I hate to admit something – I’ve never been to opening night of the Seattle International Film Festival. I did not realize that the film after-party would be so big, so loud, so crowded and have so much free booze. Being a bit of a lightweight when it comes to alcohol, I probably should have just stayed away from the Champaign, should be the important word there. Oh well – a little hangover never hurt anyone that badly, I guess.
That said, could I just say that Seattle really knows how to throw a party? The SIFF opening night after-party takes place in this huge courtyard of a downtown Seattle office building, Two Union Square. The building itself is all right, relatively nice-but-conservative architecture, requisite shee-shee-foo-foo upscale shops and restaurants, etc., etc. But the courtyard – it’s astounding. It’s like a giant pacific northwest rock quarry spiraling around itself in upward slopes, a stream trickling down either side of the rocky terrain. Simply wonderful. Where else can you sip Champaign sitting on a rock staring at the stars while dipping your toes in a stream in the middle of an office complex?
As to the festivities, everyone from SIFF co-founder Daryl McDonald, to local news and entertainment personalities, to national film critics, to the opening night’s film co-writers/directors Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cummings. I’m sure there where many others, but with dealing with such a large crowd (I’d say easily over a thousand people made the trek over to the party) I was lucky to just find the bar let alone more celebrities.
5th Avenue Theater
SIFF’s opening night film The Anniversary Party was screened at Seattle’s landmark 5th Avenue Theater. I have to say, being a resident for the last eight years or so, I’d never made it to the 5th Avenue until now. The theater is designed for touring Broadway shows and other theatrical engagements, and it is an exceptional venue. The theater is a cacophony of blue, gold and red with images of Asian-inspired dragons hovering everywhere.
However, it’s not a movie theater. One tall person sitting in front of you with a hat and suddenly there's a Stetson blocking out half the screen. The sound system isn’t all that impressive, either, although one can easily see how the acoustics for live performances would be astounding. Still, all in all not a band way to see a movie. There was plenty of legroom for us tall folks, and that’s always a plus.
The first thing everyone should know about Seattle film audiences is this: Everyone is an expert. For a good hour before the movie started, little groups of Seattleites huddled around the theater discussing movies, acting, movie theaters, film critics and everything else cinematic. During SIFF, the entire city fancies themselves Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert, depending on their own personal sensibilities. It’s very amusing.
You also have to love that Seattle still thinks blue jeans and a nice flannel shirt is dressed up. It’s a tired cliché, I know, but it’s still true (as to the rain thing – let me be the first to say it was simply stunning last night so we can put that cliché to rest, thank you very much). The women fare a little better than the men, we at least seem to remember how to do our hair. That’s says something. Not sure what – but something I’m sure.
The last great thing about Seattle is that we’re perennially star-struck even if the movie stinks (it didn’t last night, but that’s not really the point). If Ed Wood had premiered Plan 9 in Seattle everyone would have hated the movie but still given him a standing ovation. No one here seems to be able to do anything less than ovation-grope the celebrities - an awe-shucks demeanor in a high-tech community.
The Anniversary Party
I’ll review the film later in the week so you can look for that on the main page soon. What I’ll say now is that I was pleasantly surprised at how good the move actually was. I wasn’t really expecting too much – SIFF is decidedly hit and miss with openers (Braveheart pretty good/Love’s Labours Lost not so good) – but this time the goods were pretty much delivered. Let me just say for now that the movie is strong overall, with a great script that manages to compensate for many of the film’s few shortcomings.
Its two stars, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cummings introduced it. Both have been to the festival with films before but this was the first time they’d appeared in an opener. Leigh definitely fits in well in Seattle, nicely dressed in a casually lovely black and white stripped sweater top, while Cummings was quite dapper in his black designer suit. Neither had much to say, especially Leigh who seemed embarrassed as the Seattle audience gushed all over her. Cummings managed to warble out in his absolutely charming brogue that it was a “lovely honor” that their film was opening the festival and making it’s US Premier, here. He also stated he was quite curious what the reception would be seeing that, unlike Cannes, this was the first audience in the world that actually paid to see the movie. He admitted to be “quite terrified” which I personally found endearingly cute.
Nothing to fret about, Alan. You got your ovation, and this time the film nearly warranted it – and may have even gotten it anyhow - even without you on stage. Maybe.