SIFF: Innocence and Experience

You’ll find two main varieties of SIFFgoers at the Seattle International Film Festival, now in its 38th year. First are the savvy veterans, passes dangling on lanyards, schedules heavily annotated, iSIFF apps glowing onscreen while standing in the short line. They buy their premium passes before the schedule’s even announced. They’re members of SIFF year-round. They’re always early to the screenings, comparing notes, wearing comfortable shoes. Then there are the random, almost accidental SIFFgoers, the “Hey, what’s this line all about?” passersby. If late tickets are available (most screenings are $11 this year), they join the long line—sometimes just out of blind curiosity. It’s like restaurants: A crowd implies quality. So my question is, in choosing among the 273 features and docs (plus nearly 200 shorts), who has more fun? Who has more sense of discovery—the die-hards or the newbies? The former camp tends to do homework in advance, parsing IMDb and other festival reviews. If they know the director, another movie about grain threshing in Kazakhstan won’t seem so daunting. For the impulse filmgoer, there’s the satisfaction of weathering something completely unexpected—and sometimes even wonderful. Even a bad movie can be, in its obdurate challenges, a “Wow, Thai brothel workers have it even worse than I imagined” kind of revelation. SIFF needs both contingents—the grizzled pass-holders and the fresh blood—and it rewards them both, too.

This week, we talk with Seattle indie queen Lynn Shelton, discuss a local documentary by Rick Stevenson 10 years in the making, and offer 27 short reviews. During our next three issues, we’ll continue our week-by-week approach to the fest, which runs Thursday, May 17–Sunday, June 10. As always, we’ll also be adding daily new reviews, interviews, and SIFF news to our website (see and, when in doubt, consult SIFF’s main venues this year are the Egyptian, Harvard Exit, Pacific Place, and SIFF Cinema Uptown, with satellite screenings at the Everett Performing Arts Center, Kirkland Performance Center, and Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center. See you in line.

Related: Subsequent picks and pans for SIFF Week 2, Week 3, and Week 4.