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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 21, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 21
SGN gets inside SIFF - Carl Spence, artistic director
Arts & Entertainment
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SGN gets inside SIFF - Carl Spence, artistic director

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The 36th annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) has officially begun. I sat down with SIFF's artistic director, Carl Spence, and let him do the majority of the heavy lifting on this preview piece - after all, when you're talking about a 25-day festival spotlighting 405 features, documentaries, and shorts from 67 countries, why not turn to the man responsible for helping assemble this smorgasbord to put it into some sort of cohesive perspective?

Sara Michelle Fetters: As the artistic director of SIFF, what sort of guidance or direction do you give the programmers as they assemble the lineup for the festival?

Carl Spence: My driving force has always been not so much trying to give the audience what they want, but & knowing who your audience is. The great thing about the Seattle Festival and what makes it so different from other festivals is that it has been widely embraced by the city and is so eclectic in its programming mix that it [hasn't] programmed "Films" - with a capital F - but really celebrated films of all subjects and budgets and hasn't distinguished between a Hollywood film versus an art house film or a film from Brazil or a film from the U.S.A. It doesn't say one is more important than the other. It doesn't discriminate. And that's sort of the driving force for me. [SIFF] can go from lowbrow to highbrow and everything in between while also encompassing pieces of all the other arts, like music and dance. There are a lot of different pieces that go together to make a strong festival.

Fetters: Talk a little about this year's LGBT lineup. On paper, this appears to be one of the most diverse groups of films I've seen from SIFF in quite some time.

Spence: It is. We're always looking for interesting films across all boundaries, and while we're not specifically looking for Gay or Lesbian films, we are looking for good films. Whether specifically or tangentially, we always seem to end up with a selection that will be of interest to the [LGBT] community. We're also happy to present our annual "Gay-La" film, Violet Tendencies with Mindy Cohn from The Facts of Life, which is sort of a fun, light comedy about the ultimate fag-hag who still hasn't found a boyfriend and decides to leave the nest of her Gay friends to see if she can find a relationship on her own.

Fetters: Are there others films in this year's LGBT series you'd consider standouts?

Spence: Howl is an amazing film. [It's] about the life of Allen Ginsberg and it's structured like one of his poems. It really stands on its own. But then I think all of the films in the [LGBT series] stand on their own. Each in its own way is a standout. As part of the "Ambiente: A Celebration of Spanish Film" series, there are some titles I think Gay and Lesbian audiences will respond to. There is Room in Rome, which is a remake of the Chilean film In Bed. We're showing Alicia Scherson's new film Turistas, which revolves around two women. Then we have Mediterranean Diet, which really isn't a Gay film, but is still about a ménage à trois between a woman, her husband, and her lover.

Fetters: And then there is Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives, maybe the most controversial film SIFF has screened in years.

Spence: It had some controversy coming out of Tribeca, but I think that was all [overblown], like someone was trying to use it as a way to get some attention. But, in the end, I don't really think there was much to the controversy. Even with the important issues that were brought up it's still an exploitation film and made in that style, and I think people need to keep that in perspective.

Fetters: So you don't foresee any trouble with showing that film?

Spence: I don't think so, no. It's an exploitation film. It's like any of those films, like watching a Russ Meyer film. It's no different than any other exploitation film. It's not doing anything in a derogatory way. I think it's great and a lot of fun. It is definitely a midnight film and it isn't for everyone, [but] I don't see anything negative about it.

Fetters: So, putting you on the spot, if a person only has time to go to five films during the festival, what five do you send them to go see?

Spence: Oh, that's not fair. Five films? What do I have them go see? Anything? How about Howl, The Hedgehog from France, Loose Cannons, directed by Ferzan Ozpetek, Farewell - Farewell is simply a film everyone must see - and any film out of our New Director's Showcase, but if I had to choose one, I'd say Angel at Sea. But that's just a few. I could go on and on and on, but that's probably enough for now.

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