SIFF Turns 40

Four decades of memories at Seattle International Film FestivalSIFF Seattle International Film Festival

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Seattle International Film Festival. Recognized as one of the top film festivals in North America, SIFF is the largest, most highly attended film festival in the United States reaching more than 150,000 annually. The 25-day festival is renowned for its wide-ranging and eclectic programming, presenting over 250 features and 150 short films from over 70 countries each year.

Forty years of films means forty years’ worth of memories, from film screenings and discussions to parties and awards. Here are some highlights:

1976 – Founded by Dan Ireland and Darryl MacDonald, the first annual festival kicks off at the Moore Egyptian Theater, which was an independent cinema at the time and now functions as a live concert venue under the name the Moore Theatre. The festival, which lasts two weeks, features films from Germany, Italy, France, Egypt, Switzerland and the U.S., among other countries.siff_alien

1978 – In its third year, the growing festival features a director tribute/retrospective, honoring Stanley Kramer (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), who had recently moved to Seattle.

1979 – Ridley Scott’s Alien holds its world premiere screening at SIFF. Other selections include George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and the Australian film Picnic at Hanging Rock.

1980 – For the first time, SIFF begins hosting post-screening discussions with filmmakers. One of the biggest film screenings of the event is the world premiere of George Lucas’ The Empire Strikes Back.

1985 – After losing their lease at the Moore Theatre, Ireland and MacDonald found the Egyptian Theatre in a former Masonic Temple on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. New festival features include midnight screenings, retrospectives, all-night movie marathons and short film competitions. The Egyptian remains a prime festival venue to this day.siff_Braveheart_imp

1985 – SIFF announces the first-ever Golden Space Needle award, which is voted on by the audience and presented to the event’s most popular film. The inaugural award goes to Brazilian-American drama Kiss of the Spider Woman.

1988 – This is SIFF’s 13th year in existence, but the festival’s directors are a bit superstitious, so they call it the 14th annual event instead. (If you did the math, you would have noticed that 2014 is only 39 years!)

1995 – Mel Gibson’s Braveheart makes its world premiere screening. Also, SIFF is the first festival to broadcast an entire film (Party Girl, featuring Parker Posey) over the Internet.

1996 – British film Trainspotting, starring Ewan McGregor, holds its U.S. premiere, and wins the Golden Space Needle award for best film. Director Danny Boyle wins Best Director.siff_Lastdaysposter

1998 – Based on a short story by Seattle’s Sherman Alexie, Smoke Signals is screened as SIFF’s gala film. The all-Native American production, directed and co-produced by Chris Eyre, is also honored at Sundance this year.

2004 – Although Donnie Darko had a limited theater release in 2001, a director’s cut of the cult classic is released back into theaters in 2004, following the wildly successful sales of the DVD. SIFF is the first venue to screen the new version of the film.

2005 – The North American premiere of Gus Van Sant’s Last Days closes out the film festival. The controversial film is a fictionalized account of the last days of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.siff_Eden_Poster

2008 – This year’s opening night film is Battle in Seattle, based on the WTO riots of 1999. The film marks Stuart Townsend’s directing debut.

2012 – Seattle dominates this year’s festival, as both SIFF’s opening night and closing night films (Your Sister’s Sister and Grassroots, respectively) are local productions. Megan Griffiths’ film Eden also screens this year, and the film’s star, Jamie Chung, wins Best Actress.

2014 – What’s in store this year? You’ll have to wait until May 1, when SIFF announces its slate of films, events, parties, and more.

Information courtesy of SIFF ( and HistoryLink (

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