Posted by Deliverator on 27th May 2010
I’ve done SIFF for six years straight, if I am doing my math right. After tonight’s experience, though, this year may be my last. One of the things that has really been bothering me in recent years, particularly after getting my own home theater is how mediocre the presentation of films has become at SIFF. Tonight was a really, really bad experience on all levels.
I still go to a lot of movies in commercial theaters, especially for the opening nights of blockbusters. I love the soundtrack of a audience’s reactions that you don’t get watching a movie at home. I love the big screen and thumping bass that would annoy the neightbors. Theaters offer a whole host of intangibles that a home theater just can’t match. So to, do film festivals. I love sitting in a cafe after a film and discussing it with other festival attendees, picking up trivia and recommendations.
I don’t like running all over town trying to get from theater to theater. I don’t like standing in the rain for an hour before a film just to get a seat. I don’t like having to watch the same pre-film SIFF promotion for 20 straight movies and here the non-sensical, incoherent remarks of the programmers prior to the films. Mostly, I don’t like the disrespect that SIFF gives its audience.
Today, I showed up to watch Henry of Navarre at The Neptune. This is an epic scope and length film with lush presentation, big battle scenes, sweeping vistas, lots of detailed sets and costumes. In short, it is exactly the type of movie that I still like to see in a real theater. After driving into Seattle, paying for parking, buying overpriced hot dogs and drinks and sitting down, the programmer informed us that the distributor sent them a cut that wouldn’t work on the venue’s projection system, and that instead we would be watching a DVD version. They offered to provide a film voucher if in the first 20 minutes of the film you couldn’t stand the quality. What they ended up showing was a poorly cropped DVD screener with huge watermarks in both upper hand corners, muted colors and blocky compression artifacts and poorly translated subtitles. The video looked like something you might stream via Real Player circa 1995. Needless to say, I took the voucher. What pisses me off is they waited till everyone was seated and had already paid for food to even present this option. The offering of a voucher instead of a straight refund also pisses me off. I paid cash for my ticket, to say nothing of being out gas money, parking & concession costs. Offering a voucher doesn’t affect their bottom line at all.
I receive daily marketing emails from SIFF. This is exactly the kind of information that could be provided in advance via email, a twitter feed, etc. They do have the emails of a good percentage of people purchasing tickets and a simple database lookup would give them the emails of a lot of people who had purchased tickets. It would be nice if they had spent one iota of effort to save me some time and money.
For the last couple festivals, I’ve encountered inconsiderately handled issues such as this at two or more screenings. Last year, I was at a screening during which the audio kept breaking up every couple minutes for 10-20 seconds at time, during which you couldn’t hear the dialogue. I fought for and got a refund, as none was pro-actively offered. I later spoke to someone who went to a later screening of the same film and reported the same issue and lack of consideration.
I don’t know where they got the video, but I’ve already found superior copies of it available online. As everyone but those involved in the industry seem to have grasped, the real reason illegal downloads are flourishing isn’t the free vs cost issue, it is that piracy offers a superior experience than what can be had legally. I am earnestly considering just scrapping SIFF next year and spending more quality time with Netflix streaming, Hulu, the several independent film channels I have on my dish, etc. This little infographic from Making Light sums up the issue quite nicely: