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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