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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 17, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 20
SIFF 2019 preview: Interview with Artistic Director Beth Barrett
Arts & Entertainment
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SIFF 2019 preview: Interview with Artistic Director Beth Barrett

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

It's that time of year again. Last night the 45th annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) kicked off 25 days of cinematic euphoria with a gala screening of Seattle director Lynn Shelton's latest comedy-drama hybrid Sword of Trust. This year's festival will screen 410 films (narrative features, documentaries, archival presentations and shorts) from 86 countries and includes 33 world premieres. This edition of SIFF also highlights women working in comedy, some of the highlights on that front including a centerpiece showing of Nisha Ganatra's Late Night with Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, Gurinder Chadha's exuberant Blinded by the Light based on journalist and author Sarfraz Manzoor's acclaimed memoir of his Bruce Springsteen-loving childhood, and a closing night screening of writer/director Lulu Wang's The Farewell with Awkwafina.

Another highlight of the festival will be a tribute to award-winning actress Regina Hall on Sunday, June 2 at the SIFF Egyptian, an intimate afternoon at the theatre, which will include a screening of Andrew Bujalski's Support the Girls. There will also be a number of parties throughout SIFF's 25-day marathon, including a bash at the Kirkland Performance Center after a screening of Olivier Assayas' Non-Fiction as well as a celebration at the Nordic Museum at 2655 NW Market Street after the North American Premiere of Maximilian Hult's Pity the Lovers. Also of personal interest is an archival screening of 1925's The Phantom of the Opera, this silent classic being shown with a live musical score performed by indie band the Invincible Czars.

There's just too much stuff to talk about, and there's nowhere near enough room for me to go into it all here. Thankfully, I was able to sit down briefly with SIFF Artistic Director Beth Barrett to talk about SIFF and a variety of things audiences can expect from this year's festival. Here's what she had to say:

Sara Michelle Fetters: And we're back! It's year 45 for the Seattle International Film Festival. For someone that has been involved with SIFF for such an extended period of time, who has really had such an incredible journey with the organization, what does it mean to you to see the festival thriving as it is?

Beth Barrett: It is incredibly inspiring! Meeting people coming to SIFF for the first time, on staff or as audience, and discovering the amazing films! We have worked very hard in the last years to reflect the changing Seattle, a focus on equity and representation, and to really meet filmmakers where they are working, to provide a sounding board, or a way to connect with the incredible Seattle audiences.

Sara Michelle Fetters: The past few years we've seen such a rich explosion of female filmmakers being given the spotlight during the festival. This is true once again this year, especially in regards to the wide variety of female voices in comedy this festival. This cacophony of diverse voices, why is it important to showcase them?

Beth Barrett: You know, we hear about 'normalization' in the news every day - that as modern consumers of media, the constant barrage of terrible things happening around the world just becomes normal. But we have the choice to normalize in the other way as well - that it is completely normal that women make up half of the filmmakers, half of juries, half of programmers. By really focusing a lens on the amazing stories from women and filmmakers of color, we are able to provide an audience, and that recognition will lead to bigger and more projects - just normal!

Sara Michelle Fetters: Additionally, with nearly 90 countries being represented in this year's festival, what is it like for you and your team of programmers to assemble such a lineup? What are the challenges involved in programming nearly 400 narrative features, documentaries, archival presentations and shorts for one 25-day festival?

Beth Barrett: We struggle to include every film we love, and we know we just can't! Balancing the festival is work every year; to represent a very broad swath of genre, culture, voice, community. Seattle is a city that is growing and is also very curious, so trying to satisfy all that curiosity about the world is impossible, but we try.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Local filmmaker Lynn Shelton gets her second opening night selection (her first being 2011's Your Sister's Sister) with her latest comedy-drama hybrid Sword of Trust with Marc Maron, Michaela Watkins and Jillian Bell. What was it about this movie that made it perfect to open the festival?

