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Cinema City Seattle Film Festival Promises To Be Better Than Ever

When you think of film festivals, assuming you do think of film festivals, certain things spring to mind.

Movie stars, for example. Or directors. Or great classics of the past.

Seldom do you think of numbers. Yet when it comes to the 21st Seattle International Film Festival, which begins its four-week run on Thursday, numbers are hard to avoid.

Notice that I used two numbers in that very sentence. And there are more, as in:

173, which represents the number of feature films (up from 157) scheduled for this year’s run.

100, the number of movie shorts that will be screened.

42, the number of countries represented.

28, the number of films that will play for the first time in the United States.

25, the number of days between the opening film, Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart,” and the final night of June 11.

8, the number of films that will see their world premiere.

6, the number of screens utilized by the festival.

5, the number of participating theaters (Egyptian, Harvard Exit, Seven Gables, Varsity, 5th Avenue).

Of course, numbers in and of themselves are boring. But even in talking up the latest variation of his creation, SIFF co-founder and director Darryl Macdonald can’t avoid mentioning one.

“This is a great year for cinema,” he says. “I think it’s one of the best years we’ve had since at least 15 years ago.”

Macdonald is sitting in his office, which is a small, high-ceilinged room on the balcony level of Seattle’s historic Egyptian Theatre. A man who has seen more movies in the last year than most people see in a decade, Macdonald still manages to be buoyant when he talks about his pet film fest.

“The day I get tired of it,” he says, “I’ll get out.”

And he isn’t getting out anytime soon. Sure, he admits, attending world film events, such as the recent Berlin Film Festival - where some 600 movies played over 10 days in 17 different theaters - can be exhausting.

“Then every once in a while a film comes along that curls my hair,” he says. “It revivifies the whole experience for me all over again and essentially recharges the batteries and makes you hungry for the next 20 films.”

Not only does Macdonald speak with passion about film, he speaks about the obligation that he feels he owes to the art of cinema itself. It is that obligation, he says, that has helped make the SIFF the “userfriendly” festival it is.

Unlike Cannes, Berlin, Venice and other major film fests, Seattle caters to the average fan. “At most of the major mainstream festivals, the filmgoer doesn’t get access,” he says. “Those fests really devote themselves much more to the film industry.”

SIFF tries to attract its audience in a couple of ways. One, it tries hard to be convenient: Filmgoers generally have more than one chance to see a specific film during the festival’s 25 days, while scheduling and the easyto-access theaters make multiple film viewing easy to do (driving from the Egyptian to the Seven Gables, the longest required trip, takes only about 15 minutes, under normal circumstances).

But maybe even more important is Macdonald’s theory of film scheduling: He tries for a mix between mainstream entertainment and the typical art-house offering.

“We never saw a huge divide between the two,” he says. “It’s all different expressions of the art form.”

Thus we have a film such as “Braveheart,” Gibson’s epic look at 13th-century Scotland, opening a schedule that includes the Oscarwinning Russian film (“Burnt By the Sun”), Gregory Nava’s sweeping look at Latino life (“My Life/Mi Familia”), a revival of Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic “Chinatown,” Terry Zwigoff’s critically acclaimed documentary about underground cartoonist R. Crumb, a gay comedy titled “Heaven’s a Drag,” American director Kayo Hatta’s look at Japanese mail-order marriage (“Picture Bride”) and a revival of Luis Bunuel’s 1967 feature “Belle de Jour.” And much more.

Including special programs, such as: A filmmakers’ forum over the final weekend, June 9-11, that features professionals sharing their secrets; a poster auction (June 4); a midnight series of offbeat films; a children’s festival; and guest appearances by such film celebrities as Gibson, Gregory Hines, Jason Priestly, John Schlesinger, Laura Dern, Dana Delaney, Sean Astin, Jimmy Smits, Julianne Moore, Harvey Keitel, Aidan Quinn, Gus Van Sant and Allison Anders.

But the films themselves remain the key attraction. And while some film fans might see the SIFF mix of mainstream and artsy as unusual, even conflicting, Macdonald does not.

“I’d like to throw a pie in the face of all those who believe that a film festival has to be, by definition, some kind of ivory tower thing that’s out of touch with the regular film-going public,” he says. “To me, that’s never been what it’s all about. To me, the idea is to grow an appreciation of and an appetite for cinema in general, for movies in general.”

That holds true especially for “Braveheart,” which at least one observer dubbed “Dances With Kilts.” It raised eyebrows by those surprised at its place of honor at the SIFF.

Which miffs Macdonald no end.

“First of all, that’s ludicrous,” he says of such criticism. “They haven’t seen the film so they have no idea. ‘Braveheart’ is incredibly audacious, incredibly ambitious and incredibly successful given the scope that Mel Gibson was working with. I think a lot of people are going to be astonished by this guy’s talent as a director.”

This festival, more than ever, is an attempt both to satisfy those who crave the obscure and to lure those who prefer something like “Total Recall.”

“There are people out there, I know, who literally wouldn’t cross the street to come to something called the Seattle International Film Festival because they’d think, ‘Art, oh my God, I’m, not interested,”’ Macdonald says. “But if you get them in, which they surely will come for something like ‘Braveheart’ with Mel Gibson in person, they are going to feel the difference. And they are going to get excited about that difference.”

