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SIFF 2021 takes to the small screen

SIFF's Beth Barrett.

Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) 47 brings you 93 features, 126 short films, and one brand new streaming service to house all of them. After the heartbreak of canceling SIFF 2020 when lockdown hit, festival programmer Beth Barrett says moving films to the small screen was an obvious decision. Less obvious, perhaps, was the ways in which the pandemic forced planners to break through the status quo with strategies that increased reach and connection. This year’s schedule (running April 8-18) includes live Q&A sessions with creators, audience interaction opportunities, and SIFF Channel. The streaming platform supports filmmakers and promotes discovery among a whole new set of viewers. “It’s an exciting future opportunity for us,” says Barrett, “accessibility is possible.” 

So without further ado, pop that popcorn, dim the living room lights, and put on your most glamorous lounge set as we roll out the metaphorical red carpet for Barrett’s must-see festival picks.

East of the Mountains

This year’s lineup spans 69 countries, but we thought we’d start local with East of the Mountains. Barrett calls it a “love letter to the Northwest,” and assures us “you can feel it in every frame.” Tom Skerritt plays a man on a journey through himself and Eastern Washington after a terminal cancer diagnosis. The beloved character actor not only takes centerstage in this feature, he’s also the recipient of SIFF’s 2021 Outstanding Achievement in Cinema Award. If you’re unfamiliar with his previous work, we can’t imagine a better place to start.

The Dry

Next, Barrett brings us down under for a neo-noir take on the Australian Outback. The Dry follows Federal Agent Aaron Falk’s return to his hometown after more than 20 years away. He reluctantly takes on an apparent murder-suicide case involving his childhood friend caught up in the chaos caused by over a decade of drought. He unearths fearful resentment, a previous murder, and more secrets than he ever anticipated.

Ladies of Steel

Ladies of Steel is just your classic Scandinavian accidental murder senior citizen sisterhood road trip of self-discovery narrative. We’ve seen it a thousand times before. Somehow though, this one is even better. If you’re looking for a hardy, heartfelt laugh, this is it. Barrett says, “It’s very funny in that grumpy old Scandinavian person genre, which I’m very fond of.” Who isn’t.

Under the Open Sky

Ex-yakuza Mikami spent most of his life in prison for murder. Based on a real person, Under the Open Sky begins as Mikami is released as a middle-aged man, and is navigating a completely different version of the world he left 13 years before. His first move? Apply to work for a television show to find his long-lost mother. The film makes Barrett’s top-four list on the merits of Yakusho Koji’s incredible acting and the film’s meditative take on reinvention.

SIFF 47 represents the triumph of a global art community over a year that took so much from us and the breakthroughs that wouldn’t have emerged without it. Barrett hopes the changes made this year will mean a future of expanded awareness and audiences for films of all kinds. She says we all play a role in that legacy, too. “If you love an art organization, support it during the hard times, otherwise it might not be there during the good times.”