Notes from underground

Do we really need another film festival?

IF YOU LIKE everything at a film festival, it isn't a very good film festival. That's the paradox of popularity: When everyone shares your tastes, movies can become awfully dull. Mainstream fests draw audiences and sponsors by programming safe, narrative feature-length films and flying out stars and directors, thus ensuring their future viability. Even noncommercial events like our own 25-year-old Seattle International Film Festival (where titles aren't bought and sold for distribution) can become—dare we say it?—complacent by virtue of their hard-earned, well-deserved success. The more famous Sundance festival has even more vocal detractors, who founded the alternative Slamdance fest four years ago.


continues October 14-17 at Cinema 18 and Hugo House

Now Seattle, home to SIFF, has a new self-described underground festival, or SUFF, whose two cofounders hope to sustain the event after its inaugural year. Jon Behrens calls the local festival scene "sterile," adding that there's "not a lot of representation of the genres that we have in our festival." Instead, he says, SUFF aspires to be "the way SIFF was many, many, many years ago," including "oddball kinds of things" in its schedule.

THOSE ODDBALLS include a 1927 Hitchcock silent (with live musical accompaniment), some '60s documentaries, a strident anti-meat manifesto (A Cow at My Table), various works by Canadian women, the 1964 racial oddity Black Like Me (where reporter James Whitmore turns black to experience discrimination), and many short films. Notable among them is The Penfield Road, a kind of trance-film meditation on the iconography of the American landscape using cheesy '50s music and stills. 24 Girls is an emotionally affecting study of pre-teen performers auditioning their talents. It is by turns charming, funny, and elegiac, as the girls and narrator contemplate the unfulfilled life and talents of a dead classmate.

Cofounder Steve Creson says of SUFF, "There wasn't any philosophy behind it." Rather, he and Behrens finally decided, after some two years of talk, "Let's just do it." Film collectors and filmmakers themselves, they contributed some of their own archives to the festival—including old industrial and educational films—along with their own endless hours of essentially volunteer labor.

The two are already hard at work on future sponsorship, intent on making SUFF an annual event rather than letting it go the one-shot route of typical underground festivals. Behrens hopes to include more local filmmakers in 2000, while Creson mentions an interest in screening more shorts in the "experimental genre," including "old masters like [Stan] Brakhage." Yet he adds that SUFF's future emphasis "will be on contemporary filmmakers."

SUFF winds up Sunday the 17th with an encore sampler of shorts and features; see page 101 for details. You probably won't like everything you see there—but then, that's the point.

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