Festival Travel: SIFF 2017

June brings a wave of summer movie watching on the festival circuit. A few festivals sneak on the calendar after Cannes in May (one of three seasonal “tent poles” of festivals, the others being Sundance in January and TIFF/Telluride in September) to grab audiences before the summer really hits.

As previously mentioned on this blog, this year I joined the programming team for the 43rd annual SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival). With newly appointed Executive Director Sarah Wilke, Interim Artistic Director Beth Barrett (a friend of several years) took the helm this year after veteran Carl Spence’s departure from the festival. After a few conversations last winter, Beth brought me on to the team to help cull through the thousands of film submissions they receive.

SIFF is the longest film festival in North America: 25 days! A whole ‘nother kind of marathon event. E and I had planned a trip to Seattle for mid-June for my sister-in-law’s graduation from Seattle University, which luckily coincided with the last week/weekend of the festival. Since this trip was a mix of business and family time, I didn’t get to experience SIFF in full. Our mornings were spent exploring the city and drinking a lot of coffee.

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Sunny days in Seattle. The weather is always like this right?

Much of that coffee was from La Marzocco, a cafe and showroom located with Seattle’s hip radio station KEXP. La Marzocco is known for their high-end espresso machines, but opened a speciality cafe in Seattle where each month a renowned coffee roaster takes over the space and implements their own special menu. It’s a remarkable feat to consider. Our close friend, Amy, manages La Marzocco and she filled us in on how she and her team curate a new, unique experience every four weeks (long story short: it’s a fast-moving environment and no easy task). We tasted many incredible drinks, but our favorites were the Cafe Miel and the affogoto. Amy was so kind to give us a “backstage” tour of the KEXP studio and office space, filling us in on the history of the station. (The music library was impressive and I loved seeing how they are slowly and methodically digitizing all their materials – an epic job on its own.) If you’re ever visiting Seattle, I highly recommend checking out La Marzocco for a truly unique coffee experience.

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The KEXP music library
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KEXP’s live studio space

Back to festing, we stopped by the festival lounge where E and his sister tasted tequila from a festival sponsor and I got to catch up with friend and SIFF’s Director of Philanthropy, Ben McCarthy. By the time the staff is on day 20+, many are running on a mix of autopilot and few hours of sleep. Seeing a fresh, friendly face is a delight and laughter helps a lot.

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The great team behind the movies…

Later in the week, E and I watched The Grifters (1990), one of several tribute films to SIFF honoree Anjelica Huston. Beth Barrett introduced the film and spotted me in the audience (we hadn’t seen each other yet), which created a hilarious improvised moment in her introduction of the film. It was the first time either E or I had seen this film and we were curious. Huston is great (as she is with pretty much every role) and the film’s ending is dark. So much so, I actually laughed out of uncomfortableness with the twisted, climatic moment. Annette Bening is also a standout (as usual). Both ladies made this noir story work for me. John Cusack, not so much.

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Showing off the bump with SIFF Interim Artist Director, Beth Barrett
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Lounge with SIFF’s Ben McCarthy

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After the screening we ate dinner at Momiji and sang karaoke at Rock Box (which I highly recommend) to celebrate E’s birthday. We then headed to a favorite college bar of my sis-in-laws, in which E, Amy, her husband and I were very much the oldest people in the room by ten years. (Being the sober, pregnant member of this party I was stuck out two-fold.)

Much of the remaining trip was with family and close friends as we celebrated the graduation. Since I only had a small slice of SIFF, I hope next year I’ll be able to spend a little more time with the event. With the long length of the festival, attending an earlier weekend would likely have a different feel since filmmakers or guests can’t stay for the entirety. From an industry perspective, the last weekend is a fun time to attend since the staff are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and the vibe is a little looser. I’m excited to see how the festival will grow and change under the leadership of Barrett and Wilke. The Seattle film community is in good hands.

In my next post, I’ll be sharing this past weekend’s travels to Palm Springs ShortsFest (spoiler, it was CRAZY hot) where I was one of the panelists for the festival’s forum. Stay tuned. In the meantime, have you seen The Grifters before? I need to talk to someone about the ending!

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