Like the arrival of longer, more reliably sunny days, nothing says spring in Seattle quite like the arrival of the 44th Seattle International Film Festival, which revealed its complete lineup of 433 films to donors and press last night and to the rest of the world this morning. Broken down, that’s 168 narrative features, 66 documentaries, 10 archival, 164 shorts, and 21 VR/360 works [plus four secret films revealed only to passholders who sign an oath never to reveal the titles]. Of these, the programmers did an admirable job of seeking novelty and diversity — 56% are first or second-time filmmakers, 65% are still seeking U.S. distribution, and 43% are made by women filmmakers.
Start diving into the website now: tickets go on sale to the general public on May 3rd, but members get a one day head start. The festival officially kicks off on May 17th at McCaw Hall with a fancy gala presentation of Isabel Coixet’s the Bookshop, starring Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy and Patricia Clarkson. With the need to please everyone (or at least not offend sponsors), Opening Night films are famously hit-or-miss, but it’s always fun to put on whatever passes for Seattle finery, walk the red carpet, and catch up with film friends during the mad-rush for hors d’oeuvres, strategic deployment of drink tickets, and maybe just a little bit of dancing. All of this glamor can be yours for the price of a general admission ticket ($75/$65, members) all the way up to the full-on valet and gift bag luxury of the $275 “Red Carpet Experience”.
Never fear, if history is any indication, the gala will end before midnight to give you time to recover before charging into the next three weeks of filmgoing that starts in earnest on Friday afternoon. To SIFF like a pro, revisit our time- and fest-tested tips, updated for 2018:
- Plan ahead. Get to know the freshly-facelifted SIFF website. Browse the sortable searchable Festival Guide. Check ahead to see if guests will be at the screening for a Q&A, for timing and scheduling purposes, if not for celeb-watching, and monitor the various SIFF feeds regularly for updates, so you’ll have the heads up before a screening sells out.
- Technology is your friend! SIFF is never as tech-integrated as one would like, but the mobile website and an app to keep track of your tickets are still there to fill the void (R.I.P. dedicated SIFF schedule app, you were too beautiful for this world). There, you can make use of the My SIFF to build your own calendar and email your schedule to friends who still use email (but sharing your schedule on social media or importing into your own google calendar remains a pipe dream). Still, you can keep up with festival news on various platforms: Facebook, Twitter; YouTube, and Instagram.
- The festival also posts daily updates (as PDFs) alerting eagle-eyed planners to films that are selling quickly or are already on standby on their Resources page.
- That page is also where you’ll (eventually) find all sorts of fun stuff like an Excel sheet of all the films, the film guide, and the whole schedule grid, suitable for printing on a couple sheets of paper and keep it in your back pocket for three weeks. Perfect for survivalists, Luddites, or people worried about being without the schedule in the case of a drained battery.
- Once the festival starts, you can get a commemorative catalog. The glossy pictures and longer descriptions make almost every film look more compelling, and the giant book makes a nice souvenir/scorecard.
PERUSING THE PROGRAMMING
- The festival is stuffed with panels, parties, events, and even more galas; book early for these special engagements. Tickets are still available for the Centerpiece Gala — Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You (June 2 at the Egyptian, followed by a party at the D.A.R. Chapter House), but are already on standby for the Closing Night blowout featuring Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (June 10 at the Egyptian, followed by a party at MOHAI).
- The festival is organized into multiple intersecting systems. For the left-brained, there are programs and competitions: completists might try following along with the juries in collections like the official competition, the documentary competition, or the new american cinema competition; extremists could consider seeing the full collection of WTF or Alternate Cinema; hedonists could check out the Culinary Cinema series for dinner and a movie or soak up the Face the Music program. There are also regional collections, from the far-flung to films with Northwest Connections. New this year are sections on Web and Episodic filmmaking as well as a Virtual Reality zone featuring interactive and immersive programming.
- If this all sounds too complicated, you can also select “moods” like Creative Streak, Love, Make Me Laugh!, Open My Eyes, Provocateurs, Show Me the World, Thrill Me, or WTF (both a mood and a program) depending on how you’re feeling that day.
- Those who like to see and be seen alongside their filmgoing should keep an eye on the parties, galas, and special events. This year’s special guests programming features Tribute to Ethan Hawke (here with his new film Blaze and starring in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed) and An Afternoon With Melanie Lynskey (here with Megan Griffith’s Sadie). Other special events include a found footage festival and a silent presentation of Highlander with the soundtrack re-scored live with Queen tracks.
- If you’re still stuck, browse the expert advice of the Programmer Picks. This year, 24 tireless SIFF programmers collectively identified 160 films as a favorite. You could either choose one programmer and follow their lead or go with the consensus — some movies are more popular than others. While 106 were mentioned just once, Scary Mother and Sorry to Bother You scored five nods from programmers as festival favorites; and with four picks each, Amateurs, Three Identical Strangers, Brewmaster, and the short films package Who Runs the World rounded out the popularity contest.
