Two decades ago, when what would become the Spokane International Film Festival screened its first weekend of movies, the world was a far different place.
Here’s where I could talk about how different things were before Sept. 11, 2001, long before the creation of the TSA, when mobile phones weren’t yet pocket computers, when paper maps and print newspapers were still a thing, and when people had to rewind their VHS tapes after watching the latest Hollywood release on video.
But let’s ignore that history lesson and stick to what was happening for movie fans in Spokane. No mainstream movie houses, even AMC River Park Square, were showing arthouse or international movies on a regular basis. That was the sole province of the Magic Lantern, which since its founding in 1973 had experienced a number of closings and re-openings before it found a permanent home in the Saranac Building.
Any fan of anything other than mainstream cinema haunted either the Lantern or rifled through the back shelves of the various local home-video stores – including, and maybe even especially, the long-defunct Street Music, which was owned and operated by Jack Lindberg.
But then through the combined efforts of the arts organization known as the Contemporary Arts Alliance and Spokane Public Radio film critic Bob Glatzer, things changed. And what emerged was a festival that, over the years, grew into what is now a weeklong celebration of international cinema, offering a rich collection of feature films, documentaries and shorts programs.
The latest edition of the festival – or SpIFF, as it’s referred to – will open for business a week from today at The Garland Theater. Beginning at 6 p.m. with a social hour, the festival’s opening night will feature a Best of the Northwest shorts program beginning at 7, followed by a documentary film “Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain.”
Mark Rypien, the former Shadle Park, Washington State University and Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Washington Redskins, is expected to make an appearance.
The remainder of SpIFF 2020 will continue the next day, Feb. 29, at the Magic Lantern, and on through March 6 with a final-night screening of Chase Ogden’s documentary “Super Frenchie” and a closing party at Osprey, the newly reopened lounge at the Ruby River Hotel.
In between, the festival will screen films from such countries as diverse as Ukraine and Israel, Spain and Sweden.
Some of the highlights include:
“The Wolf House”: A Chilean study in animation, live-action and stop-motion that combines the elements of a classic dark folk tale with the real-life threats posed by cult leaders and sexual abusers – who sometimes are the same thing.
“The Woman Who Loves Giraffes”: a documentary about Anne Innis Digg, a researcher whose work on giraffes predated Jane Goodall’s work on chimpanzees.
“Song Lang”: a Vietnamese study of two men from different backgrounds whose chance meeting awakens deep-seated emotions in both.
“Balloon”: a suspenseful German feature film, based on real events, that follows the efforts of two families to escape 1979 East Germany in, of all things, a hot-air balloon.
“China Love”: a documentary that explores the lucrative pre-wedding photo industry, which sees couples spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to document their impending “happiness.”
And that’s just a taste of what SpIFF 2020 has to offer. To discover how to purchase advance tickets, which are going fast, click here (festival passes sold out weeks ago).
For full disclosure, I have to mention that I’m a volunteer member of the SpIFF board of directors. But long before I became personally involved in the festival, I attended each year’s screenings as both a reporter and as a fan.
And it’s as a fan – and someone who is glad that he no longer has to rewind his VHS tapes – that I recommend SpIFF 2020 now.