By Indiewire | Indiewire June 26, 2000 at 2:00AM
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Reactions to Cal Godot's Seattle Festival Article by indieWIRE Readers, with a response from Cal Godot
by indieWIRE Readers, with a response from Cal Godot
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>> IN RESPONSE TO: Seattle Sells Out? Big Fest Loses Sight of Local Talent
Dear Cal and indieWIRE,
As a filmmaker and festival attendee it's hard to read such a narrow minded
selfish point of view of your feelings about the Seattle International Film
Festival. Upon reading your vented insults about Seattle and it's lack of
support for local filmmakers all I can think of is that you may be another
frustrated filmmaker taking a writer/journalist job he is not fit for to vent
his personal anguishes. This MO if not fact is for some reason all too clear
in your writing. Maybe you should get off your writing ass and make a film
that is worthy of such a great festival.
It surprises me that you did not mention once that what makes Seattle so
special is the AUDIENCES, the people of Seattle and it's art appreciative
community. As a filmmaker all I can say is thank god for a festival like
Seattle in these United States of pseudo Independent filmmaking. No other
festival shows such a wide array of films from everywhere. No other festival is timed to be able to show this cross-section of studio, world cinema and indie fare after the flux of major festivals like Toronto, Sundance and Cannes. This timing gives Seattle the opportunity to screen the industry faves as well as the overlooked films from these festivals, and this they do achieve. Most importantly once again the audiences there go to screenings en masse, they walk in wanting to love the film, and can appreciate the work from a pure audience point of view without the infectious tribulations of a New York or LA industry attitude. AUDIENCE, AUDIENCE, AUDIENCE, that is who we make films for and thank god for Seattle because it has the best festival audiences in America. This comes from first hand experience I have attended many, many festivals around the world and I think most filmmakers who have attended Seattle would agree with me.
In my short week attending the festival my two screenings for FOUR DOGS
PLAYING POKER were practically sold out, and the audience responded because as a director just as in a musician you can feel the audience, every
screening is different and Seattle's always feel good. I've attended Seattle
twice as a director now and I look forward to attending again. And by the
way I don't know who you were hanging out with there but not once was I
introduced or met any local politicians or mega industry execs. The fact
that their money may be supporting such a great festival is only a service to
the filmmakers. As far as the staff and their selection, well, they've been
doing it for 25 years, somebody in Seattle needs to make a worthy film I
guess. If you are not a filmmaker then go start a rival fest the way I did
in Park City with Slamdance, but please don't sit around complaining with a
lousy attitude and be bitter. And never insult the AUDIENCE.
Director "Four Dogs Playing Poker", "Drive Baby Drive"
Founding filmmaker and East Coast Operations for Slamdance
Even as I congratulate you for publishing what I feel was a valid and passionate criticism of the Seattle International Film Festival's (SIFF) utter and continuing lack of support for and understanding of their local resources, I must question the somewhat simplistic tone of the article.
As the founder and ex-executive director of the cited Northwest Film Forum (which, in point of fact, owns and programs both of the theatres Mr. Godot mentions, the Grand Illusion Cinema and The Little Theatre), as well as the producer of both Gregg Lachow's "Silence!," cited in the article, and last year's "Money Buys Happiness," which also played at SIFF, I have a deep firsthand experience of both Seattle's local film community and of SIFF's ongoing inability to create any form of meaningful relationship with that community. Many of Mr. Godot's points are longstanding bones of contention within the local independent film and media community.
