I love SIFF. You love SIFF. Everyone loves SIFF. (Yes, even you, guy in the back.) It's hard to deny, though, that the more gargantuan this town's blessed event becomes, the more it generates its own increasingly exhausting gravitational field. Halfway through, it can be difficult to remember why movies are fun, exactly.
Enter STIFF, Seattle's True Independent Film Festival, now in its second year of functioning as (I mean this in the best possible way) a belch in church. What may have begun as a bit of wisenheimer pique (founder Clint Berquist was moved to action after his film Swamper, a tender salute to the Lusty Lady's cleanup crew, failed to make SIFF's cut) has evolved into an interesting event in its own right, with a lineup that delivers the fiercely indie goods. For folks feeling daunted by SIFF's polished, corporate-sponsored monolith, this should serve as a senses-clearing blast of fuzz rock. Besides, it's hard not to feel partial toward a festival where the awards given include "Hottest Zombie" and "Best Child Actor & Thickest Fog."
A few features of note in this year's lineup (see www.stiff2006.com for a complete list of shows and venues): In a well deserved encore after last year's SIFF appearance, Big City Dick takes a look at eccentric local personality Richard Peterson without ever stooping to Wesley Willis–type exploitation. (It also offers further proof, if any were needed, that special guest star Jeff Bridges might just be the nicest, stoniest guy in Hollywood.) The Hole Story, meanwhile, follows an aspiring reality-TV maven who goes to Brainerd, Minnesota to document a local mystery, only to throw a rod when the forces of nature refuse to play along. The inspiration occasionally flags, but writer-director-star Alex Karpovsky nevertheless manages to find moments of hilarity and surprising pathos within its broad mockumentary structure.
The festival's best bet, though, might be Friday night's shorts package at the Rendezvous, which features at least two absolute stunners. Director Ciro Altabás's ode to geek love, DVD, makes gleeful hash of the modern-day slacker mythos, replete with commentary tracks, (intentionally) crappy animated menus, and all things Wookie, while somehow staying on the good side of the terminally wiseass. If he ever sees it, Harry Knowles will likely propel himself straight into orbit; slightly less nerdy viewers will just be bowled over. In contrast, Jerome Oliver's Missing Pages is several degrees more serious, and verges on the visionary. Shot entirely with a digital still camera and gussied up with all sorts of homegrown computer effects, the time-travel premise owes a major debt to Twelve Monkeys (or, more properly, Chris Marker's legendary short La Jetée), yet creates an eerie, manga-cyberpunk vibe all its own, with an army of clutching kabuki ghouls destined to bring on the whim-whams. I could watch another hour, easy. And, boom, just like that, the movie love has returned.