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Seattle Int'l Film Festival Is America's Biggest

To impress me, a guy from Seattle, Washington, once FedExed a 20-pound salmon to my New York address. Okay, that was a wow. But nothing like the Seattle International Film Festival, which envelops the Emerald City for 25 days (May 20 – June 13, 2010), raining down more than 400 movies from 67 countries in at least a dozen different venues.

America's largest film festival is a surge of independent and world cinema, with documentaries ever on the rise. It's known as more of an audience event, and not a mandatory drill for the industry. So the fact that it overlaps the last three days of the Cannes Film Festival is of no tragic concern. In 2009, roughly 150,000 cinema lovers flocked to its screens.

Yet by no means is SIFF some Pacific Northwest recess off Hollywood's trodden path. On the contrary, it's a favorite testing ground for many filmmakers -- Francis Ford Coppola zings to mind -- who swear by the sophisticated smarts of its caffeinated audiences.    

Last year's jury summed it up neatly. "This is a festival designed for a serious film-going community evocative of the Toronto International Film Festival before industry interests started dominating it," a fest rep stated.

Celebrities can also expect to feel the love here. Again to quote 2009's jury, SIFF "has a less feverish and more sane tempo than most other festivals, which also gives [it] time to take special care of its guests."

At 36, the event has the polished ways of a grown up, but a kid's penchant for grins.

Opening the 2010 edition is the comedy of manners, The Extra Man. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor) directed this droll adaptation of Jonathan Ames' novel about an aspiring writer (Paul Dano) who takes a room in the Manhattan apartment of a gentleman escort (Kevin Kline).

Following the screening, a Gala party will unfold in downtown Seattle's Benaroya Hall.

Other venues in and around the city will host Festival gatherings, including:
Seattle Center's SIFF Cinema

Harvard Exit
Pacific Place Cinemas

IMAX Pacific Science Center
and performing arts centers in Everett and Kirkland.

One of the films arriving to SIFF with advanced hype is Waiting for Superman. Directed by Oscar-laureate Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), this expose of public education in America nabbed the audience award for best US documentary at January's Sundance Film Festival.

Another buzz magnet among the Festival's 54 documentaries is American: The Bill Hicks Story. Told through a mesh of testimonials, performance footage and animation, Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas's bio-doc about the titular comedian and social critic was a hit at South by Southwest and other fests.

Centurion is also headed for Seattle after grabbing attention at SXSW. The sword-and-sandal thriller from Neil Marshall retraces the legend of Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), the Roman Ninth Legion general whose march on Scotland met with Pict rebels and doom.  

A Little Help, one of the Festival's 25 world premieres, is getting its share of asterisks as well. In this directorial feature debut by King of Queens creator Michael J. Weithorn, a widowed single mom links up with a former beau who happens to be her brother-in-law. Jenna Fischer (The Office) stars.

Cyrus shows a similarly vexed take on romance, and it too is a sought ticket. The new dramatic comedy from Jay and Mark Duplass (Puffy Chair) features John C. Reilly as a divorcee whose new flame (Marisa Tomei) turns out to have another guy in her life -- her son (Jonah Hill).

Luckily, the Festival's own track record concerning surprises is pretty solid. Each year it programs a side bar of four undisclosed films known as a "Secret Festival". To prime the suspense, once viewers have seen a selection, they must pledge in writing that they will not divulge any details.

This being Seattle, local musicians are naturally part of the program. This year the "Face the Music Live" section has Seattle country rock band, The Maldives, performing an original live score to the 20's silent Western, Riders of the Purple Sage.

Another silent picture, Bu Wancang's A Spray of Plum Blossoms, will be screened with Donal Sosin on piano, debuting a an original composition. The 1931 film, from China, is a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona. A third Face the Music Live program, co-sponsored witRobert Duvallh STG Presents, matches up The Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt with the 1916 silent film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Merritt will play an original live score in duet with organist David Hegarty.

The Festival will pin its 2010 Golden Space Needle for Outstanding Achievement on actor Edward Norton. Revelries include the west coast premiere of Leaves of Grass, which he stars in, and an on-stage interview enlivened by clips of his screen roles. The film by Tim Blake Nelson laces crime drama conventions with drug comedy kicks in its quest to define happiness.

The Closing Night Gala will present Aaron Schneider's Get Low, starring Robert Duvall as a reclusive townie who stages his "living funeral" --both Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray co-star.

After the screening at Pacific Place Cinemas, celebrants will raise a last toast to SIFF 2010 at the Pan Pacific Hotel (2125 Terry Avenue; 206-264-8111, Seattle, WA 98121).

Panels, workshops and parties add to the Festival luster -- and its afterglow, stoked by the announcement of the juried Competition Awards and Golden Space Needle Audience Awards.

Look for the full sweep of this superfest at:

Seattle International Film Festival
May 20 – June 13, 2010

SIFF Cinema
Box Office
321 Mercer Street, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center
Box office opens half hour before the first show
Showtimes and Information: 206-633-7151
Phone: 206-324-9996
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Main Office
400 9th Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109
Fax: 206-264-7919
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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