Just Another Dull Afternoon at the 27th Annual Seattle International Film Festival ^ “Ah, all that beautiful black and white,” observes Quentin Tarantino from a podium at Seattle’s Egyptian Theatre, flailing his arms like he’s had one espresso too many while critiquing an obscure forties film. “It’s enough to make you want to go skinny dipping in it – just jump onto the screen!” A half mile down Pine Street, at The Paramount Hotel, horror director Jeremy Kasten has both ears glued to the radio as his new movie, “The Attic Expeditions,” gets a five-star rating from a local FM station’s film critic. He grins with enthusiastic approval. A few blocks east of the city’s famed Pike Street Market, Seattle International Film Festival Publicist Rebecca Fisher is juggling phone calls at the event’s Sheraton Hotel Press Room, while handing out press passes and publicity packets to the hordes of journalists on hand to cover the event. “I’d ordinarily go crazy from this,” she confesses, “but I love my job.”
The 27th Annual Seattle International Film Festival ignored the regional energy crisis and spun over a million feet of celluloid through projectors at five theaters. The list of over 275 films was massive, and the unique gala presentations and archival screenings plugged up any lulls between movies. While Starbucks Coffee houses and Microsoft logos are the images usually associated with the Puget Sound Region, the SIFF presence dominated the area and could be felt everywhere during its three week run from May 24th through June 17th. “Life in Perspective,” the event’s slogan for 2001, jumped off of billboards, posters, marquees, and newspapers. It permeated the East-side Capitol Hill District, causing traffic to jam up on Broadway as commuters fought for parking spots during their attempts to catch a flick at The Egyptian or Harvard Exit after a busy day at the office. Across the street from The Egyptian, the same cinemaniacs could catch premieres at The Broadway Performance Hall, which also acted as the box office for rabid festival ticket-buyers.
Downtown, there was a triple-theatre shot of films playing at Cinerama (recently upgraded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, whose Allen Foundation for the Arts acted as one of SIFF’s grand sponsors), Pacific Place Cinemas, and 5th Avenue Theatre. Meanwhile, you might catch French director Jean-Jacques Beineix (“Diva,” “Mortal Transfer”) dining at a restaurant, killing time before attending a tribute presentation.
When he wasn’t gushing praise and hyperventilating over the career of William Whitney during a four-day retrospective at The Egyptian, the ever-present Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs) might be spotted in the same theater’s fourth row taking in the controversial Battle Royale, directed by Japanese filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku.
There were deservedly hyped “event” films, like Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, a tale inspired by comic books, but in a very different way than his previous effort, “Crumb” (which documented cult comic artist R. Crumb). The Endurance billed itself as “The Greatest Survival Story of All Time.” No one would argue the claim. Narrated by Liam Neeson and chronicling the two-year struggle of explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 27 seamen after their ship became trapped in Antarctic ice during a 1914 expedition, the movie was showcased at a benefit for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Meanwhile, there were the timely celebrities, such as omnipresent “Survivor” host Jeff Probst, whose directorial debut Finder’s Fee would go on to win the event’s grand prize – the Golden Space Needle Award. Campbell Scott was all over the map. Having directed the most recent version of “Hamlet” this year, along with a digitally shot psychological mystery called “Final,” Scott stepped in front of the camera for the Canadian sci-fi satire “Top of the Food Chain.” All three productions were screened at SIFF.
Co-directed by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cummings (and featuring both in acting roles), The Anniversary Party set things into motion during opening-night gala festivities. 24 days later, Alan Rudolph’s “Investigating Sex” concluded a celluloid smorgasbord of Pacific Rim features, Thailand movies, shorts, documentaries, family films, and cutting-edge, controversial midnight screenings of kinetic action and erotica. Film fodder from 50 countries graced what has grown into the largest film festival in America. It might not hold the mystique of a Sundance or a Cannes, but for sheer variety and dynamics, SIFF takes the prize.
But what of the festival’s more obscure, low-profile films that crept in under the radar with no buzz and minimal fanfare? For every heavily promoted premiere, like Tim Blake Nelson’s updated retelling of Othello (O) or the flamboyant rock opera Hedwig and the Angry Inch, there were a dozen unknown gems like “Parsley Days,” “Before the Storm,” and Chopper. One pleasing thematic trend running through many such offerings was a focus on physical and mental illness. The oddly moving, resonant French film “National 7” addressed the very real dilemma of assisted living residents and their limited opportunities for sexual gratification. Manic, by U.S. director Jordan Melamed, featured a teenage protagonist serving time in a psychiatric facility and addressed the frustrations faced by both therapists and patients in this institutionalized melting pot. The surrealistic, humorous Iceland entry “Angels of the Universe” studied the bond between three schizophrenics committed to a mental hospital.
Otherwise, there was the more predictable hodgepodge of Asian action films (Brother), coming of age dramas (“My First Mister”), visceral shockers (The Crimson Rivers), and timely documentaries (“Scout’s Honor,” Startup.com). It would require a novel to outline each and every SIFF entry, but what follows is a sampling of what makes this blue ribbon film orgy the movie event of America.
Get the whole story in the next part of VIOLENT KIDS! TERRORISTS! DELUSIONAL INMATES! TARANTINO!