Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Essays

SIFF in 2011: Bigger than ever … but better?

What would the Seattle International Film Festival be if it wasn’t the biggest in the country?

Piling on 450 movies at 19 different venues between May 19 and June 12, the 37th SIFF presents feature films from some 70 different countries, docs, archival treasures, secret flicks, and shorts. Every conceivable niche audience is addressed: families, kids, horror film aficionados, music fans, followers of the burgeoning Northwest filmmaking community and others. Ewan McGregor, so great last year in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, will be dropping in to accept a Golden Space Needle Award. And Al Pacino, on national tour, stops at the Paramount Theater on June 11 just in time to be co-opted as a SIFF special presentation.

Carlos Saura's Flamenco, Flamenco, photographed by Vittorio Storaro, plays this Sunday, May 22, 7pm at SIFF Cinema

What more could a body—or a city—ask? Well, maybe an overarching aesthetic vision or set of selection standards. A raison-d’être besides “we exist and we are omnivorous.” This year’s films are organized under clever headings—Love Me, Do!; Make Me Laugh; Take Me Away, etc.—to answer the question: “What sort of film do I feel like seeing tonight?” This lowbrow approach skirts challenge or adventure, instead treating movies as the solipsistic equivalent of a food court. And that’s the sort of thing that differentiates SIFF from world-class film festivals and keeps it a hometown, hodgepodge cultural rite pretty much insulated from external attention or respect. Yet SIFF toddles on nonetheless, eternally the Pillsbury Dough Boy of film fests, proud of its empty gigantism.

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