2014 is the fortieth annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Since its first festival in 1976, SIFF has grown into the largest, most highly attended film festival in the United States, bringing the best in international and independent film to the Seattle area and beyond. SIFF is also a year-round film organization, which operates SIFF Cinema, reaching more than 150,000 attendees annually, and the flagship SIFF Film Center, SIFF’s new permanent home on the grounds of Seattle Center. The festival programs features, short films and documentaries from over 70 countries annually, but also provides ample opportunities for local filmmakers to showcase their work, connect with other filmmakers, and audiences alike.
Washington Filmworks reached out to Beth Barrett, SIFF’s Director of Programming, to find out more about opportunities to see Northwest films and connect with local filmmakers at the festival. She gave us some tips on how filmmakers can also make the best of their festival experience.
Hi Beth! We’ve seen some varying information on the number of films this year. Be honest, does anybody really know how many films screen at SIFF? How many are Northwest or Washington Films?
We are often still in the process of finalizing film confirmations when we go to press on the lineup, but at a certain point, yes – we have a final number of films! This year we are screening 272 features and 180 short films (including the 3 Minute Masterpiece finalists) – of those, 17 features and 41 short films are from the NW / WA state. A great year!
Tell us more about Northwest Connections. Has the program always been a part of SIFF? What makes a film a good fit for this category?
When I started in 2003, there were 7 feature films and 8 short films as part of SIFF, and it was called Spawned in Seattle. SIFF has always made a point to look for great locally produced film, but in the first 25 years of the festival, there just simply wasn’t the quantity we see today. Over the decade that I have been in programming, the NW Connections program has really exploded into the premiere section that it is now, spanning many of our other programs, notably Face the Music and Documentary Films.
Films that are a good fit include films that tell a story that could only be told here in the NW, or that may not be a film “about” here, but the people that made it make their living working here. Since the NW is a broad area, the stories associated with us are also a pretty broad category.
SIFF has an international scope, but is near and dear to the locals and a great chance to see Washington work on the big screen. If someone were new to SIFF or new the area, what could they expect from the Northwest Connections?
Yes and yes! The NW Connections program is a great place to meet filmmakers, largely due to the Seattle community, and their support of each other, and work that is getting made here. Some of them may have had films that were not included in the lineup, but are there to support those that were (and meet with people to start new projects).
What are some other Washington connections can we look forward to at the festival?
- Opening Night Gala – Jimi: All Is By My Side
- An Evening with Quincy Jones – Lifetime Achievement Award
- Closing Night Gala – The One I Love (Washington-based producer Mel Eslyn)
- Sold – (Washington-based producer Jane Charles)
We’re excited to see 4 Washington incentive films at the festival.
Yes! The incentive has had a great effect on filmmaking here in Seattle, and we are very happy to be presenting these to their local supporters.
What’s the zaniest thing a filmmaker ever did to try to get into SIFF? Is there a cautionary tale you can share with filmmakers?
One year I got a “bloody” bat in the mail from a horror film that, naturally, involved a bat as a crucial plot point. I can honestly say that it made me watch the film, and I still have the bat … but the film didn’t get in. The biggest cautionary tale I could tell is to not burn your bridges, and to be gracious whether in accepting a festival spot, or being told that a festival is going to pass on your film.
Does SIFF offer programing focused on Washington, or the Northwest, at other times of year, outside the festival?
A large part of our year-round Education outreach is our Catalyst program, which offers film script readings from local screenwriters, Crash Cinema, which is a day-long filmmaking for all program, and Film Craft commentary, in which we invite local artists to be their own commentary track on a film they choose.
They say life begins at forty. Thoughts?
You know, I think it just might. At forty, we are finding great audiences at SIFF Cinema Uptown and the SIFF Film Center, have a permanent home at the SIFF Film Center here on the Seattle Center campus, and are in the epicenter of amazing filmmaking being done here in Seattle/WA State. I think that the film community, SIFF amongst that, is confident, mature, and yet still really adventurous, waiting to see what is out there!
Thanks, Beth! SIFF 2014 runs May 15 thru June 8. The full program guide is available online. See you at the festival.
About Beth Barrett, SIFF Director of Programming: Beth has worked for SIFF in the Publications and Programming Departments since 2003. She is responsible for managing all aspects of film programming, the staff of film programmers, and securing films and guests for the Festival. Beth is also instrumental in the programming and management of SIFF Cinema and SIFF’s other year-round programs. An aficionado of short films, she secured SIFF’s status as an Academy Award® qualifying festival in 2008. Beth has been in Seattle for over 20 years and holds an MA in Northern Renaissance Art History.