Attendance nears 150,000, ticket revs up 5% over last year.
SEATTLE — The Seattle Film Festival often claims to be the largest film fest in the U.S., but it remains principally a locals-only affair.Running from May 19 to June 12,the fest is longer than Sundance or Tribeca or New York — and screens almost 200 features, more than 50 docs and 100-plus shorts in five venues. Of course, being the biggest doesn’t always mean being the best. It may be wildly popular among locals, but SIFF is too long and diffuse to attract many A-list celebs or major industry players. And while every year the slate includes some gems (last year included early glimpses of “Hero,” “Intimate Strangers,” “Facing Windows” and “Maria Full of Grace”), it is padded with oddities and almost-interesting movies that all-fest-pass-holders plod through with grim determination. But this is what Seattle’s notoriously voracious film audience seems to want; it’s a city of connoisseurs who like to make up their own minds about what’s good, bad and unwatchable. This year, the fest faithful showed up on cue, with attendance figures estimated to be near 150,000 and ticket revenues up 5% over last year. The financial and popular success of this year’s festival is all the more remarkable considering “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” opened the day the fest began, May 19, in two of the fest’s customary downtown venues, relegating SIFF to three different neighborhoods. Patrons adapted to the changes, and the fest suffered few logistical snags. The smooth running of the festival is widely attributed to director Helen Loveridge, who took the wheel two years ago when co-founder Darryl Macdonald left to become executive director of the Palm Springs Fest. Macdonald’s longtime collaborator, Carl Spence, remains as programming director, so the fest’s eclectic personality hasn’t changed much. Festgoers submitted nearly 70,000 votes for Golden Space Needle Awards, with the audience picture prize going to Luis Mandoki’s coming-of-age tale “Innocent Voices”; to “Murderball” for docu; and to Gregg Araki for director, for “Mysterious Skin.” Jury prizes went to Doug Sadler’s “Swimmers” for new American film, and to “Based on a True Story” for docu. Among local pics, Robinson Devor’s made-in-Seattle “Police Beat” was warmly received, with audiences cheering for every name that rolled by on the credits. The closing-night film, the North American premiere of Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days,” underwhelmed critics at Seattle’s two daily papers. But the movie hit a chord with many young filmgoers who feel a strong attachment to the artist who inspired it: Seattle’s own Kurt Cobain. Festival organizers wouldn’t have it any other way. SIFF is not about finding distributors for films or cutting deals (though that sometimes happens). “SIFF is an audience festival,” says director of marketing and development Gary Tucker. “It’s a celebration of world cinema as opposed to a marketplace.”