Posted by Deliverator on June 11th, 2012
Here are some random thoughts about SIFF 2012:
- I’ve been going to SIFF for the better part of a decade now, but in the past I’ve always gone as a ticket holder. I’ve usually seen twenty some-odd movies. This year, for the first time, I decided to get a full series pass instead.
- To make the pass worthwhile economically, you need to see a LOT of movies. While I probably didn’t see enough films to quite make it worth while, I did end up seeing a LOT more movies than I usually have in the past and I enjoyed the flexibility of being able to show up at any random screening and have a good chance of getting in. I also liked the camaraderie among pass holders. I had a lot of fun talking to other pass holders in lines, at coffee houses and restaurants about what films they liked and disliked during the festival and film in the abstract. Some of my favorite films this year were recommended to me in this fashion and equally I was steered away from some real turkeys.
- This year SIFF introduced the concept of queue cards. The idea behind queue cards is that a volunteer starts handing out numbered tickets to pass holders starting an hour before each screening. This queue card is supposed to guarantee your place in line up to the point they start admitting pass holders and guarantee that you will be at least admitted up to 10 minutes before the start of the screening. The theory behind the system is that you can grab your queue card and go off and catch dinner or coffee between screenings and not spend the whole day waiting in line. Also, by only admitting pass holders with a queue card, they can more accurately count the number of pass holders inside, so that they don’t oversell the venue. This would be a nice system (in some ways) if it was rigidly enforced, but collection of and admittance by queue card was unevenly enforced at best.
- The major negative to the queue card system is they stopped doing back-to-back passes for pass holders. The back to back card lets someone seeing two or movies in a row at the same theater get readmitted without having to go stand back in line. A lot of pass holders like to go for sheer volume rather than picking and choosing. These people basically camp out all day at the theater and see as many movies as possible using their pass. I spoke to several people that saw over 100 films over the course of the festival. In case you aren’t proficient at grade school math, that is seeing 4 movies a day for 25 straight days! With the queue card system in place, the only way to ensure admission at the second screening was to leave the film in progress an hour before the start of the next film to collect a queue card and re-enter the theater (having missed some of your movie) . This resulted in a lot of people holding up their watches and cell phones to check the time during films, getting back up and returning to their seats. It frankly annoyed the crap out of me, but I don’t blame the marathon pass holders for doing it. I blame SIFF for creating such a crappy system with predictably disruptive consequences.
- All the pre-film stuff was outright annoying. Watching the same stupid bumper dozens and dozens of times really grated on my nerves. A little variety would have been nice. Oh, it isn’t helpful to anyone to show trailers for films whose screening dates have already passed. Given how little time there is between screenings, especially if you have to rush off to a theater across town, it would have been nice if they kept the pre-film crap to an absolute minimum. This became especially annoying when going to films that were already running 20 or more minutes late. I attended at least 3 films which started a half an hour or more late, 1 film that was 40 minutes late and probably dozens in the 15-20 minutes late range.
- SIFF should run shuttle buses between festival venues. This would have been especially helpful between Pacific Place, Egyptian and Harvard Exit, which are all relatively close together but in areas with limited parking and are far enough away to make walking between theaters in the time between films difficult.
- I don’t think SIFF needs to have to make sure all movies appeal to a mainstream audience, but I heard of at least 3 screenings this year where large percentages of the audience were offended, grossed out or upset and walked out. I think it would be a good idea to place some degree of warning on these films listings in the catalog (and no I don’t think it is that hard to figure out which these might be).
- I disliked the number of movies that SIFF screened that already had secured a wider box office release or were already available on DVD prior to the start of the festival. I come to SIFF to see the movies I can’t see elsewhere.
- I wish SIFF would go more for quality than simply sheer quantity. I saw a large number of frankly mediocre efforts this year. I would rather SIFF go in the direction of greater curation coupled with more screenings. TIFF for example runs just a little over a week, but I can scarce recall seeing any outright turds there. SIFF usually only runs 2 screenings of most films and screening are usually only a couple dates apart. This makes it hard to make choices on what films to see based on positive or negative buzz from early screenings.
- SIFF should reserve time at the end of the festival to screen films which were sold out or proved to be audience favorites. This is separate from the existing “Best of SIFF” which runs several weeks after the end of festival and incurs a separate cost. Films like Safety Not Guaranteed were significantly oversold and they probably could have used an extra 300 seats for the Moonrise Kingdom screening at the Egyptian (450 seat capacity). SIFF’s audience attendance has quite frankly outgrown its small boutique theaters. They either need to bring additional venues on board, do additional screenings (my preference) or move the whole festival into a single metroplex like Pacific Place.
- SIFF did a much better job in terms of presentation quality this year. Last year was a cavalcade of minor disasters where the films kept breaking, sound kept cutting out, hollow sound, out of focus etc. Did notice some oddly rounded edges on a number of films projected at Uptown. Don’t think this was actually keystone distortion, but something similar. A projectionist told me this might have been a result of using the wrong lens in conjunction with a curved screen. Also noticed some audio hum at Egyptian. Might be the result of a ground loop. This can occasionally be physically dangerous, so it would be a good idea to get this checked out.