Tips for Seattle International Film Festival First Time Attendees

I’ve been attending the Seattle International Film Festival for several years and was introduced to the event by two of my Realtor friends, Kyoko Matsumoto Wright (who worked on the original festival when she was a UW School of Drama student many years ago) and Ron Crider. Instead of telling you all the cool things about the festival this year, like Ewan McGregor coming to town, a better idea for curious first timers is to spend time reading the SIFF Guide. After that, you’ll be ready for some first timer festival attendees tips on how to jump in and have fun. For 2011, SIFF runs from May 19-June 12.

1) Some people harbor a secret fantasy of cancelling all business appointments and watching as many films as possible from morning to midnight during the festival.  Unless your name is Tom Tangney, you’re independently wealthy, or you are an uber film nerd, most of us have other obligations during festival time. Lucky for us, many of the movies are shown more than once, at different times of the day, and in different locations beyond just Seattle.  So my first tip is to go through the SIFF guide and make a list of the movies you want to see by day/time option as it fits with your calendar.

2) Second step is to compare your “must see” films with your film buddy.  I’ve been attending films with my nephews and daughters and sometimes what we want to see matches up perfectly and other times, not so much.  Josh really wanted to see Robo Geisha last year but I passed so he went by himself and he said the place was absolutely packed and the movie was a riot.  Together we saw Ticked off Trannies with Knives which was hilarious. Josh and I place high priority on all zombie movies followed closely by anything in the horror genre.  Miranda and I lean toward the kewl teen films (e.g.; Let the Right One In.) When my girls were  younger we saw the family-friendly films.  Ron Crider and I typically go for the psychological thrillers followed closesly by the gratuitous sex and violence genre and Kyoko and I might end up seeing an intense drama. There are plenty of people who are by themselves so don’t let a lack of a movie buddy stop you from going. 

2) Arrive early. Arrive early. Arrive early.  If you have a buddy, one person can save a place in line while the other person is parking.  Lines form fast and they’re long.  Bring a book to read while you’re in line and an umbrella and dress in layers just in case. There will be separate lines for pass holders and ticket holders.  If you’re not an overfunctioning planner, which is a personality trait that tends to run in my family, you might do just fine with spur of the moment decisions but then be prepared to be let down if your first choice is sold out.

3) I highly recommend buying your tickets online at home ahead of time.  You exchange your paid receipt for a ticket when you arrive at the theater. Find the SIFF volunteers right inside the theater. If you’ve purchased, say, tickets for 7 shows online and head out to see the first one, the SIFF volunteer will print out your tickets for all 7 shows at that first show. 

4) Be open to seeing films with subtitles. Last year, the very best film of the festival, IMO was Cell 211, which won Spain’s version of their Oscar awards for “Best Picture.” I love films with moral dilemmas and this film asked us to ponder the question, “Is it ever okay to lie and under what circumstances?”  This film has not yet been released in the U.S. in a format that would play on our DVD players and as soon as it does make it to the U.S., I’ll definitely be buying several copies. Aside from Inception, Cell 211 was the best film I saw last year.

5) Watch your budget and remember costs can add up. Parking, coffee or a meal before/after the film, snacks, gas money, can destroy a tight budget so do what you usually do to save money at the movies.

6) Many filmmakers are at the festival promoting their films and/or looking for a distributor so people from the film will sometimes be in attendance. Actors, producers, directors, have all been known to be there to introduce their film and even stay after the film is over to answer audience questions.  I’ll never forget seeing Josh collect an autograph from Rachel Dratch. He levitated for the rest of the day. We’ve been in the audience with Paul Giammatti, Edward Norton, Gus Van Sant in recent years.

7)  Plan ahead for 2012 and buy ticket packages in advance, right around Dec or Jan, at a discount.

What’s on my list this year?  

The First Grader looks fantastic.
Miranda July’s The Future
John Carpenter’s The Ward
Josh and I will definitely take in The Intruder and The Darkest Matter.
and I think Miran will want to see Beginners w/Ewan McGregor and Detention.
I’ll probably see at least 10 more in addition to these.

All the SIFF volunteers are typically identifiable by their tshirts or badges. Have fun and I’ll see you at SIFF!

