SIFF, film lover’s paradise, returns for 35th year

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, May 21, 2009 2:40pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Recession? What recession?

Surely the Gigantor-scaled Seattle International Film Festival had an excuse to downsize itself in this of all years. This annual cinema behemoth is the largest and longest film festival in the U.S., after all.

But, while there might be fewer features this year, SIFF is sprawling all over the place once again. The festival has actually added more venues to its schedule, spreading itself out to West Seattle’s Admiral theater and the Kirkland Performance Center along with its regular haunts.

This 35th SIFF began Thursday night with its gala opening film, the British political satire “In the Loop,” and continues through June 14. On most days, six theaters will be humming away with SIFF screenings.

How to break it all down? Well, there are around 200 feature movies, and almost as many short films. The documentaries alone number more than 50 titles.

Sixty-two countries are represented, so if you have a special interest in any particular corner of the world, chances are you’ll be able to visit there.

Faced with so many moviegoing possibilities, I can only offer a weekly batch of tips on movies I’ve been able to preview (see sidebar). But here are some highlights, overview-wise.

Special guests are a little starrier this year than last year — at least if you consider A-list directors starry. SIFF will host the “Godfather” guru himself, Francis Coppola, bringing his newest film, “Tetro,” to town on June 7. The movie’s star, Vincent Gallo, is also scheduled to attend.

Cinematic provocateur Spike Lee will receive the Golden Space Needle Award tribute on May 27, a Q&A session that will include film clips plus a screening of his new one, “Passing Strange.”

Closer to home, this year’s festival has a bumper crop of locally produced movies, led by Lynn Shelton’s Sundance hit, “Humpday,” and David Russo’s experimental “Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle,” which was produced in part by the Northwest Film Forum.

Local filmmakers have produced documentaries, too, including Sandy Cioffi’s “Sweet Crude,” which examines the oil industry in Nigeria, and Kevin Tomlinson’s “Back to the Garden,” a look-back at a hippie gathering in Eastern Washington. Peter Esmonde’s “Trimpin: The Sound of Invention” reveals the world of Trimpin, Seattle-based artist-composer.

The fest segment I always scan first is its collection of “Archival Presentations,” the blasts from the past. This year Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne visits; he’ll present four titles for which the word “classic” is a foregone conclusion: “The Third Man,” “Dodsworth,” “Sunset Boulevard” and the Errol Flynn version of “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”

Sergio Leone’s marvelous 1968 epic, “Once Upon a Time in the West,” will screen, and so will Blake Edwards’ zany “The Great Race,” a lavish slapstick comedy from 1965 about a ‘round-the-world road race.

I’m looking forward to seeing a couple of rarities for the first time: an early Italian feature by Michelangelo Antonioni, “Le Amiche” (1955), and a Chinese silent from 1931, “Wild Rose.”

A group of “Films4Families” will provide kid-friendly fare, a great way to introduce future movie fans to the habit of seeing movies from different countries. Those show at Saturday and Sunday matinees.

Many filmmakers and actors will visit with their films, and gala parties are scattered throughout the fest.

You can buy passes for all or part of SIFF, or individual tickets for movies and events; more information is at

Among the theaters participating in the festival are SIFF Cinema, Uptown, Pacific Place, Egyptian, Harvard Exit, Neptune and the Northwest Film Forum. The final weekend, including the closing night film “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” (a sequel to a hilarious French spy spoof), will also rope in the Cinerama.

With that many venues cranking out the movies, you almost can’t avoid ending up at the Seattle International Film Festival this year. And with that many choices, it might be tough to pick a destination on any given day. A good dilemma to have.

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