.

Dream Home: Cheng Lai-Sheun’s dream is to own her own home and she will stop at nothing, not even vicious murder, to make her dream come true in this bloody thriller from Hong Kong.

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead: Romero forever changed the shape of cinema, most notably that ever-growing genre that’s grown around the idea of zombies that he himself helped create, with his classic Night of the Living Dead. He’s continued to use the undead as a metaphor for society’s various ills; in Survival of the Dead, a group of soldiers find themselves trapped between a zombie apocalypse and a human one.

RoboGeisha: Sibling rivalry reaches a whole new level when sisters Yoshie and Kikue are recruited by a company bent on world domination through the use of cybernetic-enhanced geisha assassins in this kitschy, fun, sci-fi actioner from Japan.

Splice: Two scientist lovers go undercover to experiment with injecting human DNA into things that aren’t human, eventually producing a winged chimera that forces them to have to decide where being a scientist stops and being a parent begins.

Ticked Off Trannies with Knives: A tribute to the old grindhouse exploitation films featuring, well…you know.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil: Tucker and Dale are a couple of hillbillies who rescue a young college student from drowning and get more trouble than thanks when her misunderstanding friends become convinced they need to rescue her from harm. That’s when all the messy dying begins.

The Wild Hunt: Erik’s girlfriend Evelyn leaves him to immerse herself into the elaborate LARP (live action role play) game beloved of his brother Bjorn who is extremely dedicated to his life as a “Viking chieftan”. Despite his misgiving, Erik decides to follow Evelyn into the game in hopes of bringing her back home with him. Soon Erik discovers the dangers that arise in crossing the fine line that separates fantasy from reality. An extremely engaging debut from Canadian director Alexandre Franchi.

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SIFF spotlight: programming a festival

This year’s SIFF presents 189 narrative features, 54 documentary features, 13 archival films, and 150 short films from 67 countries. Twenty-five of those films are world premieres. Thirty-six are North American premieres and 12 are US premieres. No matter you how slice it, that’s a lot of films – and those are just the films that made it into the festival programming. Every year SIFF gets thousands of submissions for their festival. So how do they decide which films make it in?

Dan Doody, programmer of the Midnight Adrenaline series, and Clare Canzoneri, who programs Face the Music, explained the process to me.

The work of the programming panel – the group of programmers responsible for deciding what goes in and what doesn’t – begins in winter of the previous year, around November or December, although SIFF programming manager Beth Barrett tracks films from other festivals all throughout the year, festivals like Toronto, San Sebastian, Sundance, Rotterdam, and Berlin. While the SIFF team are keeping an eye on other festivals to see what’s other there, they’re also sending out the word that they’re accepting submissions.

And submissions they get. When the programming panels start meeting in January to talk about what films they might want included in the upcoming festival, they’re facing around 4,000 submissions, each of which needs to be reviewed along with the many films the programmers have solicited directly after seeing them at another festival or by keeping their ears open for buzz about new films.

The winnowing process starts early, says Dan. The first order of business is to weed out films that aren’t quite SIFF quality. This doesn’t necessarily that they’re bad films, just that they don’t fit; for example, “We got a bunch of Asian films that were very region specific and weren’t a good fit for Western audiences.”

By February, the programmers start “hammering down” in their panel dicussion: “I liked this – can someone else take a look at it?” is the primary question of the day. Sometimes the decision to include a film is easy – all, or at least a majority, of the programmers feel confident that a particular movie is a great fit for SIFF. Sometimes there’s equally agreement in the other direction. And sometimes there’s disagreement – a specific film’s champion might have to fight for it and win over the rest of the panel.

All of the films do get watched. SIFF manages this amazing job by utilizing a team of pre-screeners who take home boxes of films to review. While sitting around watching movies all day sounds pretty easy and fun, there is some serious work involved. Surely you’ve brought home at least one movie that you disliked enough to turn it off a few minutes in and move on with your life. The pre-screeners are required to log the amount of time that they watch the films – there’s a required minimum – and it turns out that most of them do watch every single frame.

Clare says, “I’m unable to not watch the whole film.”

Dan, on the other hand, says, “If I’m not interested in 20 minutes, it won’t work with an audience.” He says he can usually tell in the first five minutes if it’s going to be worth it. If the movie gets to the 20 minute mark without becoming engaging, he may move forward in the film to see if it does get better. He adds that if the film is solicited, the whole thing should be watched regardless of the 20 minute rule. “Something may not be bad – it’s just not my thing – but it may please a bigger audience.”

That’s the ultimate key to which films get included in the festival – how likely they are to fulfill the SIFF mission of presenting the best cinema available to the audience. “We can’t always get everything we love, but we have a wide perspective of films.”

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