When Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros played at the Gorge’s Ampitheatre on Night #2 of the Sasquatch! Music Festival just outside of George, Washington, each of their songs had an accompanying video animation playing on a giant screen behind the stage. For their performance of “Svefn-g-englar,” the screen showed the faces of two young children moving in slow motion. Whether intentional or by mere coincidence, the young boy and girl looked identical to the cosmic-fated pair of preschoolers from Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Cafe de Flore,” a film that featured the song prominently both in its trailer and plot.
This intertwining of music and film was one of the strongest indications that Sasquatch and the nearby Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF, which showed “Cafe de Flore” as part of its year-round programming last fall) have more in common than close proximity. When experienced in tandem, the two serve as ideal pre-summer companion pieces.
Next year, SIFF will celebrate its 40th anniversary. One of the largest festivals in North America in size and scope, this year’s incarnation lasted over three weeks and was comprised of over 270 features. While Sasquatch, started in 2002, has only enjoyed a history quarter of SIFF’s length, it too has grown in prominence on both a national and global scale.
Sasquatch’s Memorial Day weekend time slot puts it roughly in the middle of SIFF’s schedule, which unfolds during the second half of May and the first week of June. Anyone thinking about experiencing the two in tandem has the convenience of deciding whether they opt first for a film-centric experience, one built on music or a sandwiching of both.
There are certain atmospheric differences that contribute to the complementary nature of the two events. Aside from the immediate outcropping of Pretzel & Beer tents and RV camping sites, the Gorge is largely untouched by civilization. Beyond the campgrounds are rolling hills, a pristine-looking ravine floor and the scent of fresh air to cap it off. Once Friday afternoon rolls around on Sasquatch weekend, the Gorge becomes its own self-contained hive, providing the ideal circumstances for someone to fully commit to four days of isolation. SIFF, in contrast, takes place in the heart of downtown Seattle, for those less inclined to pitching tents and more partial to experiencing the city as a whole. The SIFF Cinema Uptown is walking distance from the Space Needle and the bevy of other cultural attractions surrounding the iconic landmark. As comparatively close as these two cultural celebrations are, you do need a car to get back and forth. But while that may initially seem like an inconvenience, the few hours drive between The Gorge and downtown Seattle serves as a nice buffer between the two events.
Once you’ve arrived at either destination, each festival has its own public method of reducing the walking routes. If you’re willing to spring for Premiere tickets, the Sasquatch shuttle will transport you back and forth from the performance areas up the hill to the main campsite. Likewise, Seattle’s classic monorail will cut a mile of walking time off your trip from the AMC Pacific Place to the SIFF Cinema Uptown and the SIFF Center. If making small talk with strangers seems like an ideal part of your festival experience, then each of these will give you a prime excuse to parse out the day’s highlights with fellow passholders.
There are the peculiar synergies between the 2013 incarnations of the two festivals that are purely coincidental, but still interesting to note: Sasquatch headliner Mumford and Sons took the name for their debut album, “Sigh No More, and lyrics from the title track, from William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Joss Whedon’s recent film adaptation of the play was SIFF 2013’s opening film and one of the quickest-selling screenings in the organization’s history. Jordan Vogt-Robert’s debut film, “The Kings of Summer” features a strong supporting turn from Nick Offerman, who headlined this year’s Sasquatch comedy lineup at the festival’s Chupacabra tent. Seattle native and national sensation Macklemore (along with Ryan Lewis) closed out the first night of Sasquatch, only to make a surprise appearance a week later at a screening of a new documentary “The Otherside,” about the Emerald City’s underground hip-hop movement.
This year’s SIFF program featured other local talent under its Northwest Connections banner. Documentary and fiction films peppered the list of narrative features produced by local Seattle talent or highlighting issues pertinent to the greater Northwest community. The slate featured, among others, Seattlite Lynn Shelton’s latest feature, “Touchy Feely” and the marijuana legalization doc “Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington.” Sasquatch also featured two headliners with local flavor — Macklemore and Memorial Day closer The Postal Service, an outfit fronted by Washington native Ben Gibbard.
And like the throngs of die-hards crowding around the mainstage’s pit area, shouting out the hits, the SIFF Cinema Uptown was filled with fans waiting to see the tribute to Kyle MacLachlan, the newly-minted recipient of the Seattle International Film Festival Award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting. The event featured a screening of the “Twin Peaks” pilot and a hearty Q&A led by Movie City News’ David Poland, complete with lesser known clips from MacLachlan’s work in films like “Showgirls” and “Touch of Pink.” MacLachlan (another local product from Yakima, WA and alumni of the University of Washington) spoke of his career’s origins, his transition into recent television work and near-miss castings (“Can you imagine me as Jim Morrison?” he asked of the crowd after revealing that he initially aimed for that role in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.”).
Festivals, at their core, are about immersion in a given area. Those who want to can see four or five films in a day or a double digit number of bands. The framework of each allows attendees to move at their own speed: Sasquatch goers can skip the preamble and head down to the mainstage area for headliners only. Likewise, those keeping their eyes on available tickets can plan out a sparse film screening schedule as time allows. That versatility can accommodate both avid and casual consumers of either artistic pursuit.
But with both festivals, there’s a central push/pull dilemma. Amidst the incredible potential for discovery (and the accompanying risk) is a bevy of work that’s readily available. For every “Epic” or set by The Lumineers, there’s a film or act that may not come to the States anytime soon. SIFF proved to be one of the last stops on the way to theaters around the country for such upcoming films as “The Bling Ring” and the aforementioned “Kings” and “Much Ado.” Likewise, Sasquatch marks a stopping point on a national tour for many of the bigger acts. Finding a balance between digging deep and going for known quantities takes some work, but with four different stages at Sasquatch and five regular venues for SIFF, the variation is there for those who want to mix and match.
In SIFF 2013’s most notable instance of the music-film blend, the festival hosted a post-“Twenty Feet from Stardom” performance by Tata Vega and Merry Clayton, two of the backup singers featured in the documentary (which opens this week). Vega received a standing ovation for her live rendition of the James Brown hit “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (prompting Clayton to shout to the audience, “She sung that song!”). But as the presence of both women showed, the worlds of film and music are often best absorbed together.