Battle in Seattle, first-time director Stuart Townsend’s fictional drama about the 1999 anti-globalization protests of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, will open the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival on Thursday, May 22.
Charlize Theron (Townsend’s longtime girlfriend) leads a cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Michelle Rodriguez, Martin Henderson, André Benjamin, Joshua Jackson, Rade Serbedzija, Connie Nielsen, and Ray Liotta (as the fictional Seattle Mayor Jim Tobin).
The announcement is the earliest such I can remember – the opening night film has often been a question mark right down to the deadline – and the choice is one of the most appropriate Seattle Fest openers (ironies aside) since Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha, which was partially set and shot in Seattle. The irony of Battle in Seattle is that this drama about the politically-charged issue of economic globalization was largely shot up north in Vancouver. You might say the location was outsourced to the less expensive Canadian city.
The film premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival and has since played at the Vancouver (appropriately enough) and Cleveland film festivals. Charlize Theron is expected to attend the opening night screening and festivities with director Townsend, supplying opening night with a little star power.
SIFF is rarely in the running for big-name premieres – one notable exception was the world premiere of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, which opened SIFF 1995 and went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars – and has a spotty record of opening night choices. When programmers were not so concerned with premieres, we ended up with films like The Whole Wide World (1996, from SIFF co-founder Dan Ireland), Miranda July’s You and Me and Everyone We Know (2005) and Son of Rambow (2007, and now finally getting its much-deserved release). These are films that still linger in the mind as something interesting. (Much less memorably, we got The Notebook in 2004). When holding for the bragging rights of a premiere, we got the World Premieres of Igby Goes Down (2002) and Addicted to Love (1997) and the North American Premiere of Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labor Lost (2000). Remember those? Exactly.
I can’t say how Battle in Seattle will stack up to this (I missed it at both Toronto and Vancouver), but at least it resonates with the city. And it certainly reminds us of the last time we were the focus of the entire world.
SIFF runs May 22 through June 15. The official website is here.