'Illusionist' to kick off longest North American film festival

SEATTLE — The 32nd annual Seattle Film Festival launches May 25 for a full 25 days, making the fest the longest in North America. With more than 400 features and short films from about 60 countries, it’s also one of the largest and best attended.

Event kicks off with a gala screening of “The Illusionist” at the Paramount Theater in downtown Seattle, with helmer Neil Burger and star Jessica Biel in attendance, and wraps June 18 with Michel Gondry’s “The Science of Sleep.”

Also scheduled to appear are Marisa Tomei (with “Factotum”), Aaron Eckhart (“Conversations With Other Women”) and Matthew Lillard and Patrick Fugit (both from “Bickford Shmeckler’s Cool Ideas”).

A large contingent of musical guests will accompany pics and panels dealing with the scoring biz. Highlights include visits with ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland and Devo veteran Mark Mothersbaugh.

Live events include silent-film pianist Donald Sosin playing alongside “The Scarlet Letter”; Portastatic accompanying Tod Browning’s 1927 “The Unknown”; and the duo of Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie meshing with surreal shorts.

“Music is definitely an area that keeps expanding for us,” said Carl Spence, in his first year as fest artistic director after several as head programmer here and in San Francisco. (He also co-tops Palm Springs with former Seattle chief Darryl McDonald.) “It’s a growing part of our identity and, I think, part of our overall integration with the larger creative community in this area.”

Indeed, the Seattle event has an unusually large local attendance, which is a boon given the swelling number of fests competing for space on the early-summer calendar.

Falling as it does right after Cannes, Seattle is snagging more than 50 North American and U.S. debuts, but world preems have declined a bit, with only five on tap: “The Standard” and “Urban Scarecrow,” from local helmers Jordan Albertsen and Andrew McAllister, respectively; docus “Mom’s Apple Pie: The Heart of the Lesbian Mother’s Custody Movement” and “This Is Gary McFarland,” about the cool-school jazz vibist; and “Little Fugitive,” Joanna Lipper’s update of the 1953 Brooklyn-set kidpic of the same name.

Variety-inspired “Boffo! Tinseltown’s Bombs and Blockbusters,” directed by Bill Couturie, will also screen after premiering at Cannes.

Fest trains spotlights on Danish and Hong Kong cinema this year, and the U.K.’s Adam Case (“Century of the Self”) becomes the first documaker to be honored in Seattle’s Emerging Masters series.

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