Indeed, SIFF's moribund Filmmaker's Forum -- the "film-making" quotient of the fest which organizes panels on filmmaking and sponsors the cited "Fly Filmmaking" program -- is especially galling to local filmmakers, not only for the reasons Mr. Godot mentions, but also for the glaring lack of actual relevant filmmaking talent on any one of the panels. For example, this year's panel on "Feature Filmmaking in Seattle" included two government bureaucrats from the state and city film offices; a commercial location scout, a SAG representative, a producer whose company, Shadowcatcher, has, of four films produced, yet to produce a film actually in Seattle, and a lone filmmaker, Shaya Mercer, who actually moved to New York 4 years ago, and now lives and works there. Such blatant and arrogant mis-casting of a supposedly local panel certainly only serves to fan the flames of local dis-taste for and disrespect of the film festival. (Having made three films locally in three years -- The Wright Brothers, Money Buys Happiness, Silence! -- I must confess to a specific personal gall at having not even been asked to participate.)
Mr. Godot also accurately recounts SIFF's current climate of corporate pandering. In the past 5 years, as the fest has furthered its mission to simply inflate, it has found itself increasingly in need of larger donors, and, in the current funding climate, has naturally turned to corporations to fill the gap. The attitude has tainted many aspects of the festival: their opening and closing night parties have grown more upscale, exclusive, and dull; their opening night films indeed have become low points of the lineup; and the rampant logo parade does tend to distract. Of course, the administration of SIFF prides itself greatly on attracting high-level sponsors such as Starbucks and Blockbuster, pointing out that without the tainted dollars of these corporations, the festival would be impossible.
Indeed, to brand SIFF a bloated, money-grubbing festival that prides itself on its sheer size above all else; that wears its excess like a badge; that is increasingly isolated from and even antagonistic towards local talent is neither a stretch nor inaccurate. However, Mr. Godot places too much power in his critique in SIFF's hands, and offers too little in the way of an alternative. He lists the symptoms, but then reneges on his responsibility to identify the sickness and propose a cure.
SIFF is the norm, not the exception. Moreover,it is in fact quite unlike Sundance, and quite like, say, the Portland International Film Fest, in that it is a large festival in a provincial area that is engaged in a self-consciously glamorous business (though by the way, stars and industry almost NEVER attend SIFF, as they are all at Cannes). SIFF may be faulted for its simplistic ambitions -- quantity over quality, splash over substance -- but to imply that such ambitions are anything but the norm is foolish. With a few exceptions -- San Francisco, Olympia, Maine -- mid-sized city film festivals are typically one-dimensional simplistic affairs, where people see local premieres of films that played Toronto or Sundance or Berlin or Cannes, thereby allowing themselves the justification to act superior to the Summer Blockbuster crowd. It is true that SIFF, and by extension its audience, have confused exhibiting movies with helping to make movies. But such confusion is typical, especially of an overweening small town whose definition of artistic success is to have your ass kissed by the New York Press. SIFF, indeed, is a symptom, not a cause.
Moreover, most festivals suffer from rampant commercialization these days. When I had a film at the LAIFF, I had to throw away little corporate trinkets daily (though I similarly must admit, I like my free Docker's Khakis). The preponderance of corporate sponsorship is not particular to SIFF. It is symptomatic of the callous commercializing of American Independent film in general. And, especially in this nation, film remains a commercial medium first and foremost.
Finally, SIFF's neglect of local talent may be brutal, yes, but what is not revealed is that there may be precious little talent locally to support. Granted, its a symbiotic relationship in both sickness and in health. But the fact remains, the local talent pool has to step up to the plate and begin making some strong hits. Every year, SIFF (valiantly or cynically) programs a selection of short films, and every year, almost half of them are appallingly derivative, poorly shot, horribly acted, and suicide-inducingly unoriginal. Maybe SIFF would actually do better to show NO LOCAL FILMS AT ALL -- at least, until they improve.
In short, you can reasonably make the accusations against SIFF that Mr. Godot does, and most people -- even me, and I am one of those who is supposedly a SIFF pet -- will agree. But to suppose that SIFF cares about these complaints is foolish. SIFF is a festival for a huge audience of passive moviegoers; it is not an industry fest, or an avant-garde fest, or even a cutting-edge film fest. It is a big, comfortable, Gas-guzzling American Car of a film festival, and that is just how they seem to want it.
