Arts and Entertainment

STANDING ROOM ONLY: Movies rule in Northwest

It’s been said movie theaters are the cathedrals of our modern age, gathering places of secular worship where absolute strangers gather and are united by a communal daydream as huge and menacing and hopeful as the infinite cosmos itself. The Silver Screen as Universal Pulpit? Certainly, there is no more absolute and understandable and compelling language than that of cinema. It incorporates all aspects of received art, from the dramatic and the visual to the musical and poetic.

Movies present ever-new mythologies that flicker across the scrim of our imagination; they are beautiful, vulgar, moral, nihilistic, democratic, fascistic, corrupting, mesmerizing, magical, everything. Film transmits culture. And, whether Plato’s deceiving cave or Augustine’s City of God, the neighborhood cineplex is where most of us go both to escape the silent desperations and ticky-tack trials of everyday life as well as to break the bonds of ordinary reality and fly into the souped-up hyper-reality of the greatest story ever told. Or so we hope every time we fork over our hard-earned cash.

Folks in the Northwest are particularly devout about cinema and, excepting Los Angeles and perhaps New York, I can think of no city that takes its filmic faith quite so seriously as Seattle. We (to be royally inclusive here) see more movies per capita than any other city in the country; our own film industry is also growing by leaps and bounds. However, nothing attests more powerfully to Seattle’s love of movies than the global phenomenon of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), which kicks off this Thursday.

SIFF is the largest film festival in the nation, featuring over 200 movies from around the world and attended by about 150,000 film-goers. Called “a living, breathing part of the city” by festival director Joe McDonald, SIFF — now in its 28th year — has gained steadily in stature over the years, and is now considered one of the top festivals in North America.

This year’s festival has been slimmed down, McDonald says, making it more manageable, though for whom remains to be seen. You can still expect outrageously long lines at any of the more ballyhooed screenings, terrible parking opportunities, some genuinely crappy movies pawned off as alternative masterpieces, lots of annoyingly pretentious pretend cineastes with requisite goatees, John Lennon glasses and leather overcoats, plus the generally high cost of just about everything in Seattle, including ticket prices.

That aside, SIFF is a movie buff’s dream, not to mention a gem of a world event right in our own backyard. I’m especially excited about the archival presentation “Days of Heaven: American Cinema in the ‘70s,” which will feature such classics as “Chinatown,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “Mean Streets” and the best Altman movie you’ve never seen, “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” a gothic Western starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie and gorgeously filmed in the forests of the Great Northwest.

For a full schedule and all other information, call (206) 324-9997 or go to the SIFF Web site at www.seattlefilm.com. Movies screen at a number of theaters around the city; the best place to purchase anything in advance (including single tickets) is at the festival’s main box office at Pacific Place Mall; to charge tickets by phone, call (206) 324-9996. Regular ticket prices are $8; matinee and midnight screenings are $5.50; a Full-Series Filmmakers Forum Pass will run you $125.

Other stuff going on this week: On May 18 & 19, the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley celebrates its sixth anniversary with a Saturday concert at 7:30 (featuring Janie Cribbs) and readings by local playwrights at noon and 5 p.m. on Sunday. Call (360) 221-8268.

Paris Otis Productions presents an all-ages Emo rock show this Friday at 8 p.m., at Oak Harbor Sports Arena. Featured bands include Cat’s with Hands, Roundabout and local legends Shiver.

The 2nd Biennial Skagit River Poetry Festival opens its 3-day poetry fest this Thursday, May 16 in LaConnor. It will include nationally-known bards and 25 regional poets. Call 1-800-804-8406 or go to www.skagitriverpoetry.org.

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