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SIFF Leadership - Beth Barrett and Sarah Wilke (c) Amy Kowalenko.jpg
SIFF Artistic Director Beth Barrett (left) and SIFF Executive Director Sarah Wilke (right). Photo Courtesy: Amy Kowalenko

We went behind the scenes of the Seattle International Film Festival

In an unassuming building, just a stones throw from the Space Needle, people are hard at work. They move with a quiet intensity. There's much to do, and time is running short. The countdown to the Seattle International Film Festival is on.

"Everyone in the office is like 'if I could have one more week. Just one more week, I would have everything perfect'," said Beth Barrett, SIFF Artistic Director.

"Our catalog is still at the printer, our guide comes back a week before basically. So we're proofing, we're getting our website up, we're getting our launch out, we're working on travel, marketing, all of that right now," added Sarah Wilke, SIFF Executive Director.

SIFF is the largest film festival in the United State. 433 films shown over the course of 25 days.

Wilke is responsible for overseeing the entire operation, while the job of actually picking the movies falls to Barrett and her programming team. It's a massive undertaking.

"For this year's festival we looked at just over 5,000 films to come down to our final 433," said Barrett. "We are competing against other festivals who want the same films. In fact, I lost one of my favorite films because it's the closing night for the Edinburgh Film Festival, which is just after us."

Despite the occasional miss, SIFF's slate is a stellar one, particularly its spotlight films. Closing night is Gus Van Sant's "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot". The story of Portland cartoonist John Callahan features an all-star cast including Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara and Jonah Hill. Landing the film required Beth to work directly with its distributor.

"Amazon Studios was looking for that organic audience for their film and to really bring a lot of spotlight to that story, because it is a Northwest story. So for something like that, we both agreed that (SIFF) would be the perfect platform," said Barrett.

The film schedule may be set, but with a number of directors, actors and producers attending these screenings, the logistical challenges are intense.

"Who's leading the introduction? Who's taking the guest to the car? Where is the car being parked? All of the details that accompany every single one of those screenings is a massive amount of communication more than anything else," said Wilke.

Everything must be planned to a 'T', especially when the guest is a big-name star. Ethan Hawke is attending SIFF to accept the award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema and screen his new movie, "Blaze".

"Yeah, well hopefully he'll get on the plane," joked Barrett. "You know, like anybody else's schedule, it's challenging to schedule around."

Hawke will be in Seattle on June 8th, and as it turns out he's not the only one who's busy during SIFF. Beth will be all over town running from theater to theater, event to event, for the duration of the festival.

"I have to be here. I have to be in Kirkland. I have to be at a dinner. I have to be at this. Just making sure that it all works, and that someone will feed my cats," said Barrett.

Closing night is June 10th. But, with a festival the size and scope of SIFF, even when the work is done, it's really just beginning. Beth and Sarah started planning for 2019 a month ago.