Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

Custom Search

© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

The best fest

While I haven’t been to every film festival in the world (yet), I have to believe that the Seattle International Film Festival is the best of all of them.

Maybe I’m biased since I’ve been attending it in one fashion or another for the past 15 years. About half of those years I have acquired the vaunted Full Series Pass, which admits the lucky holder to well over a hundred screenings—if he or she can physically withstand it. My friends think that I have done something amazing because in two different years I managed to attend 88 programs over the three-and-a-half week run of the festival. This involves seeing at least three movies a day and as many as five a day on a weekend, the first starting at half past noon and the last beginning at midnight. How can you stand it? they ask? Doesn’t your butt wear out? How can you keep all those movies from turning into one long, indiscernible blur in your memory? Okay, my friends don’t really talk like that, but that’s the gist of their queries.

But what they don’t realize is that there is a whole subculture of movie fanatics in Seattle (and imported each spring from elsewhere) who make me look like some fluttering dilettante, some dabbling day tripper. The full series pass holders are actually very well organized and they conduct their own polling, apart from the official film festival balloting, of the best and least liked films. On the final weekend, some poor soul is up all night compiling all this stuff and making printouts for all the others. So on the last Sunday, we get an extremely detailed summary of every film, how many pass holders saw it, their average and median ratings, trends and graphs and lots of other detail ad infinitum. A couple of years ago, they started delivering personalized results to each and every individual pass holder. And the part that blows me away is that there are always a bunch of pass holders who have seen more films than I have. I’m not talking about one or two or three more. Some see more than a hundred. There’s always some guy who sees 150. How can they physically accomplish this? Well, the pass lets you into daytime press screenings during the week, so it is theoretically possible to watch movies from early in the morning until late at night every single day of the festival! When do these people sleep? When do they eat? Don’t they have jobs? Don’t they have lives? When on earth do they change their underwear? The very fact that I pose these questions makes it clear that, despite my many hours of sitting in the dark in late May and early June, I am a mere rank amateur.

Serious film festival fanatics would not let employment interfere with attending the festival, as I have on more than a few occasions. They would not let a honeymoon interfere with attending the festival, as I did. And they certainly would plan better than to have a baby in late spring.

So, my point anyway is that I’m biased. Seattle’s film festival is the best. Because it is aimed at the audience, which, as I think I’ve established, is the best, most devoted audience anywhere in the world. This festival is not aimed primarily at industry insiders like Cannes, which overlaps with it each year. And it’s not dominated by Hollywood types looking for the next cheap, big money-maker like Sundance. It’s just a program of movies from all over the world for the audience that appreciates them best.

My fondest memory will probably always be of the 1987 film festival, the first one for which I got a full series pass. On the first evening, after sitting through five films running from 5 o’clock to 1:30 in the morning, I couldn’t imagine how I could do this every day for the next 22 days. But when the lights came up after the very last film on the very last night, I sat there stunned, with a totally lost feeling—kind of like a kid on high school graduation night who has forgotten to apply for college. All I could think of was: What am I going to do with all the time I now have on my hands?

-S.L., 25 May 2000

If you would like to respond to this commentary or to anything else on this web site, please send a message to Messages sent to this address will be considered for publishing on the Feedback Page without attribution. (That means your name, email address or anything else that might identify you won’t be included.) Messages published will be at my discretion and subject to editing. But I promise not to leave something out just because it’s unflattering.

If you would like to send me a message but not have it considered for publishing, you can send it to

Commentaries Archive