“The Bling Ring” will make its North American premiere at the June 9 closing of the Seattle International Film Festival. Photo courtesy of SIFF
“The Bling Ring” will make its North American premiere at the June 9 closing of the Seattle International Film Festival. Photo courtesy of SIFF

America’s biggest and longest film festival is coming back to town in mid-May. The 25 days of the 39th Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) are packed with films, special guests, forums and educational platforms that will be enough for Seattle movie-goers to feed their cinephilic appetites.

The festival will screen 451 films, including four secret films, representing 85 countries. There will be something for everyone, with 197 features, 67 documentaries, 175 shorts and eight archival films.

SIFF 2013 will kick off on May 16 with an opening-night gala and a Seattle premiere of Joss Whedon’s latest, “Much Ado About Nothing.” The black-and-white Shakespearean-classic comedy — filmed entirely in Whedon’s home in just 12 days — is a modern interpretation. Whedon’s and four cast members’ scheduled appearance at the premiere, including Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, had probably something to do with it being the fastest sold-out event at SIFF.

The closing night on June 9 has been revealed to feature the newest film by Sofia Coppola: “The Bling Ring,” starring Emma Watson and Leslie Mann, making its North American premiere. Based on a true story, the film follows a gang of five teenagers who are enjoying the perks of a luxurious life by stealing from Hollywood celebrities.

One of the biggest and most anticipated highlights of the festival is the first African Pictures Program. Made possible with the help from an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences grant, the program will celebrate more than a dozen films by filmmakers from across the African continent. Donovan Marsh’s “Spud 2,” a sequel to a SIFF 2011 favorite, and a new Egyptian female auteur, “Coming Forth By Day,” will be part of the program.

“Judging by the first week’s press screenings, it looks like an especially varied film festival, in terms of both global coverage and genre,” said University of Washington comparative-literature professor Cynthia Steele, whose Film Festival students will attend this year’s program.

A film to fit any mood
SIFF will continue to use its unique mood categories to help the audience decide what kind of film they want to see.
“It’s a way to navigate the festival,” said SIFF Cinema programmer Clinton McClung. “It depends on what kind of film you like. So instead of going and seeing what films are presented by this country, you can go by, ‘I want to see a film about science,’ and choose a film that way. It’s a great way to explore the festival and dig deeper.”

This year, there will be 10 categories to help you guide your way through the festival, including “Thrill Me,” “Love…,” “Open My Eyes,” “Provoke Me” and “Show Me the World.” This system will also be incorporated into the new schedule, launching on Thursday, May 2, to make the ticket-buying experience easier.

Northwest Connections is one of the festival’s favorites. The Northwest is honored at the festival each year with the showcasing of films that have either been filmed in the area or directed by local filmmakers. One of the most anticipated films in the series is the documentary “Her Aim is True,” directed by Karen Whitehead, about rock ‘n’ roll photographer Jini Dellaccio; it will screen on May 26 and 27.

An evening with Washington-native actor Kyle Maclachlan is coming June 3. The event will include an on-stage interview and an opportunity for the audience to ask questions. It will be followed by a screening of David Lynch’s cult hit “Twin Peaks.”

Other special presentations will include “Decoding Annie Parker,” directed by Steven Bernstein, a true story about a UW geneticist Mary-Claire King (Helen Hunt) and her journey to prove the existence of BRCA1 gene, responsible for breast cancer. The film is based in Seattle, and both screenings of the film will benefit the King Lab at the UW, devoted to understanding the inherited breast and ovarian cancer.

Educational films
Besides the experience of watching international films, the festival is offering educational programs: FutureWave (for youth and educators), Catalyst (for filmmakers) and Film4All (cinema education for everyone).

The eighth-annual Superfly Filmmaking Experience 2013 is bringing together 50 youths from across the country to produce documentary shorts about the Suquamish Tribal Community in just 36 hours. The films will be showcased at the SuperFly and Native Shorts Showcase on June 1.

Other documentary highlights at this year’s SIFF: “Our Nixon,” filmed by President Richard Nixon’s closest aides and Watergate conspirators, with rare footage; and “Inequality for All,” directed by Jacob Kombluth, which follows former Secretary of Labor Robert Relch as a guide into the causes of the ever-growing income gap in America.

“It’s truly an international film festival,” McClung said. “It’s one of the film festivals in the country where we are purposefully trying to find films from around the world. There are tons of films that are shown here and are never seen anywhere else. Sometimes, it’s your one and only chance to see a unique international film that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.”

The festival takes place May 16 through June 9. Individual-ticket sales start Thursday, May 2; for ticket information and show times, visit www.siff.net/festival-2013.