Meet our talented team of programmers – the people who work and watch movies all year long to curate the best films possible for the Seattle International Film Festival, celebrating its 49th year from May 11 to 21, 2023. Full program info siff.net/festival.
What are your 10 favorite films ever?
I chose 10 great experimental films in tribute to the Alternate Cinema section that I program for the festival. They are listed in roughly chronological order as to when I discovered them.
Eraserhead (1977) - Back in the heady days of high school and video stores, this was my introduction to “experimental film” and it completely blew my mind.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) - My friend Brian White and I used to “deconstruct” this film without knowing what that term meant by rewinding the videotape and exalting in every incongruous set and narrative plot hole.
Un Chien Andalou (1929) - The granddaddy of viral videos long before there was such a thing as video, this surrealistic masterpiece somehow seeped into the public consciousness.
Breathless (1960) - Jean-Luc Godard introduced jump cuts to cinema lovers around the world and started a trend toward formal playfulness.
Bleu Shut (1970) - Proof that experimental films can be funny, Robert Nelson’s short is like a game show on acid where each multiple-choice question has a random answer, while the voices on the soundtrack try and fail to figure out the connections and a clock counts down how much of the movie is left.
Mothlight (1963) - Stan Brakhage taped the wings of moths onto clear leader and optically printed that onto film, and the result captures beautiful shapes and movements and monochromatic color, and has inspired experimental filmmakers to this day.
Careful (1992) - My introduction to Guy Maddin was this self-serious comedy about a repressed mountain town where everybody needs to whisper lest they trigger avalanches, done in his signature 1920s/1930s filmmaking style.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) - Actor/director William Greaves made this series of screen tests while simultaneously shooting the making of them and combined everything together as a sort of documentary, but then the crew added another layer by secretly shooting themselves questioning the whole experiment, in what can be thought of as a rollicking real-life prequel to Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion.
Chameleon Street (1990) - A cross between Sorry to Bother You and Catch Me if You Can (long before either one existed), this underseen gem of a film is about a con man trying to make a living in a racist society that’s stacked against him.
Barbara Rubin & the Exploding NY Underground (2019) - A look back at one of the many talented female experimental filmmakers not highlighted when I studied film in college, who can be seen as a sort of patron saint to all the filmmakers in this year’s all-female experimental film package, ALT Shorts: Female (Re)Visions.
What is one of your favorite festival moments?
1993 was my very first SIFF, and as a writer for “The Stranger” I was assigned to interview Tilda Swinton for Orlando. It was exactly the free flowing, intellectual, and engaging conversation that you would hope for. That same festival I interviewed up-and-coming actor Russell Crowe for Romper Stomper, long before he became a household name.
What is your guilty pleasure film?
James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) - My initial reaction to the massively popular doomed romance was negative, but that was before I met my wife, who loves the film. After repeated viewings, I can watch and appreciate the effectiveness of the storytelling, even if I’ll never like it as much as my wife does.
What's one thing we should know about you that is NOT film related?
Before I moved to Seattle to help start “The Stranger,” I had never been west of the Rockies.
What do you consider your hometown?
I grew up in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, and consider that to be my hometown, even though I've never lived anywhere as long as I've lived in Seattle.