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Finding magic in a dark Seattle movie theater

Beth Barrett cheerfully confesses that she almost flunked the only film studies class she took when she was a student at the University of Iowa.

“I failed the midterm, but I wrote an amazing final paper and pulled my grade up to a B+,” she laughs.

She may not have been a film studies whiz, but Barrett loved movies; she spent hours of at the campus theater.

More than 20 years later, Barrett still revels in cinema. In fact, she’s made it her profession.

Barrett is Director of Programming for the Seattle International Film Festival–SIFF.

Recommended: 10 Films You Should See At SIFF This Year

She traces her passion back to her teens.

“I had just gotten my driver’s license,” she recalls, “and I drove to the cinema in Wheaton, Illinois, by myself, and I sat and watched “The Killing Fields.”

That was 1984.

When Barrett moved to Seattle nine years later, she was a pastry chef, but she still had a yen for movies. In May, 1994, she bought six SIFF tickets.


Pretty soon Barrett stopped baking and started volunteering for SIFF. Eventually, the organization hired her to work on its programming staff.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” she acknowledges. “As the organization grew, I moved with it.”

Barrett calls Seattle a movie Mecca, and not only because it rains a lot.

“I think people in Seattle are, by nature, interested in things going on around them.”

She credits that curiosity for the strong local support for the arts.

Barrett’s revving up for SIFF’s annual extravaganza: 25 days and more than 400 films.

After all these years, Barrett still gets excited when she discovers a new filmmaker who tells an old story in a fresh way.

“You never know when it’s going to happen,” she says. “You never know if that film that you are ‘eh’ about is going to be the one that changes your life!”

SIFF opens Thursday, May 19 with the Seattle premiere of Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Café Society.”

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Recommended: 10 films Beth Barrett thinks you should see at SIFF 2016