FESTIVALS: Seattle Backlash: Cal Godot Responds
by Cal Godot
Karen Rippel is right: I did somehow manage to confuse Paul Allen, whose vast fortune began with his founding of Microsoft, with the Microsoft-sponsorship of the festival. Similarly, I neglected to point out that the Seattle International Film Festival also lists AT&T Cable (formerly TCI) as one of SIFF’s major corporate sponsors. Sad to say, I’m starting to get confused in these fast-paced times of convergence.
I’m well aware of the troubling notion that “corporate sponsors allow SIFF to keep ticket prices low.” But low as compared to what? Evening screenings run $8 for the general public, with a $3 surcharge if you order by phone or on the web. Of course, in the 25 years of SIFF’s existence, corporate sponsorship has grown and the ticket price has increased, so again, I’m not sure what “low” means.
As for the Starbucks tumbler, the “artwork” on my tumbler consists of an apple, a rooster head, a coffee cup, and what appears to be a Super8 camera. When they gave us the freebies (which also contained a pound of Starbucks coffee, some Dilletante Chocolates, and a cool IFILM baseball cap), I voiced my disdain for the artwork to a press office staffer.”What the hell does a chicken have to do with film?” I asked. I was told that the artwork was “part of this year’s art.” I looked at the poster, which contained just as many bizarre and disparate images, and shrugged.
In respect to my claim that no local shorts screened in front of the 200 plus features, Kathleen McInnis, a former SIFF programmer, points out that her short film “The Byrds” was shown in front of both screenings of “Preston Tylk.” She offers no indication of any other shorts being given this honor. With over 200 films being screened, it’s impossible to see everything. I did not attend any of the screenings of “Preston Tylk.”
Of the public screenings I did attend, I saw no local shorts. All indications from the schedules and programming guides were that the presentation of Northwest Shorts was a “one night only” thing. Also, at the press opening, festival director Darryl MacDonald made no mention of individual screenings of local shorts; rather, he pointed to the Thursday screening as indication of SIFF’s support of local filmmakers. This sole screening, by the way, was scheduled in conflict with the restored version of “Blood Simple,” which was being screened at the largest screen in town, the Cinerama.
Mind you, I do not attend a large number of SIFF’s public screenings. This is mostly because they sell out and I don’t feel good about taking up a seat with my press pass, much less standing in line in the rain, especially if I can see it in a press screening or via VHS. I want SIFF to get as much money from ticket sales as possible, if only to save Karen from begging for corporate dollars.
Kathleen demonstrates to my satisfaction that I was right all along about Fly Filmmaking Local filmmakers are good enough to be crew, but not good enough to direct. She claims that this is somehow helpful to local film talent; since Kathleen is a filmmaker herself, I wonder which she would prefer: being handed a pile of free film and an experienced crew, or working for free under someone else? I know the answer most other local filmmakers would give.
Local filmmakers come out in droves to support SIFF; the Fly crews are packed with them (working for free, I might add); the Fly screening audience was practically a who’s-who of local film. We all know why SIFF prefers to waste money flying in “name” directors, putting them up in nice hotels, giving them film, equipment, and a film crew, and a budget to shoot with: it’s because that’s “cooler” than “wasting” the money on people who are not “names.”
I feel no apology is due to SIFF. The spirit of what I said is true, even if I did get it wrong about the coffee tumbler: SIFF’s support of local film is minimal. Staffers handed out a number of questionnaires at various screenings; one of those questions was (and I paraphrase, because I can’t find a copy), Do you think SIFF should put more emphasis on local film, and if so, how much (percentage)?
To me, this demonstrates that SIFF knows they pretty much ignore the local scene, and are trying in typical Seattle fashion to do the minimum necessary to quiet gadflies like me while still maintaining their dollar-centric stance. (What percentage? As a local told me: she answered, “Put as many local films on as you can find first. Then go out of town for the other stuff.”)
I take heart in the fact that numerous local filmmakers, actors, and other film folk have praised my pointed criticisms of SIFF, in spite of any perceived factual errors. Most of these local folk pointedly refuse to be quoted by name (not only by me, but also in The Stranger and Seattle Weekly) as they have hopes of someday being invited to SIFF.
Consider that I went from a staunch SIFF supporter in 1998 (the article is archived on indieWIRE.com) to a SIFF debunker in 2000. I don’t harbor any secret “grudge” against SIFF; I have never submitted any film work to SIFF, have never applied for a job there, and hardly know any of the staffers. (I did shoot a movie last year, my first, but it is still in editing). I am not an unfair person; I toiled with the decision of writing this article. I don’t like being so damn critical, especially of a festival that manages to bring some damn good films to this corporate town (like “Buffalo ’66,” which played 2 years ago at SIFF, and is in my view one of the best films ever made).
But the simple fact is that SIFF is the big festival in this town, and their disregard of the local film scene makes things just that much harder for filmmakers. It’s not easy for anyone with a notion to create an “alternative” festival either. Organizers of local-oriented fests such as Satellites (which screened a number of films during SIFF) or the Seattle Underground Film Festival (which opens in October) face the question, “Why don’t you work with SIFF?” whenever they go about, hat in hand, for those important sponsorship dollars. The only answer to this — SIFF ignores us — is treated with the sound of checkbooks snapping coldly shut.
I harbor no illusions that my criticism of SIFF will result in any positive change in that festival. Next year, I fully expect the festival to do something insane like open with “Austin Powers 3” (the second one screened at SIFF last year) or host a huge blow-out party featuring life-like dummies of the “Blair 2” cast. After all, the I in SIFF doesn’t stand for “independent” (and don’t you forget it).
Rather, I hope my article and this follow-up galvanize those who know my words are true, no matter what the origins of the mysterious chicken head on my coffee tumbler.