The first Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) 2008 press screening I attended was three-quarters full. I was impressed by the large press turnout but only later did I realize that there was only a handful of press present. Who were these other people? I discovered that they were SIFF supporters with special passes for the festival. Soon I realized that these pass holders were of utmost importance to the film festival and for good reason.
Two SIFF Platinum pass holders, Mike and Mary, told me that their involvement as a SIFF supporter began over 20 years ago. They started out as average film lovers purchasing a Festival Six-Pack (six admissions) annually, then gradually two six-packs. Over the years they have become Platinum Pass Holders which costs about $1,350 for each SIFF supporters. This pass guarantees seating to all festival screenings, galas and receptions, and much more, e.g., no waiting in line. They both purchase their passes in November at a reduced price. Mary says it is really more than she can afford, but she continues out of pure enjoyment. The pass holder constituency has its own rating system for the films and holds its own awards ceremony. It was clear to me that their presence is a big deal to the SIFF organization. Mike and Mary, cite a few reasons: 1) They bring in a substantial amount of annual income. 2) That income is steady so that SIFF can hire year-round employees which keep the organization alive. 3) The pass holders group is large, yet intimate. Some plan their vacations around the event. They keep up with each other like a big family and welcome new members. (www.siff.net) 4) They are enthusiastic about the films and the festival events. It’s a friendly, happy group and no one is a stranger! 5) Many have been faithful patrons of the festival since its conception. For example, Barbara missed this year for the first time in decades. During the intermission the pass holders stood in front of the big screen for a group photo. They wanted to tell Barbara they missed her by sending her a sentiment card and a photo of all pass holders in attendance.
I asked Mike and Mary if they liked all of the films. They erupted with a quick, “No!” but added, “But, most of them!” I asked to describe what percentage of films seen were bad films. Mary responded, “Ah! That is a good question. Some films I instantly do not like. Then I ponder over them a while and, because of one redeeming quality that kept coming to mind, I conclude that I honestly liked them. But, sometimes I have to think about them for awhile”. Mike agrees and adds that even if he finds one redeeming quality in the film, it is worth the sit. If he has walked out of a film, it is simply because it was truly bad and a waste of his time! Mike recalls that in the early days the festival films were held only at the Egyptian Theater, which was half way between work and his home, so after work he’d make it a night. Mike said that he has only walked out of two films in 20 years; Mary’s experience is similar.
I inquired whether they liked the influx of documentaries to the festival and Mary said, “Ah! Love them! It is the highlight for me. This year the docs have not been as good as the past couple of years, though they always help to broaden my horizon”.