After approximately two hours with the full schedule, your friendly neighborhood SunBreak SIFF Team identified a few films that most intrigued each of us. We’ll continue to provide our usual rounds of picks and reviews, but here are a few things that we already have on our calendars.
- Disobedience. Sebastian Leilo follows up his Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman (Best Foreign Language Film, 2017) with a much-buzzed about picture where Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams star as lovers in London’s Orthodox Jewish community. It was one of the movies I most wanted to see before I knew it was playing at SIFF. I wouldn’t think of missing it.
- Love, Gilda. A documentary about legendary SNL star Gilda Radner, with Melissa McCarthy, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, and Amy Poehler all paying tribute to Radner is one of those movies that will pull me into the theater like a magnetic force. I was a little too young to watch Radner on “Saturday Night Live” in real time but I take every opportunity I get to learn more about this comedic genius.
- Streaker. There’s nothing quite like the experience of watching a sporting event, only to have it interrupted by the absurdity of a naked man running onto the court or field. This Swiss movie is about a broke teacher who starts betting on how long streakers can stay on the field before being unceremoniously removed. It sounds like a better idea than whatever the hell daily fantasy baseball is.
- Wild Nights With Emily. Director Madeleine Olnek (SIFF class of 2011 with Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same) brings her newest movie to SIFF. It’s a biopic where Molly Shannon stars as a gay Emily Dickinson. IndieWire called it “the best lesbian comedy in years.” The preceding two sentences contain about a dozen reasons it’s high on my list of must-sees at SIFF.
- Sorry to Bother You. The directorial debut of Boots Riley, co-founder of hip-hop gadflies The Coup, is an absurdist satire in which a black telemarketer’s mad phone skills rocket him to the top of his company. The trailer, which screened at the SIFF press launch, promises a howlingly funny, lacerating comedy. And it looks like it’ll offer some major catharsis for anyone who’s ever worked the customer service frontlines.
- The Field Guide to Evil. Horror anthologies are cinematic catnip for me, so this omnibus of folktale-based vignettes directed by over a half-dozen European and Asian filmmakers has thoroughly whetted my appetite for the scary.
- The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game is one of my favorite movies, so the prospect of getting a gander at an underseen 1936 black comedy by the great French auteur is nigh-irresistible.
- Revenge. The programmers behind the festival’s genre-film series, WTF?, made specific mention about the series’ female-centric programming at this year’s press launch. If the trailer on display at the Press Launch is any indication, Coral Fargeat’s saga of a young woman forced to take on a cadre of her boyfriend’s thuggish pals looks like a refreshing blast of empowerment, wrapped in a thrilling high-octane genre cinema package.
- L’Inferno with Live Score by My Goodness. A 1911 Italian silent film adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, with a live soundtrack provided by Hammer-of-God Seattle rock beasts My Goodness, in the swanky environs of The Triple Door? Sold.
Josh: Many of your picks were on my list of standouts from last night. I’m a bit iffy on opening night, but the other two gala presentations look like very solid selections. Beyond that, in browsing the guide, I noticed a handful of titles that have already started building buzz on Film Twitter from earlier festivals. SIFF’s a great opportunity to get caught up. To that end:
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The Mr. Rogers documentary we didn’t know we needed, from the people who warmed your hearts with Twenty Feet From Stardom. Like most people who are currently alive, I spent many hours of my childhood with Mister Rogers. Rogers’s forays into the real world — both on and off the show — were socially groundbreaking and formative in ways not immediately obvious to kids whose favorite segments were the visits to Although the Neighborhood of Make Believe.
- MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. I’m always game for a music documentary; so I’m looking forward to seeing Stephen Loveridge’s kinetic and multifaceted take on the music, life, and activism of Maya Arulpragasam.
- American Animals. MoviePass financed this SXSW splash about the true story of four inept guys who made a terrible plan to get rich by stealing a rare and valuable art book. Starring Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan, the preview promises energetic sequences, terrible disguises, multiple perspectives, and questions about The American Dream.
- Eighth Grade. Bo Burnham’s Sundance standout follows a thirteen-year-old girl on her last week of a disastrous year of eighth grade, when everything is embarrassing for everyone involved. It all seems very post-millennial.
- Scary Mother. This psychological thriller about a mother and aspiring novelist in Tbilisi who’s compelled to write despite her family’s wishes came up as a favorite among the Programmer Picks. That’s enough to put this feminist drama high on my list of must-sees.
- I also saw some very good things last year by following the Official Competition. This is one of SIFF juried awards, and the nine competing films — The Devil’s Doorway, Garbage, The Heiresses, Leave No Trace, Luna, Pig, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, Something Useful, Team Hurricane — look like a diverse survey of some of the festival’s best selections. I’ll aim to see as many of them as I can.
