London vet brings a dozen preems to month-long lineup

VANCOUVER — After 29 years with the same leadership, the Seattle Intl. Film Festival has a new exec director. Co-founder Darryl Macdonald, having taken a gig at the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival, has stepped aside, allowing Helen Loveridge to take over.

The U.K.-born administrator was managing director of the last two SIFFs before taking over the 30th-anniversary edition, which launched Thursday night with “The Notebook” and closes June 13.

“In my first year as festival director,” Loveridge recently told Daily Variety, “it didn’t seem appropriate to make drastic changes. Still, I did find it a great year for several of the projects on our wish list to come to fruition.”

The new topper, who worked at the London Film Festival for six years, spent two decades in sales and acquisition, first as co-founder of Fortissimo Films and later bringing titles like “Monsoon Wedding” to market for Orfeo Films Intl. Now she’s concentrating on increasing the profile of her long (25 days) and well-attended Northwest fest (more than 170,000 a year).

“We’ve been working for nearly two years to establish the Seattle Summit; the convergence of such strong and dynamic industry leaders is bound to generate some heated discussion. In addition, I was intent on re-dedicating ourselves to our local filmmakers, inviting 150 of them to enjoy the festival as part of our Seattle Filmmakers Initiative.”

Longtime head programmer Carl Spence retains his position.

Event unspools more than 300 pics, with a dozen world and North American preems, including items from China, Russia, and Japan (a sequel to animated “Ghost in the Shell”). Eight are low-budget American indies, such as Gregory Jacobs’ “Criminal” and a new, Seattle-made version of “Hedda Gabler,” directed by legit vet Paul Willis.

SIFF 2004 also boasts a trade forum, archival screenings, a master class with Hong Kong cinematographer Christopher Doyle, a scripting workshop with “Election” makers Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne and a look at new work by emerging helmers. There’s also a retrospective tribute to Gallic provocateur Patrice Leconte, with a closing-night undraping of his “Intimate Strangers.”

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