The 45th edition of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) will be held from May 16 to June 9, 2019, an event we have been long waiting for. The SIFF program has just been released. We were lucky enough to meet Justine Barda, Senior Programmer at the SIFF who had the kindness to answer some of our questions.

What is your role within the SIFF organization?
I’m a Senior Programmer at the SIFF; I have been working with the Festival since 2008 and I program films from France, the Middle East and North Africa. My interest in French films is related to my French origins: My father’s family is part French, I have lots of cousins living in France and I also spend lots of time there.

Could you please tell us about the SIFF history and organization?
This is the 45th year of the Festival, which is the largest film festival in the United States; we have an audience of around 140,000 people. We show around 400 films from 85 countries, that’s 240 features and 160 short films each year. We have 18 sections in the Festival including Contemporary World Cinema, Films for Families, and Future Wave (programs for younger viewers), Alternate Cinema, Culinary Cinema, and many others. We also have several competitions during the Festival, including the main competition, the New Directors Competition (for directors who have made one or two feature films), the New American Cinema competition, two documentary competitions, a short films competition and an audience choice award (the Golden Space Needle Award).

What are the SIFF venues? The SIFF also operates year-round…
We operate and program three theaters in the Seattle area year round: The Uptown in lower Queen Anne, the Egyptian Theater on Capitol Hill and the SIFF Film Center. We also produce mini-festivals throughout the year; some of them we produce on our own, some we work in collaboration with community groups. French Cinema Now, which happens in October, is one mini-festival we do ourselves.

How many people are working on a yearly basis and during the festival?
We have a staff of about 35 that works year-round for the organization and then, when we approach the Festival, we bring on about 150 seasonal staff and 700 volunteers. The programming staff, for instance, works for about six months of the year; we start in December and then we work through June.

Could you please tell us about Toronto International Film Festival and other festivals related to SIFF?
Toronto is a terrific place to find films to bring to Seattle. It is at the beginning of our programming season; there are several programming staff who go to that festival and I am one of them. Then we have Berlin that happens in February, which is at the end of our programming season; it’s the last big festival we go to, to see big new releases. For Cannes, unfortunately we conflict in terms of dates, but this gives us ideas for next year. Venice is at the same time as Toronto and because Toronto is closer and has many American titles, we go more to that Festival. Toronto has raised its profile significantly over the last 10 years; it’s become a very important festival.

How does the funding of SIFF work?
We are a non-profit organization. Our revenue comes from ticket sales, year-round as well as during the festival, pass sales, memberships, sponsorships, grants, and individual gifts, among other sources.

What about the movie selection process?
There are different ways that the selection process works. One way is that filmmakers, distributors or sales agents can submit films to SIFF, so they send us a film that we watch and evaluate. Programmers like me, we also travel to festivals and look for new films, great films to bring back to SIFF. When I go to Toronto or Berlin, I make a list of all the films in my regions, and I see all those films there. There is also a certain amount of research that goes into it; we read the trade magazines like Variety and Hollywood Reporter to track films, and we also have regular communications with directors, producers, sales agents, and organizations like Unifrance, etc.

For me, diversity is an important objective in programming. For instance, we have around 20 French films; a majority of them are narrative features, but we also have documentaries, films for young people, films for our Culinary Cinema program, etc. And looking at the narrative features, I try to have a mix of new and established directors, male and female directors, comedies and dramas, etc., to show different perspectives on French culture.

How many people do you expect this year?
The Festival has been here for so long, this is a well-established event and we expect around 140,000 people this year.

What is special about this year programming?
The program has just been released and I can tell you about some of my favorite French movies:
Non-Fiction, by Olivier Assayas
This is a comedy-drama set in the Parisian publishing word. The main character, played by Guillaume Canet, is a well-known editor at a publishing house, who tries to modernize his company. It is really about literature in the digital edge and how people feel about and negotiate that transition. Juliette Binoche also stars.
It’s a terrific movie — it’s smart, it’s funny, the dialogue is fantastic, it’s a film about ideas, and then there’s Juliette Binoche, a great actress! I am excited about that one.
Another film I find quite interesting is Les Invisibles, by Louis-Julien Petit
It is a social drama about homeless women in France. It is also something of a comedy, not as depressing as the subject matter might make you think. It is a movie with a lot of heart and it has become a surprise box-office in France. It was released in January, they have done more than a 1,000,000 admissions in France. The director found a way to treat the subject that brought people in rather that scaring them away.
I like this film very much; it has two well-known lead actresses, Audrey Lamy and Noémie Lvovsky. There are also a lot of non-professional cast in the film; the homeless women, I believe, are played by women who have been homeless themselves.
And then, on the lighter side, we have a new movie by Louis Garrel, A Faithful Man. It is his second film as a director, and he also stars in the film with Laetitia Casta (his wife onscreen and also in real life).
The movie is about love and relationships, a man negotiating his various complicated relationships with the various women in his life.
Lastly, I’ll mention that we have a series called Fashion Films Friday, films about fashion that play each Friday at the Festival at 4pm at Pacific Place. This year, three of those films are French, one is about Yves Saint-Laurent, and another is about Jean-Paul Gaultier.

How many movies have been selected this year?
Around 400 movies have been selected this year, from 90 countries, 20 coming from France (including 10 narrative features).

Which cinemas in Seattle and around will project the movies?
The movies will be shown in the three SIFF venues but also at Lincoln Square in Bellevue, at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center, at Shoreline Community College, at the Ark Lodge Cinema, and at AMC Pacific Place. We look for venues where we think we can reach an audience, then we negotiate with these venues.

What are the major events planned around the festival this year?
Our major events this year include Opening Night at McCaw Hall, Closing Night, Centerpiece, the Kirkland Opening Party, our Saturday Night parties, and many, many more.

Could you please tell us about special guests that will attend the festival?
We bring dozens and dozens of guests; we really value that opportunity for the director and actors to interact with the audience, which is also something that brings people to SIFF. Personal interaction is a priority for us.
Director Lynn Shelton and actor/comedian Marc Maron will be here on Opening Night with their new film Sword of Trust.

Thank you.

Interview by Emmanuelle and Ariane