Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: Awards, Attendance and Return Engagements

Seattle International Film Festival audiences bestowed top Golden Space Needle Awards on The Hedgehog, Winter’s Bone and Cell 211 (among others) while juried awards singled out The Reverse and Marwencol at the awards brunch of the Seattle International Film Festival this morning.

But before we get into the lists of winners, here’s a few SIFF 2010 statistics:

Every year, SIFF programmers open the press launch with the usual proclamation: this year is the biggest and best SIFF ever. Whether or not you agree with the latter, it was certainly big: 408 features and shorts in 25 days, according to the press release, with 73 premieres and more than 600 screenings and evens (I’m trusting their numbers here, so if you have a different count, take it up with SIFF).

According to SIFF’s press release, it’s also their most successful in terms of ticket sales and attendance. To quote the press release, this year’s festival “broke box office records with a nearly 20% increase in box office, making it SIFF’s most triumphant year to date.” They also cite more than 125 sold-out events.

It’s hard to argue with numbers like that—Seattle audiences love their festival and SIFF has what I believe to be the best and most loyal local turnout of any major film festival—and it was certainly the year to make such a leap, with the multiplex box office in the doldrums and the dreariest late spring weather Seattle weather of recent memory. The two lonely sunny days amidst the rain and clouds and cold only served to drive us back into the theaters once the sun went back into hibernation.

But this kind of ambition comes with a cost. This year it was very apparent to me that the festival staff was spread pretty thin. Every festival faces problems with prints that arrive late, in a compromised condition (like missing or damaged reels) or not at all; with format issues (a major concern with the explosion in digital filmmaking and projection and the lack of a single digital playback standard); with focus and sound problems and the like. This year I attended fewer screenings than in past years and yet faced more problems (most of them minor, admittedly) than I can ever recall. In the case of missing prints and substitutions, the SIFF staff was invariably forthcoming and communicative about the issues and the solutions for the evening and they became more adept at alerting audiences even before they filed into their seats. But it all seemed to happen more often this year. At least for the events I attended.

“It’s SIFF,” offered one audience member at the Mother Joan of the Angels screening, when it was announced that a DVD would be projected in place of the new digital restoration that was programmed and promoted (it was the victim of a shipping error). Audiences shrug it off, accepting it as just part of the big movie party and social event that is the festival. Admittedly that is a lot less stressful than getting worked up over such things, but I value SIFF too much not to call out such issues, whether it’s a substandard digital print projected a screen big enough to magnify its flaws or a restored print of a film classic presented without the sharpness of focus it demands. (A plea to programmers: can we please move the archival screenings to SIFF Cinema, which has one of the best and most attentive projection staffs in the city, one with plenty of experience in projecting archival prints?) SIFF isn’t just about showing work from all over the world, it’s about presenting cinema the way is meant to be seen. That’s the SIFF that I come to enjoy every year. I just worry that the growing size and sprawl is siphoning off energy from the issues that matter: the best films, the best presentation quality, the best screening experience that an audience can have. If it takes scaling back the size and scope to get a handle on it all, then perhaps that’s a discussion worth having.

Now, on to the awards…

Mona Achache’s French drama The Hedgehog took the audience award for Best Film (runners up were Bruce Beresford’s Mao’s Last Dancer, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs, the Spanish prison riot thriller Cell 211 by Daniel Monzón and the Russian musical drama Hipsters by Valery Todorovsky). Winter’s Bone won the Best Director (Debra Granik) and Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence) awards and Luis Tosar of Cell 211 was voted Best Actor. Best Documentary was a tie between Ginny Ruffner: A Not So Still Life (directed by Karen Stanton) and Waste Land (directed by Lucy Walker) and Ormie (directed by Rob Silvestri) was awarded the Best Short Film.

Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision, presented by Women in Film/Seattle, was bestowed upon The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, directed by Leanne Pooley.

