23 days and 205 features came to an end as a record number of ticket sales made the 25th Annual Seattle International Film Festival the most attended in the history of the festival. At the Egyptian, full houses rocked to the world premiere of To Walk with Lions (with director Carl Schultz and star Richard Harris in person), Run Lola Run (with director Tom Tykwer and star Franka Potente), and the American premiere of At Sachem Farm (with director John Huddles and star Minnie Driver). M. Jay Roach presided over his sold-out closing night film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me at Pacific Place (all those rumors of Mike Myers and Heather Graham showing up proved completely unfounded) and then joined the most exclusive closing night party in recent history at the top of the Space Needle with his wife, singer/songwriter Susannah Hoffs. Both events were surprisingly bereft of press, and I wound up skipping the retro groove of swinging London for the even more retro silent film classic Battleship Potemkin, Sergei Eisenstein's 70-year-old paean to the revolutionary spirit of the Communist cause with live accompaniment by the Bellevue Philharmonic. (Fellow critics! Rise up against your oppressors!) But I did manage to finagle an invite to the Space Needle, all shagadelic costumes and flower power stickers, while groovy cover band "The Nightcaps" did everything from Nancy Sinatra to the theme to Beat Girl (a band after my own heart).
What some people will do to land a closing night ticket. At the final Friday midnight movie at the Egyptian, SIFF manager Floyd took to the stage with a ticket and a test: The first person to take off every stitch on stage would receive this hard-to-get item. And, yes, someone took the challenge and with good grace and humor turned it into an evening of adult entertainment. But here's the kicker: He already had one ticket, he needed one for his fianc饡 Now that's love.
Fly Filmmaking entered its third year with easily the most accomplished set of films to emerge from the program. For those not in the know, three directors are invited to Seattle and given 800 feet of raw film (about 22 minutes), equipment, a crew, and five days to cast, shoot, edit, score, and present a finished short film. The three brave souls this year were past guests Adrienne Shelly (Sudden Manhattan) and 1998 Golden Space Needle award winner Julia Sweeney (God Said 'Ha!'), and Paul Todisco, whose feature film debut Freak Talks About Sex made its world premiere this year at SIFF. The key to making such a madcap project work, according to Shelly, was in "turning disadvantage into advantage." Todisco's film, Skanks, was a serious, well-intentioned look at peer pressure and self-image among teenage girls. Shelly's wordless satirical fantasy of middle-class dreams and self-repression The Shadows of Bob and Zelda is a sepia-tinged B&W surreal sitcom highlighted by simple but surprisingly effective effects work (her final credits read: "Special Effects by Industrial Light and Magic . . . Just kidding"). The most accomplished, however, was Sweeney's Shadow Life, a clever two-character piece that starts out like a smart little skit but winds up as a modest but lovingly detailed short story. The shorts (along with the 800 Feet Can Make a Film, another five-day wonder premiering with the shorts) will play sometime this year on The Independent Film Channel.
Richard Harris charmed audiences at screenings of To Walk with Lions, where he nonchalantly sat on the edge of the stage and took over the Q&A by sheer force of personality, but his finest moments came at the exclusive onstage interview conducted by Movieline editor Stephen Farber at the Filmmaker's Forum on Saturday. Interspersing stories with sage advice, he entertained the rapt Broadway Performance Hall with dead-on impressions of John Huston, Marlon Brando, and Clint Eastwood.
In a rare moment of cinematic synchronicity, the rather exclusive Fool Serious Awards (organized and voted upon solely by full series passholders) gave their top rating to Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run, which also copped the more prestigious (if somewhat less exclusive) Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film. Talk about diligence: More than a few of the full series club took in over 100 films. Limbo, which earned honored guest John Sayles the Golden Space Needle for Best Director, was a runner-up in both Golden Space Needle and Fool Serious awards for Best Film.
My unofficial audience survey found that the favorite SIFF promo short was "Alarm Clock" (the one where the paperboy nailed every car alarm in the neighborhood), which continued to earn applause right through the final weekend.
Guests speak out: Richard Harris explains how he spent every night reading George Adamson's diary preparing for To Walk with Lions: "Strange for me to go to bed with a book, but there you have it." Director Tom Tykwer introduces Run Lola Run: "This film is very short, so if anyone has to go to the bathroom please do it now. It would be terrible to miss any of it, and besides, I might see you in the lobby and then get very angry." Minnie Driver explains how a British family wound up central to the LA set in At Sachem Farm: "I'm the only actress they could get. It could be a Norwegian family. You don't know how lucky you are."
Fave lines: Estate foreman to peasant farmers of Mumu: "Our Mistress is dead. You will bereave her as you did the last time. She'll be alive again by tonight, though." Nigel Hawthorne explains his unorthodox therapy in At Sachem Farm: "His karma was constipated. I gave him an enema."
View the SIFF awards and the Sean Axmaker SIFF awards!