Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Festivals

Just Before Dawn: The ‘First Seattle Festival of International Films’

When recently working on readying the 49th issue of the Seattle Film Society journal Movietone News for Parallax View re-posting, I reencountered this as part of the “You Only Live Once” column on local art and classic film programming. The big event on the horizon was the “first Seattle Festival of International Films.” How big an event? Let’s just say the bigness was real. Were there as many estimable films in that initial, 19-film, two-and-a-half-weeks event as in any recent season of SIFF? Discuss amongst yourselves. —RTJ

[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]

The Moore-Egyptian Theatre at 2nd and Virginia has been open under new management—and a new name, having subsumed the Moore Theatre of old—since late last year. Already the Moore-Egyptian has proved a valuable addition to the local repertory map. Festivals of familiar Bergman and Truffaut are scarcely innovative, but there’s always someone out there ripe to make a (re)discovery, and they shouldn’t be denied. It was good to have a reappraisal shot at The Seduction of Mimi and Love and Anarchy after the brouhaha over Swept Away and the longdistance celebration of Seven Beauties, which still hasn’t played here (I find I prefer the formative Wertmüller, warts and all, to the arrived “major artist”). And even though it turned out to be an epic of turgidity, I’m grateful to have seen and accounted for the long-deferred Kamouraska of Claude Jutra; when a director comes up with a My Uncle Antoine, you keep looking for a while.

The “new” theater hasn’t exactly been swamped with business, and some envisioned renovations around the house will have to wait a bit. But the managers—Jim Duncan, Dan Ireland, and Darryl Macdonald—aren’t stinting at all with programming. They’re about to loose the First Seattle Festival of International Films, easily the most important event in local exhibition in … well, I’d prefer not to think overmuch about how long it’s been since anything remotely this auspicious was hazarded by a local theater.

The Festival, structurally reminiscent of the annual summer dos at the Varsity or Dunbar houses up Vancouver way, is set to run from May 14 through May 31. Everything in it plays twice, but the dates are scattered so that a diehard enthusiast can have a better chance at seeing everything, and perhaps repeating on the worthier items. Two films play each evening: one at 7 p.m., one at 9:30.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (at right) in his 'Fox and His Friends,' with Peter Chatel

For the most part, they’re the kind of picture that only nontheatrical exhibitors like the Seattle Film Society or the ASUW Major Film Series have picked up on during the Seventies. As I’ve complained previously, what meager foreign- or art-film input we’ve enjoyed hereabouts theatrically since the demise of the Selvidge Edgemont and Ridgemont has been slanted heavily toward crowdpleasing fun flix. The watchword of commercially viable exhibition has been hype—and no one can deny that the approach has worked.

Moreover, no one can seriously argue that theaterowners and programmers have a responsibility to go bankrupt after one pecuniarily thin season of honoring the implicit programming recommendations of commentators writing out of New York or Paris or London. Adventurous managers and bookers are perfectly justified in shaking in their shoes after committing themselves to lineups that afford local viewers the opportunity to see the films that are remaking the art of the cinema. For the “viewers” frequently don’t materialize.

I mentioned Kamouraska a moment ago. It was a bad film. (And incidentally, it was not—and was not expected to be—one of those art-expanding endeavors I just referred to.) But seeing it, and seeing how an interesting filmmaker can go wrong, is scarcely the worst experience a serious filmgoer can have. Duncan, Ireland, and Macdonald don’t guarantee everyone is going to like every one of their Festival films. As a matter of fact, they already know that they themselves don’t like some of the movies they’re showing. You can run a theater (or film series, or film society slate) on the basis of your personal taste—the if-I-didn’t-enjoy-it-I-won’t-ask-you-to-watch-it approach. But I must say that I admire the Moore-Egyptian guys for not taking that approach, for recognizing that some intelligent people have found these films stimulating and rewarding (perhaps even without liking them either), and for figuring that that’s worth something. I hope their faith and integrity will be rewarded. I hope that there are enough filmwatchers in the Seattle area who care enough about the possibility of new directions in the cinema—in movies—and who are willing to take the chance of seeing some movies that won’t press all their favorite buttons.

Here’s what’s coming. The first title any given date is the 7 p.m. show. May 14: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Volker Schlöndorff and Margarete von Trotta), All Screwed Up (Everything Ready—Nothing Works) (Lina Wertmüller). May 15: Immoral Tales (Walerian Borowczyk), Hedda (with Glenda Jackson). May 16: Black Moon (Louis Malle), Mahler (Ken Russell—a film being distributed by Seattle’s Specialty Films, by the way; and good on them for letting the M-E break it in their Festival!). May 17: I Am a Dancer (Rudolf Nureyev, Pierre Jordan, Bryan Forbes), The Phantom of Liberté (Luis Buñuel). May 18: Just Before Nightfall (Claude Chabrol), Night of Counting the Years (Shadi Abdelsalam). May 19: Confrontation (Rolf Lyssy), A Safe Place (Henry Jaglom—a six-year-old American film that never got past the New York Film Festival). May 20: Down the Ancient Stairs (with Marcello Mastroianni), plus a second film as yet undetermined. May 21: Sweet Movie (Dusan Makavajev), The Crazies (George A. Romero). May 22: Dick Deadeye (Bill Melendez—an animated rock opera out of Gilbert & Sullivan, from Australia), Foxtrot (Arturo Ripstein). May 23: I Am a Dancer, Fox and His Friends (Fist-Right of Freedom) (R.W. Fassbinder). May 24: Night of Counting the Years, plus an unannounced feature. May 25: Phantom of Liberté, The Crazies. May 26: Sweet Movie, Black Moon. May 27: Down the Ancient Stairs, Foxtrot. May 28: Fox and His Friends, Immoral Tales. May 29: Mahler, Just Before Nightfall. May 30: Hedda, Dick Deadeye, with a midnight showing of The Crazies. May 31: All Screwed Up, Lost Honor of Katharina Blum.

As if that weren’t enough—and nothing can ever be enough!—the managers are planning retrospective tributes to the recently deceased Luchino Visconti and Pier Paolo Pasolini to play Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.

The evening programs aren’t double features. Admission to each film is $2.75 or, for students and SFS members, $2.25. Series tickets are available—or will be May 1, at the Bon Marché and “suburban outlets”: $35 for general audience, $30 for students and SFS. The retrospective matinees cost $2.

For more information, phone the Moore-Egyptian at 622-6210. Strokes are in order. But more importantly, cash-in-hand is imperative if Seattle is to enjoy theatrical access to films like these.

© 1976 Richard T. Jameson

A pdf of the original issue can be found here