In the Juried Categories, awards were handed out as follow:

Best New Director: The Reverse, directed by Borys Lankosz
Jury Statement: “Borys Lankosz’s The Reverse succeeds its substantial ambition to tell the story of love, family, and loyalty in a brutal post war Warsaw. Uniquely, first time director Lankosz manages to deliver a highly stylized vision without sacrificing character, story, or performance. We are happy and honored to give the New Director Award to this touching, thrilling, and deeply human film.”
Special Jury Mentions: Turistas, directed by Alicia Scherson (Chile, 2009) and Gravity, directed by Maximilian Erlenwein (Germany, 2009)

Best Documentary: Marwencol, directed by Jeff Malmberg (USA, 2010)
Jury Statement: “For its ingenious, organic storytelling and respect for its subject, the documentary jury recognizes a complex and multi-layered portrait of a survivor and artist which comes to life thanks to an amazing level of trust between filmmaker and subject that allows director Jeff Malmberg to bring his audience deep into the fascinating and very private world that is Marwencol.”

FIPRESCI Award for Best American Film: Night Catches Us, directed by Tanya Hamilton (USA, 2010)
Jury Statement: “For its profound exploration of a chapter of American history that is woefully under-explored, for its deft interaction between the personal and the political, for its exceptional acting, and for its masterful cinematography, the FIPRESCI Award goes to Tanya Hamilton’s Night Catches Us.”

Short Film Jury Awards
Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Short: Little Accidents, directed by Sara Colangelo (USA, 2009)
Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Short: White Lines And The Fever: The Death Of DJ Junebug, directed by Travis Senger (USA, 2010)
Jury Statement: “For the way the story seamlessly reveals itself through the compassion Grand Jury Prize for Best Animated Short: The Wonder Hospital, directed by Beomsik Shim (USA, 2010)
Special Jury Mention for Short Animation: Cherry On The Cake, directed by Hyebin Lee (United Kingdom, 2009)

FutureWave and Youth Jury Awards
Best FutureWave Feature: ReGENERATION, directed by Philip Montgomery (USA, 2010)
Best Films4Families Feature: From Time To Time, directed by Julian Fellowes (United Kingdom, 2009)
Excellence in Youth Filmmaking (Grand Jury Prize): Remember, directed by Scott Calvert (Anacortes, WA)
Audience Award: Remember, directed by Scott Calvert

The complete press release (with more jury statements and runners-up) is here.

The Full Series passholders don’t technically hand out awards but they do conduct their own poll and the favorite in their balloting went to Sundance favorite Winter’s Bone, followed by The Hedgehog, Cell 211, Hipsters and the splatter comedy Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. In an unusual convergence of consensus, the Fool Serious Awards for Best Director, Actor and Actress all matched the Audience Award picks and the top two documentary picks are the same two that tied for the Golden Space Needle.

While SIFF ends today (Sunday, June 13), with final evening screenings playing out even as the Closing Night party kicks off (check out the schedule for the titles filling in the last TBA slots), a few festival faves will make a brief return engagement for the Best of SIFF 2010 weekend, which plays at SIFF Cinema (321 Mercer St. in McCaw Hall) Friday, June 18 through Sunday, June 20.

Here’s the schedule:

Friday, June 18

2pm The Reverse (Golden Space Needle Award Winner – Best Director)
4:30pm Castaway on the Moon
7pm The Hedgehog (Golden Space Needle Award Winner – Best Film)
9:30pm Leaves of Grass

Saturday, June 19

11am The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision)
1pm Ginny Ruffner: A Not So Still Life (Golden Space Needle Award Winner Best Documentary – tie)
3:30pm Hipsters
6:30pm Nowhere Boy
9pm Cell 211 (Golden Space Needle Award Winner – Best Actor, Luis Tosar)

Sunday, June 20

11am Best of SIFF Shorts
1pm Waste Land (Golden Space Needle Award Winner Best Documentary – tie)
3:30pm The Concert
6pm Mao’s Last Dancer
8:30pm Marwencol (Grand Jury Prize Winner – Best Documentary)

Visit the Best of SIFF 2010 page for advance tickets (please note that, according to the website, SIFF 2010 festival passes are not valid for this event) and more details.

But these aren’t the only SIFF films in theaters over weekend. Here’s a list of titles that are opening theatrically on June 18: Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs, the documentaries Joan Rivers: a Piece of Work and The Oath, Neil Jordan’s Ondine and Solitary Man with Michael Douglas (you won’t find this last one in the catalogue because it was a list minute addition to a TBA slot on SIFF’s final weekend).

More SIFF favorites open on June 25: award-winner Winter’s Bone (it’s already in release in New York and Los Angeles), Holy Rollers and I Am Love.

See also Moira Macdonald’s SIFF wrap at the Seattle Times.

Hipsters by Valery Todorovsky