38th Seattle International Film Festival

USA, May 17 - June 10 2012

The jury

Emma Gray Munthe (Sweden), Pascal Grenier (Canada), Henry Sheehan (US)

Awarded films

The Seattle International Film Festival has been in existence since 1976, was an immediate popular success and has grown ever since. Annual attendance numbers blew by the 160,000 mark years ago, and the festival, which runs every year from the end of May through the beginning of June, is one of the cultural highlights in a city well-known for its large and discriminating film audiences.  The 2012 edition included 256 features and 150 shorts from 67 different countries. It is one of the most important film festivals in the U.S. The FIPRESCI Jury’s brief was to award its prize to an American independent film which had not yet landed a distribution deal (although two films have since found distributors: Eden and the FIPRESCI Prize-winner, Welcome to Pine Hill). One of the paradoxes of American independent films is that they resemble either each other or Hollywood films in many ways. Even those made with marginal support seems less interested in striking out on their stylistic or thematic own than in mirroring the tried (or tired) and true. It was clear that the SIFF programmers had taken considerable effort to discover films which broke the mold and, against considerable odds, they found a few that did. Their great find SIFF was Welcome to Pine Hill, which was an easy choice for the jury award.  As anyone who has judged a program of films directed largely by neophytes, films like this are very hard to find. Seattle treasures its reputation as a sophisticated city that remains comfortably friendly and the festival certainly upholds that characterization.  The jury screenings were mostly private; at the public screenings we attended, good seats were always held for us.  We were assigned our own car and driver, a lovely young woman who doubled as an unofficial guide to the city’s sights and restaurants.  Those sights include the famous Space Needle as well as the lesser-known, but perhaps more impressive, Seattle central library, which was designed by Rem Kulhaas. For our first full evening, the jury was treated to a gourmet dinner with the festival’s director, programmers, and board members.  During our deliberations in a restaurant, a festival official sat at a nearby table, but did not listen in. I think she was there just to make sure we didn’t take too long. To sum up, the Seattle International Film Festival is a top event, well-organized, with a program of films intelligently chosen. (Henry Sheehan)

Seattle International Film Festival: www.siff.net