The 2024 SIFF Preview

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 4, 2024)

The 50th Seattle International Film Festival opens May 9th and runs through May 19th. This year’s SIFF features a total of 207 shorts, documentaries, and narrative films from 84 countries. The brick-and-mortar event will be immediately followed by a week of select virtual screenings from this year’s catalog (April 20-27) on the SIFF Channel.

SIFF has certainly grown exponentially since its first incarnation in 1976 (in case the math is making you crazy, festival organizers “skipped” the 13th event; you know how superstitious show people get about Scottish kings and such). Compare the numbers: In 1976, the Festival boasted a whopping 19 films from 9 countries, with one lone venue (the venerable Egyptian Theater, pictured at the top of the post). This year, there are 8 venues. Then again, there were only 13 people on the staff in 1976 (compared with 110 now).

Regardless of how large or small the staff, the one constant over the decades has been the quality of the curation. Long before “sharing files” (or even making mix tapes) was a thing, SIFF’s annual lineup reflected that sense of joy in turning friends on to something new and exciting; instilling the sense there was a tangible film lover’s community (others who enjoyed being alone together, out there in the dark).

The first SIFF event I ever attended was a screening of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, in 1993. Linklater was there for a Q&A session afterwards. That was the first time I’d ever had a chance to ask the director of a film a question right after the credits rolled (I wasn’t writing about film yet-just a movie geek). I can’t remember what I asked (some dopey query about the 70s soundtrack), but I thought that was so fucking cool (I’d recently moved to Seattle after living in a cultural vacuum for a decade-what can I say?). Another memorable event I attended that year was a tribute to John Schlesinger (with the director on hand).

In honor of the 50th anniversary, SIFF has launched the SIFF Archives-explained thusly in a press release:

The SIFF Archives are the culmination of nearly two years of compiling, digitizing, and organizing materials from SIFF’s past. You’ll find interactive flipbooks of each Festival’s catalog, photo and video assets, full lists of the feature films that we played each year, and other highlights. Learning about the history of Seattle’s film scene has never been easier, and it’s all publicly available—for researchers and the casually interested alike.

It is a fascinating archive to peruse; I especially enjoyed the poster gallery. Some faves:

Whoa. I just realized that this will be the 32nd SIFF I’ve attended (in one form or the other). As (an alleged) film critic, I have been covering SIFF for Hullabaloo now for 18 years (since 2007), but as always, the looming question is – where to begin? I’ve found the trick to navigating festivals is developing a 6th sense for films in your wheelhouse (so I embrace my OCD and channel it like a cinematic dowser).

Let’s dive in!

This years Opening Night Gala selection is Thelma (USA). Described as an action comedy, the film (directed by Josh Margolin) stars June Squibb, who will be presented with the 2024 Golden Space Needle Award for Outstanding Contribution to Cinema in a separate event on May 11th. Squibb has had a 70-year career on stage, TV and the big screen (she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in the 2013 film Nebraska).

Politics, politics. I’m intrigued to see Bonjour, Switzerland (Switzerland) a “…socially conscious slapstick political comedy about multilingualism [in which] a Swiss referendum leaves the country with only one official language—French—much to the chagrin of the German- and Italian-speaking citizens.” The documentary The Battle for Laikipia (Kenya) looks at a long-standing “and increasingly deadly” battle over land rights in a region of Kenya between indigenous peoples and ranchers of European descent. And Before It Ends (Denmark) is a drama set near the end of WW2 about a Danish school principal facing a moral dilemma over civilian refugees who have been housed at his school by Nazi military directive.

Speaking of Nazis…Hitchcock’s Pro-Nazi Film? (France) offers a challenging reappraisal of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 WW2 drama, Lifeboat. Now for something completely different…Rainier: A Beer Odyssey (USA) is a behind-the-scenes look at the marvelously inventive (and frequently hilarious) Rainier Beer TV ad campaigns that ran through the 70s and 80s. I’m a sucker for nature docs, so I am hoping to get a peek at Songs of Earth (Norway), described as a “breathtaking and immersive nature documentary, and Norway’s official Oscar submission”, the film was co-exec produced by Wim Wenders and Liv Ullman.

Always with the drama: I’m pretty jazzed to see Close Your Eyes (Spain), which is the first film in 30 years from heralded director Victor Erice (Spirit of the Beehive). From another venerable international filmmaker: In Our Day (South Korea) is auteur Hong Sang-soo’s 30th feature, described as “two parallel stories thematically link together—an actress unsure of her future, and an aging poet unsure of his past.” The New Boy (Australia) features the ever-versatile Cate Blanchett as a nun in the Outback charged with schooling a young Aboriginal orphan who may harbor supernatural powers.

Come on Otto, let’s do some crimes: Scorched Earth (Germany) promises to be a “…tense, tight-lipped art-house thriller that recalls the work of Jean-Pierre Melville and Michael Mann, [in which] a criminal returns to Berlin for a big-time art heist, only for Murphy’s Law to take effect.” Right in my wheelhouse. Lies We Tell (Ireland) is described as a “…smart modern reworking of Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic novel Uncle Silas“, and The Extortion (Argentina) concerns an airline pilot with a potentially career-jeopardizing secret who becomes embroiled in a “…world of intrigue and corruption.” Fasten your seat-belts!

I always especially look forward to SIFF’s music-related fare. Here are several I’m keen on…the doc Luther: Never Too Much (USA) examines the life and career of the late great singer-songwriter Luther Vandross; Scala! (UK) takes a butcher’s at “…a repertory house of ill repute with enough nose-thumbing alternative programming, midnight madness, illicit pornography, and transgressive politics that it would make Margaret Thatcher’s head explode”, and Saturn Return (Spain) is a biopic about Granada indie music group Los Planetas.

Obviously, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll be plowing through the catalog and sharing reviews with you beginning next Saturday. In the meantime, visit the SIFF site for full details on the films, event screenings, special guests, panel discussions and more.


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