We are all aware of and familiar with a typical Washington winter – rain, wind, and chills make it easy for us to duck for cover and warm ourselves up with a nice, hot beverage. But what better way to avoid the cold than to gather inside a local cinema and take in some new and renowned pieces of film?
This winter, Washington is hosting a number of film festivals around the state. Washington Filmworks highlights three – the Science Fiction Fantasy and Short Film Festival, the Spokane International Film Festival, and the Seattle Asian American Film Festival – to offer a diversity of films to fit your mood and taste. These festivals are for you, the aficionados of the filmmaking community who wish to engage with unique, unparalleled, and outstanding work from both Washington and around the world.
We want to hold a mirror towards you all, reminding the community how original and powerful the films we make are – and how we cultivate a committed group around them through these wonderful festivals. Additionally, these three festivals represent serious artistic integrity that captures the attention of audiences circling in on Washington as a film-friendly destination.
Read ahead to get to know the organizers of three of the most popular festivals this winter!
Science Fiction Fantasy + Short Film Festival (SFFSFF): February 6-8
Programming Producer: Anna Kronzer
WF: What is the history of SFFSFF and how has its brand and identity changed throughout the years?
Anna: Organized by EMP and SIFF, SFFSFF is now in its 10th year, and has become increasingly popular over the years, encouraging creative additions to science fiction and fantasy cinema and creating a forum for creative artistry. We are lucky to live in a city that has a vibrant film-going and filmmaking community, with a rabid fan base for all things science fiction and fantasy. The fans have grown to expect greatness from SFFSFF, and luckily we’ve always been able to present a memorable selection of films. This festival has always felt very at home in Seattle and is an essential event in the Northwest each year, selling out and maintaining the mission and level of excellence. It seems that each year our submission numbers grow, and the amount of international films grow, too! The brand and identity have been consistent throughout the years, but we have noticed certain trends in submissions, and have grown to accommodate those trends. For example, this year for the first time ever, we are devoting a midnight screening to horror-tinged short films, called “SFFSFF: The Dark Side.” It is on Friday night, February 6, at the Egyptian, and should be nightmare-inducing!
WF: What kind of genre films and shorts can audiences anticipate and expect this year? What are your ‘must-sees’?
Anna: Since this year is our 10th anniversary, and due to the festival’s popularity, we are offering expanded programming. The festival is opening (on Friday, February 6, at the Uptown) with a live score of John Carpenter’s classic Escape from New York by this amazing local minimal-wave band called Roladex. We’ll also have the Dark Side midnight screening that night at SIFF Cinema Egyptian. On Sunday, we have a 10-year retrospective of the best films from throughout the years, and we are very excited to show them again! We’ll also have an encore of some of Saturday’s films at the Uptown on Sunday. The classic program of Science Fiction and Fantasy shorts will be at Cinerama on Saturday. The films this year are really strong and diverse. We’ve got films about robots in Hollywood, time-travel, perverse pandas, mental illness, virtual reality, space exploration, biblical reimaginings. One of the films was made by the baby from Labyrinth. And they are from all over: France, Sweden, Slovakia, Netherlands, Malaysia…
As far as my ‘must-sees,’ I thought that we had a really strong and comedic batch of films about time-travel this year. We also had an exceptionally high number of animated entries, all of which are staggeringly skilled and beautiful. I’m really excited to watch those on Cinerama’s screen and to enjoy the recent renovation of that amazing theater! I’m also very excited that we are utilizing the newly reopened Egyptian, and the Uptown!
WF: How do you specifically see the Seattle film community benefiting from the festival, and what’s your vision of the festival’s future?
Anna: SFFSFF is the only film festival of its kind in the region. Seattle loves its sci-fi and SFFSFF has established itself as a seamless part of that fabric. Also, with the high number of international submissions that come in, the festival is contributing to the verification that the Northwest is a hotspot for film. This has been proven by the enormous output of creativity coming out of this region in the past few years, and it is exciting to program a festival that furthers that reputation. I think that SFFSFF will continue to grow with new and expanded programming. I can only imagine that the submissions will continue to be robust and ground-breaking, and that we will continue to show films to Seattle that otherwise would not be seen.
Spokane International Film Festival (SpIFF): February 5-14
Assistant Director: Adam Boyd
WF: What is the history of SpIFF and how has its brand and identity changed throughout the years?
Adam: The Spokane International Film Festival has been operating since 1999, bringing the best world cinema to the Inland Northwest. The festival has grown in size since its beginning, both in terms of the number of films shown, and in attendance. Along with films from all over the world, the festival also brings a number of international filmmakers to Spokane each year to present their films and experiences to a Northwest audience. We’ve also since added filmmaker forums titled “Meet the Filmmakers,” where community members and Northwest filmmakers get a chance to have an open dialogue with visiting filmmakers about their directorial process.