Then, returning to our numbers theme, they’ll have many more chances to get excited all over again.

Exactly 172 of them.

MEMO: These two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Festival Info The 21st Seattle International Film Festival runs from Thursday through June 11. Some 173 feature films and 100 shorts will be screened at five theaters. Schedules are available at all Starbucks Coffee shops. For more information, call (206) 325-6828.

2. Festival schedule Here’s the schedule for the opening weekend of the 21st Seattle International Film Festival. Complete schedules of the 25-day festival are supposed to be available at all Starbucks Coffee shops beginning Monday. For ticket information, call (206) 325-6150. (Note: The opening-night showing of “Braveheart” was nearly sold out at presstime.) Thursday Fifth Ave Theatre: “Braveheart,” 7 p.m. Friday Egyptian Theatre: “Jupiter’s Wife,” 5 p.m.; “Pretty Baby,” 7:15 p.m.; “Smoke,” 9:30 p.m.; “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” midnight. Harvard Exit: “Beyond the Sky,” 5 p.m.; “Heartbreak Kid,” 7:15 p.m.; “Postcards From America,” 9:30 p.m. Varsity: “Ecological Design,” 5 p.m.; “Dust of Life,” 7:15 p.m.; “Spider and Rose,” 9:30 p.m. Saturday Egyptian Theatre: “Strange Encounters,” (shorts) 12:30 p.m.; “Back to Back, Face to Face,” 3:30 p.m.; “Burnt By the Sun,” 6:30 p.m.; “Stars Fell on Henrietta,” 9:15 p.m.; “Tie Died,” midnight. Harvard Exit: “Nothing Sacred,” 12:30 p.m.; “Heartbreak Kid,” 3:30 p.m.; “The Promise,” 6:30 p.m.; “Brothers McMullen,” 9:15 p.m. Varsity: “Return of Tommy Tricker,” 12:30 p.m.; “Northwest Shorts,” 3:30 p.m.; “Year of My Japanese Cousin,” 6:30 p.m.; “Apart From Hugh,” 9:15 p.m. Sunday Egyptian Theatre: Secret Festival, 12:30 p.m.; “Burnt By the Sun,” 3:30 p.m.; “Picture Bride,” 6:30 p.m.; “Blue in the Face,” 9:15 p.m. Harvard Exit: “The Taeback Mountains,” 12:30 p.m.; “Postcards from America,” 3:30 p.m.; “My Family,” 6:30 p.m.; “L’Enfer,” 9:15 p.m. Varsity: “Spider and Rose,” 12:30 p.m.; “Rites of Passage,” 3:30 p.m.; “Confession of a Pretty Lady,” 6:30 p.m.; “Pretty Baby,” 9:15 p.m.

These two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Festival Info The 21st Seattle International Film Festival runs from Thursday through June 11. Some 173 feature films and 100 shorts will be screened at five theaters. Schedules are available at all Starbucks Coffee shops. For more information, call (206) 325-6828.

2. Festival schedule Here’s the schedule for the opening weekend of the 21st Seattle International Film Festival. Complete schedules of the 25-day festival are supposed to be available at all Starbucks Coffee shops beginning Monday. For ticket information, call (206) 325-6150. (Note: The opening-night showing of “Braveheart” was nearly sold out at presstime.) Thursday Fifth Ave Theatre: “Braveheart,” 7 p.m. Friday Egyptian Theatre: “Jupiter’s Wife,” 5 p.m.; “Pretty Baby,” 7:15 p.m.; “Smoke,” 9:30 p.m.; “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” midnight. Harvard Exit: “Beyond the Sky,” 5 p.m.; “Heartbreak Kid,” 7:15 p.m.; “Postcards From America,” 9:30 p.m. Varsity: “Ecological Design,” 5 p.m.; “Dust of Life,” 7:15 p.m.; “Spider and Rose,” 9:30 p.m. Saturday Egyptian Theatre: “Strange Encounters,” (shorts) 12:30 p.m.; “Back to Back, Face to Face,” 3:30 p.m.; “Burnt By the Sun,” 6:30 p.m.; “Stars Fell on Henrietta,” 9:15 p.m.; “Tie Died,” midnight. Harvard Exit: “Nothing Sacred,” 12:30 p.m.; “Heartbreak Kid,” 3:30 p.m.; “The Promise,” 6:30 p.m.; “Brothers McMullen,” 9:15 p.m. Varsity: “Return of Tommy Tricker,” 12:30 p.m.; “Northwest Shorts,” 3:30 p.m.; “Year of My Japanese Cousin,” 6:30 p.m.; “Apart From Hugh,” 9:15 p.m. Sunday Egyptian Theatre: Secret Festival, 12:30 p.m.; “Burnt By the Sun,” 3:30 p.m.; “Picture Bride,” 6:30 p.m.; “Blue in the Face,” 9:15 p.m. Harvard Exit: “The Taeback Mountains,” 12:30 p.m.; “Postcards from America,” 3:30 p.m.; “My Family,” 6:30 p.m.; “L’Enfer,” 9:15 p.m. Varsity: “Spider and Rose,” 12:30 p.m.; “Rites of Passage,” 3:30 p.m.; “Confession of a Pretty Lady,” 6:30 p.m.; “Pretty Baby,” 9:15 p.m.

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