Week 1: The troubles begin.

DON'T TELL DARRYL your problems. He's got enough of his own. Whatever your woes, he's encountered worse. As the co-founder and director of SIFF, more than two decades on the job, Darryl Macdonald has seen it all when it comes to petulant stars, tardy prints, and abrupt changes of schedule. This year's crisis seems to be financial. Has the fest been hit by our economic downturn? "Drastically! There's no question," Macdonald exclaims. "First of all, the whole dot-com fallout has seriously undermined the finances of the festival. We got a substantial amount of funding from new tech companies [last year]. Money that was essentially being thrust at us a year ago has just evaporated. We've been scrambling to make up that lost ground." Last year's SIFF sponsors included several tech companies such as home-grown AtomFilms, which sponsored a short films sidebar and was a significant presence at the fest. "And we fully expected them to be this year," Macdonald says. (Cash-strapped Atom merged and moved to San Francisco this spring.) The dot-com downdraft has impacted SIFF in other ways. Last year Kozmo.com had full-page ads in various media guides (SW's included); this year, Macdonald chuckles, there's a new documentary, e-Dreams, about the demise of Kozmo. Although SIFF is the marquee event for its parent organization (Cinema Seattle), Macdonald explains, "Traditionally we're lucky if it breaks even." He goes on to detail possible budget cutbacks (like fewer guest directors and actors), acknowledging that film rental costs, theaters, and shipping expenses—prints weigh a ton!--are fixed. "With 25, 26 years of experience," he adds, "it's easier to know how to weather those storms, those varying economic conditions." Was it more simple in the old days? "No question. The festival had much less in the way of ambitions. It was a much more naive time. And at that time there were maybe five or six festivals in the entire country, as opposed to the five or six thousand today." (He's exaggerating for effect.) But in this festival, what should you see during the first week? In no particular order, some of our picks include The Big Animal, 101 ReykjavI>, Ali Zaoua, Brother, If..., and Chopper. Visit www.seattleweekly.com for updated reviews during the fest. bmiller@seattleweekly.com

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