Skip to main content

Seattle International Film Festival Artistic Director Carl Spence

In my past coverage of the Seattle International Film Festival I've usually included a variety of forum and content rather than give a full overview of the festival itself. This year I've changed my tactics and posed a series of questions about the festival to its Artistic Director Carl Spence. As this year was the largest ever (well over 400 films), I think Carl's answers will give you a good idea of just how much Seattle is truly a film town. Check out their extensive web site at for more information.

Script:Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to work with the Seattle International Film Festival.
Carl Spence: I have been curating film programs and events for about 15 years in Seattle, San Francisco and Palm Springs. Currently for the Seattle International Film Festival as the artistic director and also the Palm Springs International Film Festival as the director of programming. Most recently, prior to Seattle, I was director of programming for the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Script:This year Seattle presented 400 films! This is the largest amount ever shown at the festival isn't it? Last year there were well over 200, why the large leap? And how many theaters were used to accommodate this?
CS: Yes—this year we undertook a major expansion and audiences responded in record numbers. The actual numbers in 2005 were 346 films in total (234 features and 112 shorts). For 2006 we presented a total of 418 films (198 narrative films, a record 60 documentaries, 15 archival films, 4 secrets, and 141 shorts), culled from more than 60 countries worldwide—including 19 world, 41 North American and 22 U.S. premieres. This was an increase of 41 features and 31 shorts. We utilized 8 different venues: The Paramount Theatre, AMC Pacific Place Cinemas, The Egyptian Theatre, The Broadway Performance Hall, The Harvard Exit, The Northwest Film Forum, The Moore Theatre, The Neptune Theatre.

Script:What was the selection process and were you in on it?
CS: We scout for films throughout the year by traveling to specific regions of the world, other film festivals and markets. We also accept film submissions on an open basis and received more than 2,500 films for consideration through our open process in 2006.

Script:How many films were you able to see yourself? Any favorites?
CS: It is impossible to see everything, but I saw about 600 films this year and I have seen about 80 percent of the lineup that was confirmed for SIFF. Favorites include OSS 1167: Nest of Spies, Factotum, The Science of Sleep, Malas Temporadas, En Soap, the film noir rarity The Window, and the underappreciated Kirk Douglas-starrer
Lonely Are The Brave.

Script:There were so many different programs at the festival this year, from forums about the business and writing to several festivals-within-the-festival. Were you involved in any of these and could you list a few for us?
CS: SIFF 2006 saw record-breaking attendance; the expansion of three important programs—Face The Music, Alternate Cinema, and FutureWave; an incredible spotlight on Danish films; an unrivalled lineup of rarely screened archival films—including a film noir double-bill and Roberto Rossellini tribute; the debut of highly anticipated films OSS 117: Nest of Spies, 49 Up and Requiem amongst others; an explosion of great local filmmaking including The Standard, We Go Way Back and Expiration Date; and more than 400 directors, actors and industry members attending from around the world.

Whether experiencing the first and only live performance together to date by music legends Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie; listening to a new score to Tod Browning's The Unknown as written and performed by Portastatic; delving into music mastery with Devo frontman and film composer extraordinaire Mark Mothersbaugh; getting exposed to the facts with provocative documentaries Road to Guantanamo, Who Killed The Electric Car?, This Film Is Not Yet Rated or American Blackout; catching 10 of Seattle's best local bands performing the covers from artists featured in SIFF's Music Documentaries; seeing one of the 100-plus films from far away places; watching the essence of innovative filmmaking with unique festival program the Fly Filmmaking Challenge; or seeing internationally known Seattle notables chef Tom Douglas, opera singer Jane Eaglen and artist Dale Chihuly introduce their favorite films—it's safe to say SIFF 2006 triumphed in satisfying the palates of film lovers of all types and ages.

Script:Take us through a typical day for you, one that doesn't end with an opening or closing night gala.
CS: Wake up at 6:00 a.m. E-mail and make international phone calls. Go into the office, more e-mail and phone calls. Meet with key staff to outline the day's events, outstanding issues. Approve ticket requests. Check in with the publicity department, check in with the guest department, check in with operations. Meet with ilmmakers at the W Hotel and SIFF guest suite. Drinks with guests. Introduce films and filmmaking guests. Dinner with filmmaking guests. Moderate Q&A at screenings. More film introductions and Q&As. Late-night socializing with filmmaking guests and industry. More e-mail and phone calls. To bed by 1:00 a.m.

Script:I know many of the local residents schedule vacations from their jobs to attend the festival. What was the attendance like this year?
CS: Attendance was up this year and exceeded 160,000 with a 12 percent increase in box-office.

Script:In the past there have been specific writers' forums and meetings. What took place this year that was writer-specfic?
CS: The festival forums, often referred to as the voice of SIFF, sets stages that provide discussion, insight and conversation on and about the world of film. Intimate, informative and enlightening, these forums are a rare opportunity for audiences to participate in conversations with exceptional filmmakers, actors, producers, composers, musicians, animators, writers and other film influentials who are passionate about the art of cinema and are shaping the industry today and into its future.

This year's lineup was chosen to inspire film lovers of every kind with a particular focus on the relationship between music and film that includes world-renowned composers and musicians as well as a strong contingent from here in the Northwest. We also relaunched our Talking Pictures Series for which we have turned over the programming reigns to well-known personalities Dale Chihuly, Jane Eaglen and Tom Douglas who make Seattle their home and who introduced the screenings. In addition, there were opportunities to learn about the latest in computer animation, conversations with experts in developing and producing independent film, and a high-flying Hong Kong wirework demonstration.

Our Screenwriters Salon event was a sold-out success this year. Presented in cooperation with the Seattle-based The Film School, we presented a mini-version of their school curriculum in a three-hour master class setting. Instructors Tom Skerritt, John Jacobsen, Rick Stevenson and Stewart Stern presented the key principles of how to tell a great story through lecture, discussion, debate, film clips and on-your-feet exercises.

This year's Fly Filmmaking Challenge also paired local directors with Pacific Northwest screenwriters to bring a combined vision to the big screen! Filmmakers selected their projects from five screenwriting finalists at the February Screenwriters Salon event, and in a last-minute twist, one filmmaker opted to do a documentary, and we are pleased to premiere three narrative shorts and one documentary this year. All four films were made “on the fly”—five days to shoot, five days to edit for a total of 10 minutes of screen time—and as always we create the "flies in the ointment." This is a rare opportunity to see how the Fly Films evolve from pitch to premiere.

Script:Austin has a film festival that is slated very much toward the writer, with seminars and meetings. It's very intense and intensive. I suffered massive overload the last time I attended. Do you think that Seattle might ever consider doing a smaller festival that would lean more toward the writing aspect of film rather than the finished product?
CS: We have also had a strong writing component at SIFF and one of our longest running year-round programs focuses on the art of screenwriting with our monthly Screenwriters Salons. As we expand our year-round film programming, it would be great to focus on a program of film selections that spotlight the creative writing process and how integral it is in the making of a successful film.

If you are planning a trip to Seattle in the next year, keep May and June 2007 in mind and come on up for our film festival. I'm sure Carl and his crew can promise you one heck of a great time.