The sickness lies not with Fest programmers, but with the public itself. The public has grown lazy; no-one sees anything wrong with seeing films without producing them. We have, in short, become complacent consumers, no different from the crowd of thoughtless victims who feel no outrage when "Godzilla" turns out to be a waste of $7. SIFF may prey on such passivity, but people have to stop being so easily duped!!!
Seattleites need to support more variety of films and more local filmmakers. Local filmmakers, in turn, need to set their sights on something a little higher than the $1500 deal with Atom films (and by the way, any company that advertises itself with the slogan, "get into our shorts," is a poor bet for artistic appreciation, period), and need to work on the funding councils and arts patrons to create a viable body of local work about which we may be proud. As a community, Seattle needs to set a unique and applicable definition of artistic film, and then pursue it. And, indeed, we need to stop patting ourselves on the back whenever we make a feature, and get to work on the next one. Eventually, a voice should emerge that is loud; that is saying new things; that merits great attention, at which point, we can reasonably, and with great pride, express our anger at SIFF, or anyone else for ignoring us.
The most prescient piece of advice Mr. Godot offers is for someone to organize an alternative--which, happily, some people already have. The Seattle Underground Film Fest is entering its second year, and I can assure you, their organizers wouldn't know a corporate sponsorship if they threw up on it. Satellites, a collection of avant-garde and alternative screenings concurrent with SIFF, made its third annual appearance this year, to its best reviews yet. Super8 film is booming ins Seattle, and there are a few places locally where locally made films will get runs, provided they are up to snuff. INdeed, the underground film scene of Seattle is slowly coalescing, in blissful ignorance of SIFF's perennial faults, with those involved wasting less energy complaining, and spending more energy doing. In the meantime, Leave SIFF to their big audience and small imagination. The $7 you spend on their tickets could buy half a roll of Kodachrome, which they still process in Switzerland.
Film and Arts Editor
The Stranger Weekly Newspaper
Dear indieWIRE Editor:
Having just read Cal Godot's article, I wanted to write to clear-up a few of the misrepresentations that came across through his festival summary. I'll be up front in my response, and let you know that I have been a festival-goer for the past 6 years and currently work for Cinema Seattle, producers of the festival.
With regards to sponsorship practices and SIFF, it would be nice if Mr. Godot could manage to keep simple facts straight. I, myself wonder which "stingy local production facilites" he has attempted to deal with in his past - I found the local companies extremely generous in their time and services. As to our "infamous corporate sponsors", we receive no funds from Microsoft, but perhaps Mr. Godot is confusing that company with the Allen Foundation for the Arts. Blockbuster is a sponsor, yes - but we do work with local video stores as well for specific screenings. I guess he never attended those. As to his Starbucks tumbler, look again Cal - the artwork is completely different than the festivals'.
Corporate sponsors allow SIFF to keep ticket prices low and bring directors in, two factors that our audiences appreciate. SIFF is unique not only for its length and the sheer number of films shown, but for the fact that it is a festival that respects its audiences. SIFF's unique length allows most screenings to occur during after-work hours and on weekends, allowing Seattle's citizens easy access to the more than 300 films showcased. If Mr. Godot stayed around for any of the numerous post-screening question and answer sessions, he would have been privy to the intelligence of our audiences, as well as the appreciation of the visiting directors and actors who delighted in having their film viewed by an audience not composed solely of industry and the ilk.
( Audiences seemed to like our "universally despised artwork" - merchandise sales have never been higher.)
SIFF is an international film festival and we strive to bring in studio faves, international cinema, and American independents of high quality that our audience will enjoy. When local films are submitted that meet these requirements, they are placed in our roster. In addition, Cinema Seattle presents year-round programming, like the Women in Cinema festival, Screenwriters Salons, and Filmmakers Forum, that highlights local and national film talents. I encourage Mr. Godot to attend these programs.