Beth Barrett: Lynn has a distinctive voice, and her collaborative style is a great way to really kick off our focus on women working in comedy. It can be a hard place to get a foothold, and her extensive work in film and TV has given her a unique way of saying what she has to say. Also, in this world where we have to really put everything we read in context, and take the time to really know where our facts come from, this idea of the 'alternative facts' as a central theme was incredibly timely. Alternative facts, but emotional truth.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Speaking of local filmmakers, this year's Northwest Connections lineup in my opinion is one of the richest, most intriguingly diverse I've ever had the pleasure to cover in my time attending SIFF. Can you speak about some of these films and filmmakers a little bit?

Beth Barrett: We are so lucky here in the Pacific Northwest to have a plethora of talent working in film, TV and episodic content. A lot has to do with the creativity we support, the collaboration that is built into our industry and the ability to take some risks. Good Kisser, from Wendy Jo Carlton, puts a lens on an awkward lesbian threesome;The Wild, from Mark Titus, revisits Bristol Bay and the Pebble Mine and one of the last remaining pristine parts of nature; while Dominic Barbero and Jerry Spears' We Take the Low Road drops down the rabbit hole of fighting big pharma in your own way. We have 41 films in all genres and categories, from a 1938 archival title recently restored (As the Earth Turns) to an in-depth look at an all-male burlesque dancing troupe (The Long Haul: The Story of the Buckaroos).

Sara Michelle Fetters: For LGBTQ audiences, what are some of the selections that might prove to be of most interest to them? What stands out to you?

Beth Barrett: We have everything from a thriller set on a gay porn set (Knife+Heart), biopics of iconic designers Yves Saint Laurent (Celebration), Jean Paul Gaultier (Jean Paul Gaultier: Freak and Chic) and Halston (Halston), Russian film The Man Who Surprised Everyone, lesbian dramas To the Stars and The Ground Beneath My Feet, and the very inspiring Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Regina Hall is being given special recognition this year, her tribute evening including a screening of Andrew Bujalski's excellent Support the Girls for which she won the New York Film Critics Circle Awards' prize for Best Actress of 2018. What is it about Hall that made her the right person to honor with a tribute this year?

Beth Barrett: Regina Hall has consistently shone in everything she does, from the very physical comedy of the Scary Movies to the heartfelt The Hate U Give (Girls Trip is a little of both), and that is the mark of an incredible character actor. We really felt like for the last few years. She is really being recognized for the nearly three decades of incredible work and we wanted to celebrate that.

Sara Michelle Fetters: For a SIFF newcomer, in your opinion, what's the best way to try and navigate the 25 days of the festival? Any tricks of the trade you might be willing to share?

Beth Barrett: Our website (www.siff.net) has so many different ways to search (by title, venue, country, genre, day and all of those at once!) it makes it easy to pinpoint films you are interested in. But we always encourage people to find a film they want to see, and then see the one before or after it. Those often surprise and turn out to be the totally unexpected gems. Also, strike up a conversation with someone in line and see what they liked or what they recommend.

Sara Michelle Fetters: For you, what keeps you coming to work every day? What keeps you excited about bringing SIFF to life each and every year?

Beth Barrett: Connecting audiences to films! Getting to tell the stories of our time! The conversations that happen at screenings, in the SIFF Lounge and especially as we stand in line.

Sara Michelle Fetters: And for the festival itself, how does it continue to grow and thrive? Where do you see things going next?

Beth Barrett: We will continue to look at how to support filmmakers with programs like the New Works-in-Progress Forum, which connects filmmakers to industry and audiences, bringing communities together to experience great film from around the world.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Any final words before the festival begins and Seattle (and the rest of the Pacific Northwest) goes cinema crazy for the next 25 days?

Beth Barrett: Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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Magnetic Parabellum an energetic ballet of imaginatively violent carnage
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Haunting Wind a starkly ethereal psychological stunner
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Morally ambiguous Shadow a spectacular and haunting battle of wills
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Frustratingly flat Hustle a dirty rotten remake
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