WF: In terms of programming, what can Spokane audiences anticipate and expect this year? What are your ‘must-sees’?
Adam: This year’s festival opens with a Spanish film, Vivir es Fácil con Los Ohos Cerrados (Living is Easy with Eyes Closed) – a fictional story that weaves The Beatles into its narrative. It was an official submission for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Also in this year’s line up is Tale of Princess Kaguya, a Japanese animation that has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. For the first time ever, SpIFF will be showing a 3D film: Adieu au Language (Goodbye to Language), a French film from acclaimed director Jean-Luc Godard. But notably at 2015 SpIFF, we have a number of fantastic Northwest films as well. “The Best of the Northwest” program, which features short films from filmmakers around the Northwest region (many from Spokane), is always an audience favorite. We are screening two Northwest documentaries: Queens of the Roleo, a documentary about women’s competitive log-rolling, and Dryland, a documentary that explores the life of a wheat farmer in the Inland Northwest. You can visit our website for more information about films in the program.
WF: How do you specifically see Spokane benefiting from the festival, and what’s your vision of the festival’s future?
Adam: Part of our mission at SpIFF is to bring international films and filmmakers to Spokane that might otherwise not make it to the region if the festival didn’t exist. So for the Spokane community, SpIFF is the doorway to world cinema and the artistic and cultural experience that comes with it. Spokane has a vibrant and constantly growing filmmaking community as well, so SpIFF also aims to energize up-and-coming filmmakers to further their craft and ambitions by connecting them to a broader cinematic arena. As far as the future of SpIFF goes, the festival will most likely maintain its size in terms of numbers of films programmed but will hopefully bring in an increasing number of acclaimed and award-winning films on the “world cinema radar.” We aim to keep SpIFF the premiere film festival of the Inland Northwest.
Seattle Asian American Film Festival (SAAFF): February 12-15
Co-Directors: Vanessa Au, Kevin Bang
WF: What is the history of SAAFF and how has its brand and identity changed throughout the years?
Vanessa: The Seattle Asian American Film Festival (SAAFF) was originally founded in 1985 and has been revived over the years by different directors and groups. The current iteration was co-founded in 2012 by us, and made its debut in 2013. It is a revival of the Northwest Asian American Film Festival (NWAAFF), directed by Wes Kim, which operated from 2003 to 2007. After this time, there was no Asian American Film Festival for six years, with the exception of Tasveer’s Seattle South Asian Film Festival.
We currently run and direct SAAFF. The inaugural film festival was held at the Wing Luke Museum of Asian American Experience in January 2013. In 2014, the festival moved to Columbia City’s Ark Lodge Cinemas. This year’s event will be held at the Northwest Film Forum in Capitol Hill from February 12 to 15!
WF: In terms of programming, what can audiences anticipate and expect this year? What are your ‘must-sees’?
Vanessa: Audiences can expect to see thirty-eight feature-length and short films (documentary and narratives) on two screens at the Northwest Film Forum. Most of the sessions include a Q&A with the filmmaker(s) or panel discussion after the screening. There will also be an opening night party and other opportunities to interact with filmmakers and SAAFF staff.
Our ‘must-sees’ include: To Be Takei, SAAFF’s opening night documentary about actor and activist George Takei; 9-Man, a documentary about a gritty, Chinese-American streetball game that’s been played competitively in the alleys and parking lots of Chinatown since the 1930s; and the Seattle premiere of Siracha, a short documentary that tells the story of the ubiquitous, spicy sauce’s origin and its cult following, among many others!
WF: How do you two specifically see the Asian American community benefiting from the festival, and what’s your vision of the festival’s future?
Vanessa: The lack of diverse and meaningful Asian American representation in film and television is alarming and SAAFF seeks to address this problem. We showcase independent films that reflect the diversity and richness of the Asian American community. The event puts Asian American faces on the big screen, spotlights the work of Asian American filmmakers, and provides filmgoers with the opportunity to see award-winning independent films that might not otherwise screen in Seattle.
Our vision for the future is a festival that maintains its intimate feel and deep partnerships with local Asian American community groups and arts organizations. We’re working to build a strong foundation to ensure the longevity of the festival by growing core staff and developing leaders within the team. And we’re looking to engage more with our community throughout the year by hosting such events as the Free Outdoor Summer Film Series (presented in partnership with Seattle Parks & Recreation) and the monthly filmmaker happy hour meet-ups.