Gus (Ansel Elgort) and Hazel (Shailene Woodley) share a tender moment during a trip to Amsterdam in the film “The Fault in Our Stars,” which will have two showings at SIFF. Photo by James Bridges/20th Century Fox Film Corp.
Gus (Ansel Elgort) and Hazel (Shailene Woodley) share a tender moment during a trip to Amsterdam in the film “The Fault in Our Stars,” which will have two showings at SIFF. Photo by James Bridges/20th Century Fox Film Corp.

Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), which has been spicing up our city with an international vibe of cinema from around the world year after year, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. This year the hosts ask viewers to join them in a “cinescape” and promise you that “you will be returned home but forever changed.”

With 435 films representing 83 countries, including 44 world and 29 North American premieres, SIFF 2014 has quite a few surprises to offer its returning and new audience members.

“Where can you meet tomorrow’s filmmakers and see films you never thought you would and perhaps probably never will?” said SIFF artistic director Carl Spence. “And where can you discover other cinephiles and film lovers, collect laughs with 500 of your best friends and see the gifted filmmakers of all over the world [other than] at the Seattle International Film Festival?”

What a better way to kick off the festival on May 15 than with “Jimi: All is by My Side” (2013), directed by John Ridley, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter of “12 Years a Slave,” who will attend the screening. The new film tells the origin story of the Seattle-born rock legend Jimi Hendrix and goes deep into the early years of his life that shaped and created the legendary guitarist.

The closing film of the festival, to be screened on June 8, is “ The One I Love” (2014), by debutant director Charlie McDowell and a Seattle-based producer Mel Eslyn. The story is about a couple who’ve lost their spark and, by the suggestion of their therapist, go for a weekend getaway at a vacation home where “The Twilight Zone”-like things start happening.

Special events

Tribute guests this year are Laura Dern (“Blue Velvet,” “Wild at Heart”) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave,” Serenity”), who will both receive the SIFF Award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting. Dern will also be honored with a special presentation of the most anticipated “The Fault in Our Stars” on May 16 and an interview during a screening of “Wild at Heart” on May 17. Ejiofor will have a special screening of “Serenity” (2005) on May 18 and an evening with a Q&A and a screening of his short film “Columbite Tantalite,” followed by the feature film he stars in, “Half of a Yellow Sun,” on May 19.

The African Pictures that started last year, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Pictures of Arts and Sciences, is back with films from and about the African continent. Celebrate it with a “Finding Fela” (2014) screening, a documentary by Alex Giney about a Nigerian pioneer of the Afrobeat musical genre Fela Kuti, and a party on June 6 at the Northwest African American Museum.

One of the ways SIFF decided to honor its anniversary is to have a special midnight screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975), which premiered at the first SIFF. The screening comes with goodie bags, subtitled lyrics and props for an interactive sing-along experience.

Educational forums have a great lineup, as well. On May 17, you’ll have a chance to go behind the scenes of such animated pictures as “ParaNorman” (2013) and “Coraline” (2009) with Mark Shapiro from LAIKA Animation. And a not-to-be-missed “Crash Cinema” at the Folklife Festival on May 25, where you can make your own film using Folklife as a backdrop. 

Setting the mood

The SIFF box office has been up and running since Thursday, May 1, and it’s back with a navigating system featuring the “moods” categories. If you feel like watching a love story, then select the analogically named section and see films like the French film “Mood Indigo” (2013), directed by Michel Gondry and starring Audrey Tautou, and “Swedish Love and Lemons” (2013), directed by Teresa Fabik. If you are feeling more daring, then take a look at “To the Extreme” selection and find films like “The Babadook” (2014) from Australia and “Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead”  (2014), a sequel to a horror comedy about Nazi zombies from Norway.

The venues for this year include SIFF Cinema Uptown (511 Queen Anne Ave. N.), Pacific Place (downtown), Harvard Exit and the Egyptian Theater (both in Capitol Hill), which is reopening just for SIFF. Bellevue’s Lincoln Square, Kirkland Performance Center and Renton IKEA Arts Performing Center are all joining the festival, as well, starting on May 16, May 22, and May 29, respectively.

But that’s just the surface of what this 25-day birthday celebration is offering.

“This year’s festival is an incredibly meaningful milestone for SIFF,” said SIFF managing editor Mary Bacarella in a press release. “We’re all so excited to bring this outstanding lineup of films, guests, forums and events to our wonderfully supportive and enthusiastic audiences. We’ve created a program this year with moments that will fondly revisit our history and moments that will take us into the future of SIFF. I can’t wait for the fun to begin!”

SIFF runs from May 15 through June 8. For ticket information and show times, visit

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