SIFF: Seattle


No photoshop trickery in the above picture. That’s a genuine Seattle sunset, making like a mile-wide CGI graphic across Puget Sound. You can tell the tourists in and around the city at a glance: they’re the ones craning their necks up at the sky with mouths wide open, whilst regular Seattle townfolk just stroll around, going about their business as if this sort of shit is normal. You might not believe a sky should get like that. Apparently it’s something to do with science.

We were in the US to watch my short film all my dreams on VHS taking its first tentative steps in the New World. SIFF is a multi-limbed monster of a film fest, showing more flicks over its length than seems humanly possible… and trying to see it all would be like, oooh, I dunno, trying to snog the entirety of China in one go: most likely doomed to failure, even if planned in advance.

Seattle skyline from the Space Needle

Even so, we managed to catch roughly 80 short films across 3 days, hiding from the first heatwave of the year in the SIFF cinema, a theatre so new the plastic wrap was barely off the seating. The Q&As after each screening (as usual, of great interest to early-career film makers like ourselves) meant that no sooner had we left one session, we were standing in line for the next. In fact it was with great reluctance that we opted out of a couple of the shorts ‘packages’ in order to stumble into the nearest restaurant and plough our faces into a pad thai.

Favourites? I loved PEN’s Western Spaghetti, probably because of its kinship to the films of Jan Svankmajer, whose calm eye on the surreal has influenced my own work no end. Ken Wardrop’s The Herd was a no-frills documentary about a fallow deer that has ideas above its station and infiltrates a herd of cows, and it deservedly won the grand jury prize for best doc. But the biggest joy, after meeting a director from New York called Greg Ivan Smith, was the discovery that his film The Back Room was an absolute gem – simple, engaging and wonderfully evocative using a very limited set of tools: just great performances, a well-paced script and the poky confines of a NY bookshop. I’ve often worried that many of my short film concepts (and a few of the feature ones too) are merely ‘two people in a room’. But by being exactly that – and working so well – Greg’s film made me fret less about telling stories on such simple terms. Via the medium of two strangers negotiating a random act of research (and subsequently their unexpected feelings for each other) he takes us to Italy and back, deep into Florentine art and out again, a full-colour graph of funny and unexpected emotions in 15 minutes flat.

I’m pleased to report that in such esteemed company all my dreams on VHS went down immensely well. Again, the laughter flowed from start to finish and it was funny to hear the differences in reactions between European and US viewers. I can reveal – based on this less than extensive research – that the word ‘cereal’ is 45% funnier in the USA, and that arse squeezing is more of a draw in Eastern Europe. Failing to upgrade to digital media is a real hoot for American citizens. Meanwhile, as expected, “large penis” is equally hilarious on both sides of the Atlantic.

Any road, it was so well-received that VHS was granted a repeat screening at the “Best Of The Fest” weekend following the official close of SIFF. As yours truly was back in blighty by then, this was the first screening of the film I haven’t attended – so, if you happened to be amongst those watching, please let me know if cereal is still funny.

International Fountain Seattle

International Fountain at Seattle Centre: it pumps out synchronised jets of water, steam, and a Radio 4-ish selection of world music. As a result it resembles a benign alien barnacle that lives in a crater and gets off on pan pipes. One day it will slowly roll out of its housing, eating every child in sight, and the only way of stopping it will be to say “Klaatu barada nikto“.

Seattle Library

Escalators leading up through the zig-zag floorplan of the central public library.

Startled pig


All pictures by Tanuja “Wait, wait, let me just get another picture of this dandelion” Amarasuriya.)