It just isn't SIFF without The Uptown in the mix / K.C. Fennessy
I moved to Seattle in March of 1988. I attended my first Seattle International Film Festival two months later. The first film I saw: Penelope Spheeris's The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Because the Egyptian was packed, I ended up sitting in the second row. It took me only a few seconds to realize that the tall, dark-haired woman sitting in front of me was Spheeris, the director of Suburbia and the first, punk-rock iteration of The Decline of Western Civilization (featuring the now-infamous Exene Cervenka). Not that I said anything to her, but it was exciting for a kid from Alaska who was listening to a lot of metal at the time—the speedier the better.
Over the next few years, I would attend SIFF screenings as often as I could and came to decide that I wanted to participate in some way, so I started volunteering in 1994. I would continue to do so for the next 11 years, both during the festival and throughout the year. I started out by working at the information booth and in the volunteer department, but I wanted to get closer to the films and their makers, so I shifted to the hospitality suite and the press office.
WASP guitarist in Decline: so sad, so hilarious. The ultimate anti-alcohol PSA.
In the hospitality suite, I got to meet visiting guests, like notorious film critic Armond White (formerly with The New York Press). In person, he was gracious and attentive, but the man has written some of the most vitriolic diatribes I've ever read, like the Mr. Jealousy review in which he posits that writers praise the work of filmmaker Noah Baumbach out of fealty to his mother, Village Voice film critic Georgia Brown, and that the movie "might suggest retroactive abortion." Roger Ebert, a one-time supporter, once said of him, "I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll; a smart and knowing one, but a troll."
I also enjoyed speaking with Irish actress Eileen Walsh (Janice Beard, The Magdalene Sisters) and director Tommy O'Haver (Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, Ella Enchanted), both of whom deserve to work more than they do. Other random memories: passing on messages to staffers from producer Fred Roos (The Conversation, Apocalypse Now) and documentarian George Butler (Pumping Iron, The Endurance), delivering press materials to Salma Hayek's hotel (she wasn't there), and arguing with director Thom Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden) about Titanic (he liked it; I didn't). And yes: the free food and drink was a nice perk.
As a press office volunteer, I checked critics into screenings and got to watch the films after they started, so I sometimes missed the credits, but it was a good gig otherwise, and I met people that I had previously only known by name, like The Seattle Times' John Hartl, one of the best film writers this city has produced.
"So today's lesson is: you kill each other off." Best. Damn. Movie.
From volunteering, I segued to writing for the program guide, which I've been doing ever since. I also started covering SIFF for a variety of long-gone publications and websites, like Tablet and Lucy Mohl's Film.com. So, I've had some kind of involvement with the festival from the first year I arrived in Seattle.
Through SIFF, I've seen some of my favorite films, like Kinji Fukasaku's thrilling Battle Royale, which I saw at the Cinerama (Quentin Tarantino was in the audience), and Federico Fellini's heartbreaking Nights of Cabiria, which screened at the Egyptian in a newly-restored print. I ran into a coworker and his wife at the latter, and we had a brief chat beforehand. Afterward, I was so choked up, I left without saying goodbye. I needed to spend some time with myself and my thoughts. I wouldn't say that that was my best SIFF memory—there have been so many—but it was the film that made the biggest impact. In it, Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina, plays a prostitute looking for love. She finds herself instead.
It's what I want most from a film festival, and I've attended a few in other cities: reflections of the person I am, the person I was, and the person I want to be.
Fellini won Oscars for La Strada and Nights of Cabiria. Both feature Masina.
Founded in 1976, SIFF's 40th fest concludes on June 8. Find more info here.