The Real Stars of SIFF 

Two Hardy Film Fans Enter the Soul of Excess... Annually

FILM IS A POWERFUL AGENT of confusion, especially when taken in massive quantity. The multiplicity of film's attack on our minds--aural, visual, rhythmic, musical--makes us extraordinarily susceptible to its demands. When the Lumières projected a train arriving at the Gare St. Lazare, and the terrified audience fled the cinema, they did so in a state of transcendent and very real confusion. It's hard to imagine a book so confusing that you literally fear for your life after reading it. We control, to some extent, our involvement in a book, a painting, a great meal. A film, on the other hand, is all about dominion. It cuts out the light of the day, supplants the sounds of the room, and forces us to see what it sees. It's so overwhelming, in fact, that the only choice we are really left with is the extreme one exhibited so long ago by the patrons of the Lumières' spectacle: escape.

The Seattle International Film Festival takes film's dominion over us and multiplies it to the point of absurdity. Moreover, the means of escape becomes elusive; we sense film surrounding us on all sides, more like a state of nature than a man-made diversion. In the end, there are only two options: give ourselves over to this flood of film, or seek the higher ground of willful ignorance. What is no longer possible is to simply take it in stride--like any force of nature, SIFF dictates your role within it, not the other way around.

Steve Smith and Marge Joidin have gleefully allowed the festival to dictate a portion of their lives for over two decades. Annual SIFF icons, Steve and Marge breathe the rarefied air of those who see in excess of 100 films during the festival's three weeks. Which is hard to do.

"Think about it," Steve says. "You have got to be moving. The festival is only 18 days long. You've got to see at least three films on weekdays, and five on weekends if you want to even get a shot at breaking 100."

"You can't possibly see everything," Marge laments. "But you can definitely see enough to lose yourself."

This level of commitment is not to be taken lightly. Both Steve and Marge talk at length of the difficulty of sustaining such a fevered consumption of fiction. "You have to schedule well, or use your sick days," Marge advises. "And it helps to stock up on your shopping before the festival starts."

Steve agrees: "I just got five 50-pound bags of cat litter," he notes. "You gotta plan ahead. You don't have time to do anything but see films. In fact--your friends? You gotta lose them. See them before the festival starts. Also, be sure to buy enough new underwear to last three weeks. And get lots of sleep."

TOO MUCH FICTION?

Like any specialized endeavor, serious festival-going requires specialized tools. Marge has a specially made coat that houses her vitamins, an extra set of glasses ("If you lose a pair, you're sunk. I learned the hard way," she says), her Palm Pilot with a complete list of films and locations, and various other paraphernalia (neck pillows, snacks, and of course, the precious Full Series Pass). The rosary of any great festival-goer, the Full Series Pass ("Nail it to your body so you don't lose it," says Marge), offers much more than admission to all films in the festival: It offers a photo. And as anyone can tell you, you should never pass up a chance to ham up an identity photo. For Steve, the hamming process takes months.

"One year, I posed as a pink flamingo," he beams, showing me a portrait I hope will someday find a deserved home in the Whitney. "I've also been Jennifer Beals from Flashdance, a samurai... I like to have fun," he explains.

What comes of so much fiction, one wonders? Eating too much, drinking too much, and fucking too much are all, according to Puritan tradition, destructive habits. Surely, fiction is as dangerous as food, drink, or sex. Yet both Steve and Marge are among the most optimistic, passionate people I've met. Their excitement for the coming festival is palpable, on par with religious fervor. Their enthusiasm for the social aspect of the festival is infectious. (Steve actually carries a camera to every screening, and in his basement he has 25 boxes of mementos--mostly pictures of people.) Remarkably, they harbor no delusions about what they will see, and can joke about the clunkers they will inevitably consume with a total lack of cynicism. They simply love the immersion, the inescapability, the brain-addling confusion of such orgiastic film-going, because, in the words of Steve, "by seeing so many things of such different caliber, in so many directions, you get to learn about life and people, and so on. You become tolerant, and your universe expands."

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