Now in its ninth year, STIFF is the Seattle film festival that is loudly and proudly "not SIFF"—which means no endless lines, no boring curtain speeches from dignitaries, and no VIP areas. Instead, STIFF sprays nine days of independent/underground/experimental/zero-budget film all over the University District, with the Grand Illusion Cinema serving as the fest's home base. Of STIFF's avalanche of films, I managed to watch exactly five.

Drawing Dead: The Highs and Lows of Online Poker

Mike Weeks's feature-length documentary Drawing Dead follows Dusty, a would-be pro athlete sidelined by injury who's made millions through online gambling, and Michael, a promising college student and musician (and Seattleite) whose addiction to gambling has consistently derailed his life. Along with their stories, we get lessons in the history of online gambling and the current legislation out to control it. The film is a bit all over the place and occasionally gets preachy, but it's loaded with intriguing information, from the daily challenges of a struggling gambleholic to the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

The Crumbles

Akira Boch's slice-of-life dramedy follows two young women as they navigate their friendship and their shared dream of musical stardom via their fledgling garage band the Crumbles. The performances are small and lovely and impressively true to life, as are the plot's conflicts—the film's portrayal of a young person's problematic alcohol consumption is one of the truest and subtlest I've seen.

I Love You, Apple, I Love You, Orange

At the center of Horam Kim's mumblecore drama is Maggie, a troubled young woman who fills her days with list-making (for instance, "Things people talk about") and navigating her paralyzing anxiety, which is brought to life in the form of talking fruits and vegetables in her kitchen. When a gentleman caller enters the picture, Maggie's world is split between her crazy brain-space and a longed-for real-life opportunity. The result is a slow, scary, and surprising romance, anchored by a tough, vanity-free performance by Lori Anne Smithey.

Door to Door

Daniel Brockley's 18-minute short film tracks the daily efforts of two door-to-door journeymen: a sharklike, sexually compulsive salesman, and a dovelike Christian evangelist. Paths cross, challenges are issued, and it all ends with a seriously smart and effective twist.

The Children Next Door

Doug Block's powerful 30-minute documentary follows a Tennessee family as they struggle to recover after a horrible instance of domestic violence, and it's a masterpiece—smart, tough, fearless, and miraculously compact. Starting on a note of sheer horror, the film ends in the glow of humanity's amazing ability to survive and heal. Go see it. recommended

STIFF 2013 runs May 3–11 at the Grand Illusion and other locations. Find full info at

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