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culture shock

culture shock

culture shock photoBEHIND THE SCENES
Seattle's famous film festival pulls back the curtain.
By Allyson Marrs

Films are an escape—a way for the audience to melt into the story, adopting it as their reality, if only for a couple hours. The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) has been around for more than 30 years, and the 25-day festival now reaches more than 150,000 movie lovers annually. That's a lot of escapism.

"Most people can't travel the world and see communities in the way we'd like to—to understand the world around us," says Beth Barrett, SIFF Director of Programming. "Film is a really susceptible way to experience places we may never ever get to, or communities we're not necessarily a part of, or would like to learn more about—how we all interrelate."

So people tune into movies and documentaries in a specific way, but Beth says all genres contribute to helping audiences and filmmakers learn something new about themselves or others.

This sense of being aware is part of SIFF's mission to foster informed communities, and the 250 features and 150 short films from more than 70 countries shown each year at SIFF support this vision.

A team of 15 feature-film programmers watches 5,000 films throughout the year to select the top 250, and the programmers select films to represent each genre, although Beth says not every year can be great in every genre, from every country.

Sometimes themes appear—dark films, money, immigration, etc.—because filmmakers are often influenced by current events. "Filmmakers make films, but they also live lives. Everything they do goes into making their film, so [life] is going to show up in their work," Beth says.

This could be said for the audience, too, because of the bonds that are developed with movies. "The way we experience films, in the theater with all of your senses, you're transported together. It triggers something deep in us," Beth says.

The passion is dualistic—between the filmmaker and the moviegoer, and Beth credits this relationship to SIFF's success—one of the most-attended film festivals in the nation.

She refers to SIFF as an audience festival because it's accessible to the public, unlike Sundance, that other film festival. With SIFF, "it's just like going to the movies," Beth says.

This year, SIFF is launching an African pictures film program—in conjunction with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—which focuses on films made by African filmmakers. Beth says such programs are rare in the U.S.

SIFF will bring the filmmakers to the festival in an effort to provide a launching pad for them into the American film industry, a way to uphold SIFF's three areas of focus: cinema, festival and education.

Year-round, SIFF Cinema Uptown in lower Queen Anne shows both classic and current movies, and part of admission sales goes right back into SIFF, its programming and its community education efforts.

This year's festival hits the big screens May 16 through June 9. All films are shown at the SIFF Film Center in the Seattle Center. The lineup, and all ticket options and passes can be found at

Get ready to settle in with an endless popcorn bucket. There's a lot of entertainment to be had.


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