After years of covering the Seattle International Film Festival for The Stranger, going to other festivals, and sometimes working for SIFF (currently I'm editing the program catalog), my perspective on this behemoth has changed. I used to wonder what other people-- "industry" people--thought of the festival, but somewhere along the line I stopped caring. Now I look at everything it brings to town, like a ton of films that wouldn't otherwise make it here. The fact that SIFF always seems to find an audience to support this massive undertaking is, in itself, impressive. The festival is well respected nationally and internationally, but it doesn't generate the same amount of hype as more market-driven festivals. Is that a bad thing? To some people it is. And to others, like Christopher Zara in May's Seattle magazine, it is SIFF's "undying commitment to audiences" that may be at fault.

After acknowledging that SIFF is the largest and best attended film festival in the nation, Zara writes, "Yet every year we're upstaged, in terms of influence and recognition, by sleeker events--and not just heavy hitters like Sundance and Cannes." He goes on to compare SIFF unfavorably to Telluride and Tribeca, which he calls "models of a less-is-more philosophy that still manages to launch more careers, attract more industry guests and generate more hype than our own," even though both festivals are more about launching films than selling them, with Tribeca in particular taking hits for getting more press for its founders than for the films themselves.

The tone of the article continues to come across as negative, as though SIFF is turning down innovative young directors in favor of crusty French comedies. In reality, the industry has its three to five festivals that they go to in order to buy films (Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, etc.), and they don't want to have to go to more. The hot young directors follow suit and give their premieres to those festivals. Then they come to SIFF. At least we get to see these movies, even if we don't get the press for hosting the premieres.

Kathleen McInnis, who worked for SIFF and left the Seattle film scene a year ago, is quoted saying that SIFF's legendary audiences aren't enough to draw industry to town anymore. Zara knows what will; he comes to the conclusion that more adventurous programming would make SIFF "a really big player" again. I, myself, am a fan of adventurous programming, which is what draws me to a lot of Asian and Eastern European films; I hope that the New Pioneers section of experimental and avant-garde films is successful enough to expand next year. Oh, but that's all part of SIFF…

The most telling statement Zara makes is the following: "Of course, if SIFF were to, say, fulfill its higher aesthetic function with a more active role in fostering local talent, such efforts could also bolster its reputation as a [sic] event where films and filmmakers are discovered." The implication is that there's a host of talented Seattle filmmakers being held back due to the lack of support and exposure SIFF could provide. To support this he talks to Jamie Hook, a former Seattle filmmaker and an outspoken critic of SIFF, who has long since left our film scene for the colder climes of Minneapolis. The only local film Zara uses as an example, though, is Jamie Hook's The Naked Proof, which had its world premiere at… you guessed it: SIFF.

Maybe Zara knows some local filmmakers who feel snubbed by SIFF, but if that's the case, then why did he have to interview ex-Seattleites to find criticism?

andy@thestranger.com

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