40th Seattle International Film Festival

USA, May 15 - June 8 2014

The jury

Amber Wilkinson (UK), Juan Dominguez (Argentina), Gerald Peary (US)

Awarded films

The Seattle International Film Festival notched up its 40th year in 2014 but as this global showcase on America’s western seaboard enters middle age, it’s still light on its feet. In a world of 10-day film festivals, Seattle stands out, taking centre stage in the city for almost a month — running this year from May 15 to June 8. Artistic director Carl Spence says it may be a marathon but the extended runtime means that “we give films room to breathe”. It also gives his team the opportunity to curate an extensive and impressive array of films — a mixture of highlights from other festivals and some discoveries of their own.

The audiences seem to relish sinking into the longer festival, which is the most highly attended in the US, attracting more than 150,000 cinemagoers each year. The audience awards go beyond the usual tear-through-your-star-rating ballots, with attendees encouraged to pick up a form and write a few words on their favourite actor or actress. This year, almost 90,000 ballots were cast and the Seattle cinemagoers’ eclectic taste and a willingness to look beyond their own shores and obvious choices is reflected in the results, which saw Polish actor Dawid Ogrodnik take the top spot for his performance in Life Feels Good (Chce sie zyc) (three of the four runners-up also came from outside the US). The audience award for best actress told a similar story — Patricia Arquette may have come out on top for her immersive performance in Boyhood but three of the four runner-up accolades went to foreign stars.

And as the sun shone on Seattle, the contest in the New American Cinema competition — all first and second films currently looking for distribution — was appropriately hot. The 12 films ranged from science fiction to romantic comedy and drama, some offering twisting, talky narratives, while others brought us Spartan scripting and even a foreign language. Much is made of lynchpin American festivals such as Sundance and SXSW but as Scott Cohen’s Red Knot — the overall winner of the FIPRESCI prize and a world premiere here – shows, all good festivals can find fresh voices. (Amber Wilkinson)

Seattle International Film Festival: www.siff.net