- Consider buying in bulk. There’s nothing quite like the flexibility of joining the ranks of the passholders, but even if you don’t want to spring for that level of commitment, you can still get a ticket packages in sets of six ($75/$65 members) or twenty ($240/$180) to cut down on service fees and save a bit of money compared to individual tickets. There’s also a Gala Pack to get you into Opening, Centerpiece, and Closing nights ($150/$125) and is currently the only game in town for getting into the Closing Night (individual tickets on standby).
- Or be adventurous, swear yourself to silence, and buy into the aforementioned Secret Fest — you’ll get four Sunday morning screenings that you can see only by signing a contract promising never to reveal what you saw.
- If a film is sold out, all hope isn’t lost, but getting into a film via the standby line is a complete crapshoot — don’t count on it for a popular film. But if a miracle does occur, those tickets are full price and “cash preferred.”
- The key venues for this year’s festival are: SIFF Cinema Uptown, SIFF Cinema Egyptian, and Pacific Place. Together this makes for five screens and the majority of screenings.
- Lower Queen Anne offers you the closest thing to one-stop SIFF-ing. All three SIFF Uptown screens will be showing festival films, two blocks or so away the SIFF Film Center opens for weekend screenings, and the SIFF Lounge pops up for passholders at SIFF Lounge W. Roy Street and Queen Anne Avenue N.
- For those straying from SIFF central, it’s a fairly short walk between the Egyptian and Pacific Place (slightly less easy the other uphill way around). And light rail stops on Capitol Hill, Westlake Center and in Columbia City, ease the venue-hopping experience for those shuttling between The Egyptian, Pacific Place, and/or Ark Lodge. Getting to-and-from the Uptown, you’re at the mercy of downtown traffic; so plan accordingly and then double your transit estimates if you’re relying on the bus.
- You can still enjoy SIFF outside of the Seattle core! Over the course of the festival, SIFF will spend time in Ballard at Majestic Bay (May 18-23), in Columbia City at Ark Lodge Cinemas (May 18-24), in Bellevue at Lincoln Square Cinemas (May 18-31), as well as at Shoreline Community College (May 25-June 2) and the Kirkland Performance Center (May 31-June 3). Plus, there are a handful of special events at other venues around town.
- If you’re particular about where you sit, there’s no such thing as arriving too early. Expect every screening to have a long line and a full house. Still, as long as you have a ticket, you’ll have a seat. Ticketholders are usually let into the theater about 30 minutes in advance of showtimes. Passholders get in first, but there are a limited number of seats set aside for them; so show up early, particularly for movies with big buzz.
- Regarding those long lines: be prepared with an umbrella, sunglasses, sunscreen, a light jacket, and some reading material to pass the time. Bringing some snacks is acceptable, but don’t be That Guy who sneaks in a four-course meal.
- Find your path of least resistance. For example, at the Egyptian, nearly everyone enters the theater and goes to the left. So break away from the herd and go to the right.
- Bathrooms! One way to avoid the line is to either head straight to the restroom as soon as you get into the theater, or wait until the lights go down. From there, you’ve got about 7 minutes of ads, trailers, and announcements before the film begins.
- Consider subtitles. If your film has them and you’re not fluent, find a seat with a clear view of the bottom of the screen. Aisle left or right is generally a good bet. Although the seats on the center aisle (exit row) at the Egyptian have tons of room to stretch your legs, the raking of the theater flattens out for the aisle, so you’re likely to have an obstructed view of the subtitles if anyone of average height or above average skull circumference sits in front of you. However, if you’re planning a Lisbon summer excursion and want to practice your Portuguese comprehension, this is a perfect opportunity to practice your manners too, and sit in the subtitle-less seats.
- If you’re a passholder, the queue cards of yore may be gone for good. Good news: You don’t have to keep track of those little sheets of colored paper. Bad news: You get to engage in the time-honored and shudder-inducing tradition of waiting in line. [Note: this system seems to change year-to-year; we’ll update with 2018 protocol once we know more].
We’ll leave you with this year’s SIFF trailer. If you’ve followed our advice, by the end of the festival you’ll have seen it so many times that you should be able to quote it line for line.
Finally, despite all of this strategic advice, it really never hurts (too much) to try your luck with whatever happens to be playing on whatever night you happen to be free. Not every screening has an interminable line, sometimes that scary-looking line is just hard-core SIFFers with time on their hands and/or an ingrained sense of promptness. Many many times you may walk right in to a half-empty theater. It’s the chance to experience seeing something you enjoy on some level, if only just a window to a different world/experience than what you’re used to. We look forward to seeing you at the movies!
Keep track of the SunBreak’s SIFF coverage on our SIFF 2018 page, plus news updates and micro-reviews on Twitter @theSunBreak.