The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), held annually in Seattle, Washington since 1976, is among the top film festivals in North America. Audiences have grown steadily; the 2006 festival had 160,000 attendees. The SIFF runs for more than three weeks (24 days), in May/June, and features a diverse assortment of predominantly independent and foreign films, and a strong contingent of documentaries.
SIFF 2006 included more than 300 films and was the first SIFF to include a venue in neighboring Bellevue, Washington, after an ill-fated early attempt. However
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, in 2008, the festival was back to being entirely in Seattle, and had a slight decrease in the number of feature films. The 2010 festival featured over 400 films, shown primarily in downtown Seattle and its nearby neighborhoods, and in Renton, Kirkland, and Juanita Beach Park.
The festival began in 1976 at a then-independent cinema, the Moore Egyptian Theater. The first five festivals were held at The Moore Egyptian, now back under its earlier name the Moore Theater and functioning as a concert venue. When founders Dan Ireland and Darryl Macdonald of the Moore Egyptian lost their lease, they founded the Egyptian theater in a former Masonic Temple on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. The Egyptian theater remains a prime festival venue to this day, although the festival now typically uses about half a dozen cinemas (including, since 2007, its own SIFF Cinema at Seattle Center), with the exact roster varying from year to year.
During the 1980s, SIFF audiences developed a reputation for appreciating films that did not fit standard industry niches, such as Richard Rush’s multi-layered The Stunt Man (1980). SIFF was instrumental in the entry of Dutch films into the United States market, including the first major American debut for director Paul Verhoeven.
The festival includes a component that is unique among major film festivals: a four-film “Secret Festival”. Those who attend the Secret Festival do not know in advance what they will see, and they must sign an oath that they will not reveal afterwards what they have seen.
In general, SIFF has a reputation as an “audience festival” rather than an “industry festival”. The festival often partially overlaps the Cannes Film Festival, which can reduce attendance by industry bigwigs; in 2007 there were two days of overlap, May 24 and 25.
The SIFF group also curates the Global Lens film series, the Screenwriters Salon, and Futurewave (K-12 programming and youth outreach), coordinates SIFF-A-Go-Go travel programs (organized tours to other film festivals), and co-curates the 1 Reel Film Feastival at Bumbershoot and the Sci-Fi Shorts Film Festival at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.
In 2006, Longhouse Media launched the SuperFly Filmmaking Experience, in partnership with the Seattle International Film Festival, which brings youth together from diverse backgrounds to work collaboratively on film projects that promote awareness of indigenous issues and mutual understanding of each other’s cultures. Fifty youth from across the United States arrive in Seattle to then travel to a local Pacific Northwest reservation to create 4 films in 36 hours.
November 28, 2006, SIFF and Seattle mayor Greg Nickels announced that SIFF would soon have a home and a year-round screening facility in what has been the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall of McCaw Hall, the same building at Seattle Center that houses the Seattle Opera. The city contributed $150,000 to the $350,000 project. This auditorium was a “flagship venue” for SIFF festivals and the site of most press screenings.
Shortly after the 2011 festival, SIFF moved its operations to the SIFF Film Center on the Seattle Center campus. The Film Center includes a 90-seat multi-use theater, multi-media classroom, exhibition spaces
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, archives, and offices for SIFF and the Film School. In October 2011, SIFF Cinema moved from McCaw Hall to its current location in the Uptown Theater. SIFF utilizes all three of the Uptown’s three screens for year round programming. SIFF currently has year round programming for four screens in Seattle.
In May 2014 it was announced that SIFF had purchased the Uptown Theater, and would be leasing and renovating the Egyptian Theater (abandoned roughly a year earlier by Landmark Theatres) from Seattle Central College.
Since 1985, the Seattle International Film Festival has awarded the Golden Space Needle award each year to the festival’s most popular movie. Ballots are cast by audience members at the end of each movie. Previous winners of the Golden Space Needle include Whale Rider for 2003, Trainspotting for 1996, Kiss of the Spider Woman for 1985 and Boyhood for 2015, the latter two being the only films to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and win the Golden Space Needle.
Among the films that have received North American or world premieres at SIFF are:
Liam (dir. Stephen Frears, UK)
Tortilla Soup (dir. Maria Ripoll, USA)
Ghost World (dir. Terry Zwigoff, USA)
Caeser (dir. Uli Edel, USA)
PTU (dir. Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
Together (2002 film) (dir. Chen Kaige, South Korea)
Whale Rider (dir. Niki Caro, New Zealand)
Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut (dir
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. Richard Kelly, USA)
Before Sunset (dir. Richard Linklater, USA)
Criminal (dir. Gregory Jacobs, USA)
Red Dust (dir. Tom Hooper
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Bombón, el Perro (dir. Carlos Sorín, Argentina)
Côte d’Azur (dir. Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, France)
Perhaps Love (dir. Peter Ho-Sun Chan, Hong Kong)
A Prairie Home Companion (dir. Robert Altman, USA)
Strangers with Candy (dir. Paul Dinello, USA)
A Battle of Wits, (dir. Jacob Cheung, Hong Kong)
The Boss of It All, (dir. Lars von Trier, Denmark)
Evening, (dir. Lajos Koltai, USA)