Thursday, May 17, 2007


Yesterday evening I was perusing unpublished comments when I came across a one-word comment - 'Yawn...' - on David's recent Peter Pan preview. Typically, extremely brief comments are left by spambots, but this one had an interesting URL,, which is the website of what looks like an alternative film festival ('Seattle's True Independent Film Festival'), sort of an ATLB-like answer to SIFF.

(ATLB, or 'Alternative to Loud Boats,' is - or was, I guess - the alt-culture response to the annual summer madness around Seafair in Seattle. I was not able to Google up any decent resources on the events in the .5 seconds I devoted to research.)

I emailed Clint Berquist, the comment's author, asking him for a piece on STIFF. I hope I still get one! His plans look pretty interesting, combining film and performance at a variety of venues including the ever-delicious Central Cinema.

He wrote back, sounding interested. I cc'd David at this juncture hoping that he'd be interested in the exchange and oh, possibly, hoping that he might not take Clint's comment personally. Although, come to think of it, blogfights are great traffic-builders. Everybody loves TEH DRAMMA.

Evidently I didn't cut David off at the pass, as he emailed a passionate response to Clint, who then weighed in in the comments with an essay that both David and I concur deserves its' own post.

Without further ado, I'll turn the floor over to Clint Berquist!

There have been a handful of occasions where I found a brilliant film at a festival that I thought an audience in Seattle might really want to get behind only to be turned down by the filmmaker after inviting them because they don't want to risk making the international fest mad. I was glancing through the siff online schedule today to see what ever happened to one of those films and after reading it, one word jumped into my head that pretty much summed up my feelings about the lineup. I typed that comment on the siffblog and went about my day. A couple hours later, I got an email from Mike telling me that my comment was rejected and inviting me to contribute something substantive. Then, several hours later I received another email from David Jeffers informing me that my post was rejected (again). David also made sure to type a page and a half to let me know of his love for Silent Era Cinema and berating me for including him in my waste of time.

Of course, I applaud the fact that the international fest is so rich in resources that not only does it have a person dedicated to approving comments on its blog, it has another person dedicated to approving the initial approver's decision. It should go without saying that I feel compelled to contribute something positive before I find myself wasting the time of the approver of the approver's approver.

This month's Seattle Magazine features a story about the international festival in which Carl Spence says, "There has been some antagonism from local filmmakers who say we should show their films because they were made here. But we're not meant to be a training ground for local directors. We want to show films that belong here on merit alone." There is no doubt in my mind that Carl has felt dissed by local filmmakers, but the real reason is because of a smug attitude exemplified by deciding the movies that "belong" this year are films that have been around for 80 years and can already be viewed by any resourceful person on the planet instead of using his clout to help champion the cause of an incredible LOCAL filmmaker who lost his freakin hand battling cancer. In the same article Carl also said, "We have bent over backward to help local filmmakers". Really? How? By giving a few people whose movies don't belong a few complimentary passes so that the filmmakers from outside Seattle who DO BELONG have an audience for the films that nobody really wants to come watch?

There is no way I could go line by line and negatively comment on every programming decision. I have seen some wonderful movies at siff and it would be a complete lie to say that siff always misses the mark. I honestly know that for every few bad decisions made there will be a redemptive film or two, and most people in the area are very excited about this program. A lot of people are also very excited about the fact that siff now programs the one reel fest as part of Bumbershoot. Its tough to say that siff isn't qualified (the success of the siff machine is evidenced by the fact that it can afford a team of approvers to monitor its blog). But, what some see as a great thing, I can only see as a homogenization of indie film. Film CAN be a medium to educate people and in one of the most educated cities in the United States there is obviously a market for teaching people a lesson when they watch a film. But, what if there are people out there who believe that films should be entertaining? Where are these people supposed to go as everything gets gobbled up by the same exact agenda? What happens to a city when it only has one very loud voice to listen to?

As I said, I have watched a lot of good movies at the international fest (I actually was a volunteer at one point). I know that a lot of people will watch some great films this year too. But, the international fest is also one of the only places I have ever had to leave a movie due to lameness in my entire life (and I have done it on more than one occasion). As movie-goers are out in droves enjoying the lineup, I hope they can keep a single word in mind and if at any time they start to find themselves letting out a big old YAWN, I hope that the international fest lets them out for recess.

Clint Berquist
Director, Seattle's True Independent Film Festival

UPDATE: I should clarify here that SIFFBlog is not affiliated with the Seattle International Film Festival in any way. SIFFBlog is a creaky old Mac connected to the internet with chewing gum, baling wire, and beeswax candle drippins intermingled with bits of my burnt hair and fingernail clippings collected on a moonless midsummer midnight a century ago in rural Louisiana. That, and the writings of the contributors.


  1. Firstly, I didn't reject Clint Berquist's comment. I gave it careful consideration and replied directly to the sender, then to the web site publisher (Mr. Whybark). I include the complete text of all my correspondence here:
    My response to the "Yawn" comment,
    It's all well and good if you don't like Silent Era film. Everyone's not into Death Metal, or commercial episodic television. On
    the other hand, I don't think a dislike of something entitles you to make negative, monosyllabic comments with any real
    expectation to be taken seriously. I never turn down comments without good cause, and certainly not because I disagree with
    them. If you would like to write something with a bit more substance, I'd be happy to include it. I'm interested in any serious
    discussion, but I value my time, and frown on those who include me when wasting their own.
    My response to Clint's manifesto,
    This is a complicated matter. The comment you sent really has nothing to do with the films I previewed. Our guidelines would
    still define this type of comment as spam Saying that, I feel you definitely have a valid point and are entitled to be heard. I sent
    your remarks to my publisher and include my note to him here. Hopefully he will see this and arrive at some decision later
    today. Rest assured, you are not the only one who feels there is some fear of reprisals where large institutions are concerned.
    Tactics are of the utmost importance. I prefer a positive alternative, versus a poke in the eye.
    David Jeffers
    My e-mail request to Mike Whybark,
    This response is very detailed, but not what I asked for when I wrote this gentleman back. It has nothing to do with the films I
    discussed in my preview. I'm now unsure what his one word comment was in reference to, silent film in general, or just a
    means to get his foot in the door. He does have an entirely valid point and deserves to be heard. I would recommend you post
    his comments as a separate entry. I will leave that decision to you. Hmmmmm .... This reminds me of another gate crasher a
    few years ago.
    David Jeffers
    With regard to the silent era program this year at SIFF, I was more than slightly disappointed to learn there will be only two films presented in a conventional context. Both films, A Cottage on Dartmoor and The Sentimental Bloke, are recent restorations that have not been presented to a local audience. Responding directly to Mr. Berquist's vague mention of these films,
    "films that have been around for 80 years and can already be viewed by any resourceful person on the planet."
    Both are films of historical significance. It is unlikely they would have survived otherwise (I wonder how many indie-documentaries will last as long). They are also films that are definitely not available to a local audience. The BFI offers online clips of A Cottage on Dartmoor, but only to UK residents and educators. The Australian film may be available (unconfirmed) through the NFSA, but in PAL and via regular mail order for $65 Australian (that's on top of the purchase price). GEH has the original negative and restoration, which I'm sure, is available for viewing by appointment at their facility (in Rochester, with the associated screening fees). If anyone is aware of access to either of these films, I would be quite interested. If their acquisition were possible, I would already have them.
    The tone of Mr. Berquist's response to Mike Whybark is hostile, disrespectful and sarcastic. This type of approach is not conducive to a friendly and open discussion of any subject. (I haven't thrown a tantrum when I didn't get my way since I was four or five.) The surest way to get a door slammed in your face is to forcefully over-emphasize an alternative point of view, believe me, I know.

  2. After reading Mike's comments about the history of SIFFblog, I can't help but feel like a bit of a dick. Please accept my apology for leaving what must have only been perceived as an arrogant comment as well as my thanks for preserving the unedited text from my response. Hopefully it at least provided something for you to laugh about.
    I agree that my response was a bit sarcastic, but I stand behind my comments about the programming and the homogenization of indie film in Seattle. I honestly think it is great that David and so many others are so passionate about Silent Era film. I couldn't be less excited though. I believe that diversity of opinion is important to any society and I also believe it is something that is truly lacking and continues to decline as the SIFF programming agenda swallows everything up in its path.
    But, to be honest I am not particularly concerned if my criticism (or tone) slams the SIFF door in my face. I know many filmmakers in town who feel the same way, but are afraid of making Carl Spence or any programmers mad. The liberation I feel by not having to worry about what SIFF thinks of me also comes with a certain amount of responsibility to voice my concerns.