I have a dear friend who makes me feel guilty almost every time we go out to dinner. When I or anyone in our party doesn't finish all the food we are served--and because we typically dine in the United States of America, at less-than-four-star restaurants, that's a lot of food--he inevitably asks if we're planning to eat what's left, even if we have crumpled our napkins over the remains and let out the heavy sigh of the sated diner. "No," we sheepishly reply, spying his unfailingly spotless plate. "Do you want it?"

"Well, I'm not hungry. But if you aren't going to eat it...."

I always fork over the dish before he can complete his sentence. What's left unspoken, however, hangs in the air like a little shame cherub, attending my friend's responsible dispatch of my leftover fries, my supernumerary noodles, my excess omelet. Part of the impulse to give him my uneaten portions lies in not wanting to confront the questions raised by what he never gets to say: "I don't want to let it go to waste."

You can't argue with that. Or can you? Where exactly is "waste," anyway, and why are we so afraid to let things go there?

A moment's thought reveals the obvious answers to these two questions, respectively: (1) everywhere our American eyes can see, and (2) we're not. This great nation is built on the principle of waste--or rather, on the inalienable right to waste. All over the world people look at America and covet not just the vast embarrassment of wealth and opportunity at our disposal (disposal being the key word), but also our ability to flagrantly misuse it. What separates the haves from the have-nots is not the having, it's the wasting. We waste our resources on untenable growth; our money on all manner of useless garbage (which comes wrapped in even more useless garbage--bags full of boxes full of paper); and our time, money, and resources on frivolous entertainment such as television, books, newspapers, and--to bring this wantonly wasteful essay around to the subject at hand--movies.

What in this world is more gloriously wasteful than movies? Millions of dollars and infinite man-hours are spent to create and promote an inherently transitory experience, something no one can hold, something you sit and look at for two hours and which, if you're lucky, you can remember well enough to tell someone about. Unthinkable billions more are spent for the privilege of watching them. We defend the movies on artistic terms, and what we get from them is more than what is tangible: We get something to think about, something to respond to. We get "art." But what we really get is an escape from the wasteland of reality, into a pseudo-reality in which waste has no consequences.

Going to the movies is the process of erasing hours from your life, of wasting time--the ultimate privilege in a world in which your time is your own. No greater monument to the wasting of time exists than a film festival. And by greater, I do mean greater.

The Seattle International Film Festival is like war; you can take a stand against it, and you may even be right, but you might as well take a stand against rain. It's not going anywhere. And like war, it serves a purpose. We who treat movies as a sacrament require a ritual feast to cleanse our prodigal cravings. When SIFF hits town, we become an acquisitive mob, jockeying for tickets, seats, places in line--for our share of the more. This year's festival promises more "more" than ever before: 210 features, 70 shorts, 50 countries, 200 guests, 140,000 audience members. Do we want to see all these films? Some of us do. (I suspect what we really want is to have seen them.) More to the point, we want the option. We want more movies than we can possibly see, more time than we have to waste, more than all of everything, from every country and in every language. And every year around this time, we get it. And what we can't eat, our friends will gladly finish for us.

To waste, then. Cheers. See you at the film festival.