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Seattle fest is largest in U.S.

MacDonald mixes commercial and indie pics

The Seattle Intl. Film Festival was founded in 1975 to showcase worldwide cinema as well as the best American independent narrative and documentary films. With more than 200 features and 140,000 people attending the event, co-founder and festival director Darryl MacDonald can proudly say Seattle is the largest and best attended festival in the country.

The festival’s size allows MacDonald to schedule a wide variety of programming.

“I’ve never believed that film festivals are ivory towers for purists,” he says. “Instead, I think festivals are the best way to expand the tastes of filmgoers by mixing more commercial films with more challenging films.”

With this kind of programming philosophy, MacDonald can blithely mix, as he did this year, a series titled “Emerging Masters,” featuring some of the most compelling work by little-known international directors like Dorota Kedzierzawska, with a closing-night screening of “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” Many appreciate this inclusiveness and visit the festival repeatedly.

MacDonald says John Sayles has accompanied nine of his films to the festival, the most recent being “Limbo,” the screening of which exemplifies the festival’s atmosphere. “We began with a discussion of the film, with John and me onstage just talking,” MacDonald recalls. “We were supposed to start the film at 8 o’clock, but we just kept talking until Maggie Renzi finally came out and said, ‘OK, you guys, shut up! Quit talking and start the movie!’

One of the Seattle fest’s highlights has to be the Secret Festival.

“No one knows what they are going to see ahead of time, and all viewers have to sign a legally binding oath of silence that prohibits them from discussing or writing about anything they see,” explains MacDonald, who notes that, to his knowledge, in 14 years no one has broken this oath. “The Secret Festival allows us to show films that are illegal to screen or world premieres of films promised to other festivals, or even films buried by the studios.”

The Seattle fest also highlights the work of women when it hosts its annual weeklong Women in Cinema offshoot in early November. Devoted to films by women from all over the world, the minifest features a filmmakers panel, an often contentious event during which the topic of the very viability of a women-only festival often is hotly debated. This year’s Women in Cinema fest will take place Nov. 5-11.

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