Satellites 2000: The other festival

Local indie venues ask, "SIFF? What SIFF?"

UNITED THEY STAND. Against the onslaught of SIFF media coverage (including the Weekly‘s), several local venues, bookers and programmers have mounted an alternative series of film and video exhibitions—but don’t call it a festival, and don’t call it a rival to SIFF (as Slamdance is to Sundance). “We’re not intending this as a challenge to SIFF,” declares Joel Bachar, who runs the monthly Independent Exposure short film screenings. Indeed, the low-budget Satellite confederation has been allowed to distribute its flyers at SIFF, and members like 911 Media Arts Center and the Northwest Film Forum also have some limited involvement with this year’s festival.


runs May 19-28

at Cinema 18, Grand Illusion, Little Theatre, 911 Media Arts Center, Sit & Spin, and Speakeasy Caf鼯I>

But the often-heard criticism of SIFF—not always on the record—is that the prosperous, 26-year-old festival is too stodgy, too staid, too conservative in its exclusion of locally produced short films and video, of nonnarrative and noncommercial cinema.

SIFF naturally begs to differ. In a prior interview touching upon the local film scene, festival director Darryl Macdonald cited the inclusion of a Northwest Shorts program featuring local works and a free Filmmakers Forum workshop to be held at 911. SIFF director of publicity Laura Bobovski downplays the notion that the Satellite factions are being marginalized—”These are all people that we work with”—which is true, up to a point.

The voices of Satellite discontent include last fall’s Seattle Underground Film Festival (a.k.a. SUFF), which cofounder Jon Behrens then said aspired to be “the way SIFF was many, many, many years ago,” including “oddball kinds of things” in its schedule.

Satellites certainly features some endearing oddballs. Friday, May 19 brings the very funny, frank, and non-PC documentary American Pimp to the Grand Illusion. Also on Friday, 911 offers Drunkdance, a rowdy program of local films and videos. Wednesday, May 24 brings low-tech Super-8 shorts to Sit & Spin, a program that includes WTO footage, scratched and manipulated film stock, Muybridge-like motion studies, and live music by Skerik from Critters Buggin. Speakeasy Caf頨osts Independent Exposure on Thursday, May 25, promising an amusing alien visit and a somber animated reflection upon prewar Poland among its dozen shorts. The avant-garde works of Stan Brakhage will be the highlight of Cinema Explosion at Cinema 18 (5/27), along with some new local efforts. (See Calendar, p. 83, for full details.)

Among Satellite members, Bachar included, no one wants burn any bridges with SIFF. Over at the nonprofit Northwest Film Forum (which is copresenting Seattle director Gregg Lachow’s Silence! with the festival), Deborah Girdwood adds, “I would love it if there were more collaboration.”

What does SIFF think of those prospects? Bobovski maintains a wait-and-see approach. “I don’t think there’s any ill will,” she says of the smaller venues that may approach the festival with hat in hand. (No SIFF veterans with a longer institutional memory were available to comment on Satellite complaints of previously spurned overtures and unreturned phone calls.)

If Satellites 2000 is enough of a success, and if the historically poor communication between SIFF and the Seattle indie film scene is overcome, both might benefit from the association. The former could add a younger, edgier constituency to its more mainstream audience, while the latter could gain additional funding and recognition. Yet it remains to be seen if this poor wandering festival will return in 2001 or fall into the SIFF orbit.