EVEN PRESIDENT CLINTON'S Friday visit couldn't stop the first full evening of festival screenings from drawing record crowds (though his motorcade may have delayed some

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SIFF diary

Crowds, transit tips, sightings, and best bets.

EVEN PRESIDENT CLINTON'S Friday visit couldn't stop the first full evening of festival screenings from drawing record crowds (though his motorcade may have delayed some downtown drivers). According to SIFF, this weekend drew more people than any other weekend in festival history. In fact, only one event seems to be making a deleterious impact: After five glorious widescreen days of Cinerama showings, SIFF has lost the theater to The Phantom Menace, which proves there is at least one irresistible Force that can nudge the immovable festival.

With more than a dozen guests appearing with their films, SIFF hit the ground running with new theaters, a new shuttle, and new problems to overcome. It also proved once again that it's the audience that makes the festival, and SIFF audiences are the best. Sure, they blow off a little steam when things go wrong, and (not too surprisingly) Pacific Place and Cinerama were still working out the kinks of first-time venues dealing with rabid throngs, but most people leave with the understanding that this is, as always, a work-in-progress. Three more weekends to go!

SIFF's second-best-kept secret: A shuttle bus has been contracted to run between Capitol Hill and Pacific Place between shows. Using the Harvard Exit as home base, the shuttle starts up on Harvard Street, in front of the stone steps of the Harvard Exit's exit, hits the Egyptian Theater in the bus-stop zone in front of the theater's espresso window (Broadway Performance Hall audiences need to cross the street), and runs down the hill to Pacific Place (where it uses the loading zone in front of the entrance for a brief passenger exchange), before heading back up to the Egyptian and then back to home base. The service runs from 2pm to 9:30pm weekends and 6:30-9:30pm weekdays, the loop runs between 15 and 20 minutes depending on traffic (and last weekend was a doozy), and the driver can make about two runs between shows. It's a pilot project, and they're still working out the most effective way to handle it. The van holds only about 11 people. I took the tour with a most agreeable philosopher-driver named Anthony (one of a dozen or so scheduled to take shifts throughout the fest), who seems to have caught SIFF fever on a contact high from happily buzzing passengers: "I think I'll start seeing some of these films," he told me. Keep in mind there is no run after the final show, so if you find yourself traveling very far from your car for the last film of the night, think about making other plans to get back.

Alan Rudolph was ferried at great expense from Bainbridge Island to show up for a repeat of his 1984 SIFF hit Choose Me (which followed its American premiere at the Egyptian with a 22-week run) and later that evening took to the stage for Breakfast of Champions at the Cinerama with a genuine odd couple: Bruce Willis dressed to the nines and Nick Nolte in . . . a bathrobe and PJs? OK, it wasn't a bathrobe, it was actually a duster-length silk coat wrapped around "lounge wear" (read that as you will). Willis had them in the aisles with his quips, which may have made up for his security arrangements, which completely blocked the exit out to the men's restroom and created a bottleneck at the single stage-right double door. But the big surprise came at the end of the evening, as the theater started emptying out. The story we heard was that Nick Nolte yelled across the auditorium in his deep, croaking voice: "Alan! We gotta go now!" Rudolph replied, "I'm talking to Martin Denny." "Well, hell, why didn't say it was it was Martin Denny?! Then we can stay all night!" It turned out that Mr. Denny, the aging exotica music icon whose plush lounge sounds fill Champions with bachelor-pad island music, flew in from Hawaii to see the world premiere as a member of the audience, but never made it to the stage.

IF YOU HAVEN'T been downstairs at the Harvard Exit for a while, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find they've replaced their threadbare old seats with large, plush, very comfortable new chairs of modern design with a high back, good lower back support, and—best of all—new foam cushions. Does that mean the Egyptian is next in line for a long overdue renovation?

Guests voice off: "Our favorite way is to shoot the day during the day and the night during the night."—Dorota Kedzierzawska, when asked how she achieved the lush light in her film Nothing. Alan Rudolph posits a difference in definition between a film and a movie: "For a movie, their faces have to be bigger than yours." Bruce Wills explains why Breakfast of Champions was shot in Twin Falls, Idaho: "It's the franchise capital of the world." Carl Spence introduces Pirates of Silicon Valley, a satirical look at the battle between Steve Jobs and Seattle's own Bill Gates: "Two of the companies profiled in this film are also big supporters of the festival. We thought about that for a second, then put it out of our minds. We thought about playing it at the Cinerama (owned by Microsoft partner Paul Allen), but we thought that would be too much." The film had the audience laughing and clapping throughout, and one viewer was overheard commenting: "This could be a Rocky Horror for Seattle."

Favorite lines: Men's group discussion leader in Bedrooms and Hallways: "Don't be so British! You've got to share your feelings." A business discussion in Beautiful Sunday: "I'm stalking you, and you despise me. Don't say things like 'Come in.' It ruins it." Favorite epithet: "Your son is a blood clot in my veins," from West Beirut.

Festival tips: As any SIFF vet knows, the Egyptian bathrooms are small and not well equipped for large audiences, so remember that downstairs at the Broadway Performance Hall, to the right of the information desk, are two very large restrooms that handle very little traffic.

Speaking of traffic: With parking at a premium, every SIFF-goer should know that the parking lot on Harvard directly behind the Broadway Performance Hall is the best deal in town, and the Pacific Place parking lot has the most reasonable downtown rates—but it does get exponentially more expensive after five hours or so. Don't discount the opportunity to really stretch your legs between shows: At a brisk walk it's less than 10 minutes between the Egyptian and the Harvard, about 15 minutes from the Egyptian to Pacific Place, and something of a 20-minute hike between the Harvard and Pacific Place.

The Cinerama turned out to be a big draw despite parking problems, and at times the long lines gave The Phantom Menace a challenge. Between Your Legs, the Wiggly World benefit screening of the locally produced Money Buys Happiness, and the 70mm, German-subtitled Porgy & Bess (or, as the film credit read, Porgy Und Bess) all sold out, and Breakfast of Champions was actually oversold in a minor snafu. There were also big turnouts for The Loss of Sexual Innocence and Lovers of the Arctic Circle, which seems to have been the weekend audience favorite, at least on a cursory glance at the returned ballots. At Pacific Place, audiences filled every seat for the first showing of Besieged, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Bedrooms and Hallways, and the second showing of Better Living Through Circuitry, and packed houses turned out for the second screening of Lovers of the Arctic Circle, the family offering Tom's Midnight Garden, The Tichborne Claimant, and Sweety Barrett. At the Harvard Exit, Emerging Master for SIFF Week 1 Dorota Kedzierzawska (who appeared with her translator) packed the Harvard for a return engagement of Nothing (which previously played at the Women in Cinema series) and capacity showing of her first film, Devils Devils. At the Egyptian, Pirates of Silicon Valley and Better than Chocolate sold out.

My recommendations: Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep) is back with Late August, Early September, one of the best of the fest so far—a rich, rangy tale of young adults in Paris dealing with failing relationships, personal failings, and enough fear and selfishness to make them more real than any movie's characters in the festival so far. Adrenaline Drive is a wonderful deadpan comedy from the director of last year's outrageous My Secret Cache.

 
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