Seattle International Film Festival Review: Deadgirl

June is a busy month for families.  Graduations, end-of-the-school year parties, summer camp registration, the end of spring sports and tryouts for fall sports, Father’s Day, yet I try hard to make time for….The Seattle International Film Festival.  I’ve seen 5 movies so far and last night’s screening of Deadgirl is my favorite.  I attended the movie with my nephew Josh and my daughter Miranda.  All of us like the horror genre and the Deadgirl storyline sounded creepy: 

Rickie and JT are high school outsiders, bullied by jocks and despised by the in-crowd. Though both would rather drop out than bear this never-ending misery, Rickie chooses to stay, if only to catch fleeting glimpses of JoAnn, his childhood crush and the current girlfriend to the captain of the football team. Then one afternoon, while cutting class, the pair makes a bizarre discovery in the darkest depths of an abandoned hospital—a beautiful young woman, neither living nor dead. 

It would be easy to dismiss this film as exploitative but there’s way more going on beneath the surface. On the one hand, it might seem as though Rickie and JT are holding opposing moral positions and the directors use this as dynamic tension to move the film forward. But  the way I see it, Rickie and JT actually want the same thing. The movie reminds me of another dark teen film, “Heathers.” Miranda says “Christian Slater’s character DOES everything Winona Ryder’s character wants to do.”

Director/Producers Gadi Harel and Marcel Sarmiento were there for the screening and took questions and answers afterwards.  One of the movies that inspired Gadi and Marcel was “Stand by Me” based on the short story “The Body” by Stephen King.  The Body was required reading during one of my psych grad school classes because it helped students understand the importance of developmental milestones.  Rickie and JT are older than the kids from The Body and their curiosity about life and death goes down a more gruesome path.

Miranda asked about the significance of a certain shot containing a small flower that surely was meant to convey symbolism.  Marcel was glad someone finally asked about that scene but refused to give away the meaning to the audience. Instead, he took her aside after the Q&A and whispered the meaning to her, and extracted a vow of secrecy. The rest of us will have to wait until the DVD release! 

One of the questions was, “How did you obtain financing for such a creepy story?”  Gadi and Marcel said that during the real estate bubble-run up, there was money available from people who had made plenty in real estate and those folks were the seed investors.  Interesting.  Times are different today. 

Deadgirl will play again tonight at midnight at the Egyptian and again on June 5th, 9:30PM at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center.

Seattle International Film Festival!

This past Christmas, I bought my nephew Josh a 20-pack gift certificate to the Seattle International Film Festival and we’ve been surfing the SIFF movie sorter finding all kinds of films that are on both of our “must see” lists.  Last night we saw a Midnight Adrenaline showing of “I Sell the Dead.” Yes, more zombie movies are on my list to see with Josh including “Zombies of Mass Destruction” (filmed in Port Gamble, WA) and Dead Snow. 

This afternoon, I took a four-pack of teenagers to see “Spring Breakdown” and star Rachel Dratch (from Saturday Night Live) was there for a meet and greet. It was hilarious!  Josh had a chance to meet Rachel and get her autograph and I must say he practically levitated for the rest of the day.   After Spring Breakdown, we raced to the Uptown on Queen Anne to get in line for “Paper Heart” starring Charlyne Li and Michael Cera.  It’s a documentary/comedy/romance about Charlyne’s real life quest to find out why she doesn’t believe in love. The film was wonderful and everyone with my group gave it a 5 on the 1-5 rating scale for the audience choice award.  Tomorrow both my nephews and I will be heading down to the U District again to see Kevin Spacey in “Shrink.”

I don’t spend all my time with teen-friendly films and neither should you.  For gratuitous sex and violence, I’ll be catching “Dowloading Nancy” with my gratuitous-sex-and-violence-film-festival-buddy Ron.  Our pact is to ONLY see movies with gratuitous sex and violence each year.  I try to see the opening and closing night galas with my friend Kyoko who always entertains me with stories about what it was like when she was a UW student in the early 70s when the film festival was first getting started

Another favorite genre is horror.  Josh and I will be catching “Deadgirl” which created a buzz at the Toronto Film Festival and “The Hills Run Red.”  I wish I had time to see more psychological thrillers but alas, business calls.  If only I could take three weeks off work every year.  You can search the SIFF film sorter by website by genre, program, director, country or venue.   The calendar will give you a quick look at what films are playing where and when every day.  SIFF even has an iPhone app for the festival. I recommend buying tickets online and printing your ticket vouchers in advance. That way if the movie you want to see is sold out by the time you arrive, you’re rewarded for planning ahead by exchanging your vouchers for tickets at will call and get in the ticket holder line!  All the SIFF volunteers have been amazing at helping me with various questions.  My only complaint is having to constantly pay for parking at every venue which really adds up. 

Come say “Hi” if you see me at Four Boxes, West of Pluto, Burning Plain, Worlds Greatest Dad (filmed in Seattle), Cold Souls, or The Clone Returns Home and I hope everyone is enjoying our awesome weather this weekend!