The Seattle International Film Festival says concerns about U.S. travel restrictions will likely have an impact on attendance this year.
They've already had an Iranian director decline an invitation amid uncertainty about President Donald Trump's efforts to enforce a travel ban on people from some countries in the Middle East and Africa.
“The great film critic Roger Ebert once described movies as a machine that generates empathy, and the way that machine works is by allowing the audience to see the world through other people’s eyes,” said Justine Barda, SIFF senior programmer.
SIFF has always been a global event, but she says there's a renewed emphasis on explaining the world through film, in particular, countries like Iran and Syria, which have been targeted by the travel ban. Barda says the ban, which a judge halted, is generating some apprehension among invitees who aren't sure if they should come to Seattle for the festival.
“We'd already invited a director from Iran when the first travel ban was issued, and initially we thought that he would still be able to come, because he also has a Canadian passport. In the end, he chose not to, in part, because of the uncertainty, and also I think to register his protest, his disagreement with the policy,” Barda said.
In response, the film festival, which opens next month, is partnering with Skype to set up video chats with filmmakers in other countries who cannot travel to Seattle. SIFF is also working with a lawyer to help other Iranian filmmakers navigate the U.S. visa rules.
Organizers are still working on a final program, but say to expect a heavy emphasis on topics like immigration and refugees.
8 Borders, 8 Days is slated to run during the festival. The documentary chronicles a mother's attempts to escape Syria with her children.
“This year is special, and I think that it has given many of us on staff a renewed sense of the importance of what we do,” Barda said.
SIFF opens May 18 and runs through June 11.