Corporate and Foundation Relations Manager
Cinema Seattle/Seattle International Film Festival
As a Seattle filmmaker, former SIFF programmer, journalist and indie filmmaker publicist, I read with growing interest your singularly narrow view of the 2000 Seattle International Film Festival. There are just so many things to respond to, but first let me address the couple of issues I have first hand knowledge of.
Northwest Shorts were programmed in front of features. Mine, The Byrds, played at the NW Shorts package as well as in front of both sold out screenings of Preston Tylk.
The Fly Filmmaking Challenge, a program I helped develop and conceive, had a local filmmaker the first year-Jon Ward. However, it was decided that the festival wanted to make sure the local talent base got a chance to work with directors who might not normally shoot here, in the hopes that new relationships could be forged that would lead to more work and visibility. And it did. Nearly every fly made over the years has generated more work for members of their crews (Eric Schaeffer made the feature version of his fly in NYC and brought out his fly crew from Seattle; Miquel Arteta hired his fly composer to write songs for Chuck and Buck; Paul Todisco's lead Seattle actress got an LA agent...the list goes on.).
As for the screening of the Flys-a last minute breakdown of the projection system caused them to all be screened via an analogue video projector which, as any filmmaker will tell you (as did the person introducing the screenings at the theater), caused all three films to be visually diminished. Apparently you didn't listen to the person introducing the films.
Your condemnation of corporate sponsorship is so misguided it nearly brought a smile to my lips. Look at any film festival anywhere in the world. Every festival is attached to some kind of sponsorship so that they might provide filmgoers and filmmakers the opportunity to interact. It's expensive to put on a film festival. And I for one am very happy corporate America's dollars can put my film on a screen.
As for the rest of your strange profile of the festival: sure, any festival can do better. And certainly any festival is going to be held up to the Sundance mirror since nearly all American indie filmmakers seem to think that's their holy grail. But consider this-SIFF is 26 years old. The audience tops 150,000. The screenings are filled day in and day out. The filmmakers (many of whom I'm sure don't appreciate being called minor stars by the way-are you saying only famous people deserve press?) interact with their audience at the screenings, at the parties (unlike Sundance), on the streets and anywhere they happen to meet. And having been to every major festival so far this year, I can assuredly say as both filmmaker an audience member, I'd much rather have the Seattle hospitality than the deplorable treatment fostered on filmmakers by Yahoo! Online Film Festival (which IndieWire loved so much) or the indifferent attitude of Cannes.
Considering the email I've received so far this morning, I'm sure mine will not be the only letter you receive. I trust some of what your readership has to say will sink in.
I look to "Indie" as a source of unbiased film reporting. For this reason, I was particularly taken aback by a recent article I read about the Seattle International Film Festival. After reading through the article (twice) -- I was surprised to see the text laced with errors.
My husband and I have attended the Seattle International Film Festival for many years. We are film enthusiasts who join the queues of other film lovers to watch films. Unlike Sundance and Cannes, SIFF focuses on the film-goers rather than the usual industry mucky mucks . For this reason, I feel that your writer missed the entire flavor of the event. It is apparent that he has an ax to grind -- and it is a shame that he selected one of Seattle's most beloved non-profit events.
Another example of your writer's poor reporting skills involved his reference to an "exclusive" video store sponsorship with a large retail chain. This is again wrong -- that is, my husband and I shop at a local retail shop, "Scarecrow Video" and they were proud sponsors of the festival. My husband and I attended the Friday, May 25th screening of "The Mission" and heard the very generous curtain mention of Scarecrow's involvement with the festival. Where does your writer get his information? Was there any fact checking?
I look forward to continuing my relationship with "Indie." I simply hope that the quality and objectivity of your writers is more closely scrutinized. The film festival article should never have been printed in it current form. Beating up on a non-profit group, particularly with bad journalism and lies, just isn't cool. I would have expected more from one of my favorite on-line periodicals
Mrs. S. Yamanaka, M.D.
READ CAL GODOT'S RESPONSE TO THESE LETTERS: