Friday, May 23, 2008

SIFF 2008 Opening Night

Battle in Seattle

Although it's true that the title Battle in Seattle sounds like a monster truck rally (as noted by Andre Benjamin's character in the film), I have to admit, it surprised me. I went into this screening prepared to hate what I assumed would be a melodramatic, over-acted, heavy-handed piece on the WTO riots - but what I saw was actually pretty good.

Did I love it? No. But did I hate it? No, again. It's an easily digestible, multiple character story without much depth, but it does its job. I learned more about the WTO, the protestors, the political maneuvers and the aftermath than I ever knew, so that's something. Sure, some of the dialog was abysmal, but I thought Townsend did a good job his first time out, showing us all aspects of what was happening. In the end, what I got out of it was this: any one of those characters could be us. And what happened, and what continues to happen, affects everyone. So there you go.

Now, let's talk about the Gala party,AeP

Please don't misunderstand me when I say this, because I dearly love SIFF, and I always have. I know they're a Non-Profit, and as such don't have big money to throw out on these things, but let me just say: if I had a nickel for everyone I ran into last night who was severely pissed off about the replacement of open bars with cash ones, I'd be at least a couple hundred dollars richer this morning (Gillian said something in her post about it being a fundraiser, so maybe that's why? But, that's the first I'd heard of it).
For the 4 previous opening night parties I've been too, there's always been free-flowing Bombay Gin, Vodka, Champagne, Wine & Beer. Everyone tipped their bartenders generously, of course - the dance floor was always full, and by the end of the night, EVERYONE loved the movie. This year, after poking around a bit, my party-going companion and I found out there were three levels of wristbands:
VIP, which got you all the free booze you wanted + the good food, AKA: sushi from Nijo (keep In mind, the paying customers forked out $200 for this)
Faux-VIP, which got you 2 free drink tickets + the good food (not quite sure what the qualifications were for this one)
Regular Gala, which got you $5-$7 drinks, + a few food items like tiny sandwiches and some kind of crostini thing, and,AePa mysterious free champagne cocktail with peach and Dungeness crab (???), which no one was touching. (paying customers forked out $50 for this)
So, going back to my Non-Profit understanding - SIFF, I get it, I really do. However, it was probably not wise to go from EVERYTHING to NOTHING in the course of one year, without any type of warning. A "hey, we need to cut back this year so the bars will be cash" statement might have been nice. Or, how about easing those ticket buyers into the idea with at least a few free drinks? Last night's party was almost empty at 11pm - I have the pics to prove it.
Also, the irony of the upper crust being so segregated from the regular people didn't escape anyone. I suspect you'll being a see a lot of blogs addressing this same subject today!


  1. VIP pre-party was supposed to start at 5 pm but they did not even open the doors until 5:30 giving you really little time to enjoy the food/drinks. Plus you had to wait outside in the cold. One thing they did fix this year for VIP was you got reserved seats. Last year there was a reserved section but they gave all the seats away before people left the pre-party. The VIP afterparty was too full this year because all of these people with drink coupons came in. Normally this would not be a problem in that more fun could be had in the main party where the alcohol was also flowing but as you note not this year. The main party was dead! I counted about 15 people out on the dance floor unlike last year where it was packed. With my VIP packet they did state that there would be a cash bar in the main party but clearly that message was not conveyed to the masses. I know all my friends were disappointed and had even gone as far as rented towncars because they did not want to drive home drunk.
    Speaking of galas they are also cutting back. The gala passes were the same price as last year but instead of a gala film and party every Saturday plus the open and close the gala pass only is good for three films and parties. Since most people buy they ticket packs and passes months in advance this really felt like a bait and switch because you just assumed that there would be as many as the past. Of course the last strange thing is that the closing gala is Saturday but they still show a day of films after the the closing gala???

  2. My theory on the Closing Night Gala is that they moved it to Saturday in hopes more people would buy tickets.
    Also, they doing the My Festival Online contest with IndieFlix, in which they will screen the winners on the actual closing night, so maybe that was also part of the deciding factor?
    In any case, like I said - I mean no ill will towards SIFF. I still pay for a yearly membership even though I have some press privileges, and I buy additional tickets to films as well. But, they really should have been more upfront and clear about WHAT would be different this year.

  3. They ended up changing the price of the gala passes to reflect three instead of six galas (I got a refund check when I contacted the membership department about it), but switching to a cash bar at a $50 event was very lame. I've always heartily recommended these galas as worthwhile ways to experience SIFF; so this unexpected change was thoroughly disappointing. I guess we should have seen it coming when they even canned the sparkling wine from the press launch! What are "beverage sponsors" for if not a "free" drink or three?

  4. I feel genuinely guilty for talking this gala up to my cousin and then dragging her along with me. The movie was not great, which we both expected, but with free drinks who cares? Crab puree does not equal a champagne cocktail in my (vegetarian) book.
    To be fair we both still had fun, but we would have had a lot more fun going to a good movie and then a real bar where we could drink whatever we wanted.

  5. Thank God they had reserved seats this year for the VIP holders. When you spend $200, you don't want to be fighting for a seat. That was the biggest improvement they could've made over last year.
    Pre- party. Why the back up to get in? Why did it start so late?
    The movie selection could've been so much better. I'm not sure if they picked the film to get the star power since it's pretty impressive to have the whole cast show up. Although, to me the movie was sensationalized in a big way.
    After Party didn't seem as lively as last year. Was there music playing? The free booze was nice but expected at that price. At least there was more food than last year. I didn't understand the blue tickets. Who received those? It got really crowded and took forever to get a drink.
    The Volterra Give Away was COOL. I am a big fan of the restaurant and I religiously use the Fennel Salt. It costs $20 a jar in Whole Foods, Ballard Market, etc. so that was a big donation for a small business. Good for Volterra to support SIFF at the same type of level as the Corporate Guys. My hat is off to you!

  6. There was music playing - the standard DJ, which is fine. But I think I only saw about 8 people on the dance floor during its peak time - it's kind of sad and funny at the same time, but the liveliness in year's past was probably due to the open bars. :)
    Volterra was definitely the star of the night, although I somehow missed getting a jar of the coveted fennel salt. Oh well!