Photo (c) B.Barrett Facebook
Beth Barrett is the Director of Programming at the Seattle International Film Festival where she leads a team of programmers in selecting the films for each festival. Her approach balances confidence and inclusivity and enthusiasm with thoughtfulness. Here’s an insider’s look at the world of film programming at SIFF, and Barrett’s perspective on being a woman working in Seattle’s film industry.
SIFF hosted the Women in Cinema festival in September, including the Seattle premiere of Holly Morris’s documentary The Babushkas of Chernobyl and Ondi Timoner’s Brand: A Second Coming. Coming up are the 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows and Tales of Halloween. Read more at www.siff.net.
For us lay people, can you explain what a film programmer does? What is a film programmer’s compass, and how much control does she have over which films make it to the festival?
As a film programmer, I watch hundreds of films a year, and advocate for the films that I think people should be watching. Everyone has their own favorites, mine being Scandinavian family drama, but advocacy can be very wide, and so I spend a lot of time considering films in every genre. At SIFF, we work in a team, with everyone’s opinions being considered, and always have the audience in mind. Our goal is to be creating those cinema experiences that take us someplace new, or introduce us to someone/something interesting.
You’ve been with SIFF since 2003, and you’re now the Director of Programming. What led you to choose this work? How has film programming changed since you began?
I have always loved films, have watched obsessively for most of my life, but didn’t actually know that this was a career one could have! I moved to Seattle in 1993, and attended my first SIFF in 1994, and I was hooked. It was the perfect combination of my love of film and the love of talking about art. Since I started, filmmaking has drastically changed, but the art of curation and programming is the same – we are always looking for amazing stories, well told, and connecting filmmakers to audiences.
Film is a way for the audience (outsiders) to become insiders, for an hour or two. How has being an outsider influenced the way you do your job, and the way you facilitate the experience for both filmmaker and filmgoer?
After 14 years, I don’t feel like an outsider in the field anymore, but I think that the connections that we are able to facilitate through film can be transformative. With the low cost of digital technology, filmmakers from around the world are able to connect to each other and audiences, and there is less of a line between outside and inside now.
SIFF provides incredible opportunities to connect audiences with the filmmakers. What filmmakers and films have had a lasting impact on you ?
A couple of years ago, SIFF hosted director Peter Greenaway with his film GOLTZIUS AND THE PELICAN COMPANY, and I was able to tell him that his films had fundamentally changed my life. As a student in Iowa, I went to see THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER in the University cinema, and that is when I realized that film was art, not just movies. There was such a dialogue between what was being shown and the way that it was presented (art design, sets, music, etc) that was incredible.
In your career, have you ever benefited from a “New Girls Network” (as opposed to the Old Boys’ Club)? What’s your advice for female filmmakers about utilizing networks?
I do think that the New Girls Network has been a benefit for my career, as I have had many wonderful woman mentors, co-workers, bosses and support systems. I would tell any woman working in the arts to use the networks available to her, it may provide that crucial push at the right time!
You’ve said that Seattle has “a history of supporting women artists,” and that there is a “mutual respect between the women and men working here in the Northwest.” Can you distill what has worked here in Seattle to recommend to other cities, or perhaps to folks in rural areas?
I think that part of why Seattle has been so successful at this mutual support is our love of process, and the artistic nature that the West Coast nurtures. We are such a new city (in the scheme of America) that it still feels like we can set up what we want, and support it. I would love to think that programs like Hedgebrook and Reel Grrls would be able to be replicated in other cities/areas, programs where women and girls are given the time and space to be creative.
What have been your favorite films of the year? What films would you like to see made, and come across your desk as programmer?
Yikes – my favorites of the year? That is a really hard question ☺ Laurie Anderson’s HEART OF A DOG really moved me, Jacques Audiard’s DHEEPAN is incredible, Trey Shult’s KRISHA is stunning, I loved INSIDE OUT….
I see films on all subjects , in all genres, so the films are being made, but I would love to see more theatrical support for smaller films that don’t have all the bells and whistles, or big stars, or big studio support. The only way that will happen is if people support theatrical presentations, and not just wait for NetFlix!
Based on your experience, how can (or should?) film festivals be working to ensure gender parity in the industry? How can we achieve this without relegating films made by directors who happen to be women into a separate genre?
Many Film Festivals have a mandate to discover new voices and support independent art – most of us want to be the festival that discovers, or launches, the next great filmmaker – by putting films made by women in the spotlight, we are introducing these filmmakers to the audience, and giving them space to show us what they can do!
How can folks outside the film industry support women filmmakers? My goal with this question is to motivate everyone, no matter their profession, to get involved. For example, SIFF sometimes does “dinner and a movie” pairings with local restaurants…. how can we create a sea change in our culture around equality for women’s voices?
By paying attention to the filmmaker, and supporting films from women and people of color, the viewer can change the way studios see the “sale-ability” of films that have diversity. Studios are really looking at the bottom line, and in order to change the current levels of inequity, the audiences need to support those films and show studios that they are economically viable projects.
Lastly, how would you like to be spending your time 5 years from now? Still in programming? Making films? Traveling to other film festivals?
In 5 years I expect to be doing exactly the same thing I am doing now – watching film, programming interesting films for our audiences, traveling around the world to film festivals, and loving connecting Seattle to the world through film. Unless I win the Power Ball ….