SIFF 2009: Welcome to a Slightly Smaller, Certainly Fitter Festival

There's a theory in the art-house and indie-film world right now that after the collapse of so much easy financing of mediocre movies (much like subprime mortgages) and the demise of several boutique distributors, there's been a culling of the herd. If it's harder to get financing, harder to get distribution, fewer and better movies ought to result. And indeed the dozens of films we've previewed so far from this year's Seattle International Film Festival suggest there may well be an upside to the recession.The SIFF schedule (through June 14) is shaping up to be the best in years. Our picks greatly outnumber the pans. Rather than hand the Thursday opening-night gala slot over to some mediocre film in exchange for a 30-second appearance by a B-list celeb (thus young sex kitten Jessica Biel and The Illusionist at SIFF '06), SIFF has booked a strong opening-night feature—In the Loop, about the run-up to the Iraq War—with a guest appearance by the decidedly less glam Mimi Kennedy, a respected TV actress of a certain age.Indeed, since assuming the reins from Darryl Macdonald in 2005, SIFF artistic director Carl Spence, along with managing director Deborah Person, have been running a better and tighter SIFF ship—less bloatastic, less grandiose (let's not try to be Cannes), less fond of twee European coming-of-age flicks.Documentaries continue to be one of the fest's strong suits. This year, two locally grounded docs take us back to the hippie era.Another highlight: the first, and possibly last, feature-length piece of weirdness from local maverick David Russo.Here on, we offer our guide to the fest's first-week offerings. We'll be publishing dozens more reviews over the next three weeks; visit daily for fresh reviews, news, interviews, and more. (For tickets and full schedule, visit 324-9996 and

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