How many times have I gone on Netflix, wanting to watch something quick to unwind, but instead wandered its rows for forty minutes, started two movies, an episode of TV, and then shut my computer, finishing nothing? How many times, after repeating this process, have I deleted my Netflix account, due to time waste?
For Seattle film fans in the coming month, choice paralysis is a pressing issue (if having too much entertainment is ever a pressing issue). The Seattle International Film Festival is the largest in North America, and today it announced this year’s line up—433 films from 90 countries spread over 25 days. It opens May 17 with The Bookshop by Isabel Coixet and closes on June 10 with Gus Van Sant's Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as disabled Portland cartoonist John Callahan. (Van Sant is scheduled to attend the showing.)
Overwhelmed with the variety of options, I talked with Beth Barrett, SIFF’s artistic director, about how to navigate the festival’s roster.
- Use the website. Like any good streaming service, SIFF’s Film Guide lets you edit by genre and mood, theater, language, country, and date. Want to watch, say, a provocative German language movie on a weekend at the Egyptian? Check out The Captain on May 25.
- Around 65% of the feature films don’t have US distribution yet and 56% are from first- or second-time directors. “SIFF is really about discovery,” Barrett said. She recommends picking a movie you want to see and then seeing the movie either directly before or after. So maybe you pick Hot Mess, because you're really into Australian mumblecore comedy, and hang around to see Cake General, a Swedish comedy about a man trying to build the world's longest layer cake.
- Do what’s convenient. If you live near the Egyptian and have a couple hours free, see whatever’s playing.
- Don’t hit only the familiar movies that will get wider distribution later. “Everybody likes to be first to discover something, so there’s a little bit of thrill to that,” Barrett said. But when she used to go to SIFF as an audience member, she’d intentionally skip the movies she knew were coming out, hoping to catch more transient titles.
- Check out the Programmer Picks. The 23 festival programmers publish top 10 lists of what to see. Barrett recommends looking for movies that land on multiple lists: “They should be interesting at the very least.” The most prominently beloved this year is Scary Mother, a Georgian film about an obsessive novelist. Barrett also suggests snagging seats at Sorry to Bother You—musician Boots Riley's dystopian dark comedy, the festival's Centerpiece Gala and another programmer favorite—it will sell out fast.
Tickets go on sale tomorrow, through the website, and cost $14 per film.