SIFF to return to Renton next year; planning already under way

Attendance figures were down slightly from last year at the Seattle International Film Festival venue in Renton, but the famed festival is committed to returning next year.

"With the support of the Renton community, we are committed to providing opportunities to bring people together to discover extraordinary films from around the world," said Carl Spence, the festival's artistic director.

This was the second year for the festival in Renton, kicked off by a gala May 18 at the Renton Pavilion Event Center and the screening of "Fat Kid Rules the World," partly filmed in Renton.

"We were really pleased with the outstanding gala and the way the community shined," said Suzanne Dale Estey, the City of Renton's economic development director.

But she was "kind of perplexed" by a drop in attendance at the film screenings at the IKEA Performing Arts Center at Renton High School.

About 1,700 tickets were sold for the screenings, down from about 2,100 last year, she said.

Much was done to market the festival in Renton, she said, but the difficulty was getting the word out about the "great movies" being shown after the gala.

SIFF has experience launching venues, including outside Seattle in Kirkland and Everett, and in Seattle, too.

The ticket sales at the Renton and Everett venues are "about the same," Spence said. Kirkland's sales are higher, but he pointed out that SIFF has been on the Eastside in Kirkland and Bellevue since 2006.

"Launching a new location takes time in terms of building an audience," he said.

In Seattle SIFF opened SIFF Cinema at McCaw Hall in 2007. Spence said it took three years to build "a devoted audience" there and now the SIFF Cinema year-round attendance will surpass 90,000.

SIFF is giving Renton time to build an audience, Dale Estey said.

"They are really pleased with our enthusiasm and the depth of our support," she said of SIFF.

The city will defer in large part to SIFF's expertise to handle what Dale Estey described as a marketing and community-relations challenge.

But Renton already is considering ways to boost ticket sales next year.

Dale Estey met with Deborah Person, SIFF's managing director, near the end of the festival in Renton to discuss some ideas.

Ideas include positioning Renton as a SIFF venue for all of South King County and not just Renton, she said. Local organizers will work closely with SIFF on what films are shown in Renton, what films "might resonate," she said.

Dale Estey wants to create a "stronger nexus" between the gala and the first full day of the festival, Saturday. The gala is a "great party," she said, but the question is how to make it into a teaser for the festival.

Person also wants to come to Renton to meet with the community to better understand the audience, Dale Estey said.

"This year, I am feeling there is a real partnership," said Dale Estey. "Now it's a question of how to strengthen the audience and build off the foundation we have."


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