It’s May in Seattle, which means gearing up for both the Seattle International Film Festival and the Northwest Folklife Festival. SIFF is already underway, so if you haven’t yet sifted through the three million movies screening this year, you might as well throw a dart at the program and see what you get. That Uruguayan gender-reversal sex comedy? Why not!
One of the more annoying constants of SIFF — and there are several, including its smug dismissal of many local filmmakers and it insistence on scheduling its marathon length program during the first warm month of the year — is having to sit through the same SIFF trailer over and over again.
I only see about six features every year, and even I get tired of it. But for those of you confined to an iron lung or have, you know, a job and a life, you can check out this year’s promo below. It’s actually a dazzling little piece of filmmaking called “Cinescape," a Tarkovsky-meets-Baz Luhrmann kaleidoscope featuring time travelers whizzing through a matrix of interactive film clips. It’s guaranteed not to bore you, even after six or even 60 viewings.
Folklife has a promotional trailer, too, but it’s considerably less polished than SIFF’s, and it fails to capture the fascinating transformation which is happening at the event outside and away from the programmed stages. When I first started going to Folklife 25 years ago, it was dominated by old-timey exclusionists, guys in Stetsons playing fiddles for one another in private circles spread out on the lawn. In the 90s, the festival jumped on the world-music caravan and, for a brief time before 9/11 made it difficult for foreign musicians to get passports, Folklife offered the most stimulating music of the year.
In the early part of the millennium, folkies and alt-country rockers got their day in the partly cloudy Seattle skies. But now the festival, strapped for cash, pretty much offers no-name acts and cultural dance troupes, which are sometimes made up of "Stitch-'n-Bitch" exiles now taking clogging lessons. (See video for evidence!)
The real action at Northwest Folklife takes places on the fringes. Bands comprised of tattooed, ear-gaged youth set up camp on the sidewalks and bang away at plastic buckets and single-stringed guitars, strum fan belts and washboards and, frankly, make some pretty energetic music. These Road Warrior outcasts may be unbathed, but they’re unbowed. Drifting among these acts, and then stumbling across that endearing violin trio from a local middle school squeaking out Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah," for me, defines the Folklife experience.
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