Entertainment TV & Film Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF): History and Winners Share PINTEREST Email Print SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 10: The SIFF Sign at the Seattle International Flim Festival world premere of "Grassroots" at Uptown Cinema on June 10, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. Dana Nalbandian / Getty Images TV & Film Movies Movie Awards Best Movie Lists Comedies Science Fiction Movies War Movies Classic Movies International Movies Movies For Kids Horror Movies Animated Films TV Shows By Christopher McKittrick Christopher McKittrick is a film writer whose work has been featured in anthologies such as 100 Entertainers Who Changed America. our editorial process Christopher McKittrick Updated February 17, 2020 The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) is an annual event held every May and June in Seattle, Washington. Since its inception in 1976, SIFF has grown to become the largest film festival in the United States, and is now a nearly month-long celebration of cinema where hundreds of films are screened. Did You Know? The first film festival to show "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) was the Seattle International Film Festival, which screened the film on May 21, 1980. History The first edition of the Seattle International Film Festival was held in 1976, and for the first several years the entire festival was held at the original Moore Egyptian Theater in Seattle, Washington. Within the first decade of SIFF's existence, the festival developed strong support from filmmakers who saw the festival as an effective event to showcase their work and much more accessible than the Cannes Film Festival, which occasionally overlaps with SIFF. Perhaps the most unique element of SIFF is its annual "Secret Festival." Since 1983, the Secret Festival has consisted of a number of films that are screened unannounced, and afterward audience members are sworn to secrecy not to reveal what they have seen (they are required to sign an Oath of Silence that even states that SIFF can pursue legal action if the oath is breached). The Secret Festival has rumored to consist of screenings of world premieres and rarely-seen prints of rare films, plus special guests. SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 12: General view of atmosphere during the Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle Award ceremony on June 12, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. Mat Hayward / Getty Images for Seattle International Film Festival SIFF established its own venue, the SIFF Film Center, located at Seattle Center in 2011, and began year-round programming. The SIFF Film Center includes the SIFF Cinema Egyptian, a single-screen movie palace housed in a former Masonic Temple and named after the theater that served as the very first venue of SIFF in 1976. It also includes a three-screen venue named the Uptown Theater. Several major films had their world premieres at SIFF, including Alien (1979), Braveheart (1995), Ghost World (2001), Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (2004), and The Notebook (2004). Notable Winners SIFF began awarding films with the 1985 edition, awarding the Golden Space Needle Awards (patterned after Seattle's landmark observation tower) for Best Film, Best Short, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director. In 1991, an award for Best Documentary was added. Today, SIFF awards many more honors each year, including jury prizes and an Ibero American Competition honoring films from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries. Over its more than 40 years of history, SIFF has featured a number of films that won major awards at the event and would later go on to gain more recognition and success. This is a partial list of some of the festival's most notable winners. 1985 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film: 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' The first Golden Space Needle for Best Film was awarded to Brazilian director Héctor Babenco, for his film adaptation of the novel Kiss of the Spider Woman. Actor William Hurt also won the festival's inaugural Best Actor award for his role in the film, and would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor as well. 1985 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Short: 'Frankenweenie' Visionary filmmaker Tim Burton directed this short for Walt Disney and, although Disney saw little commercial potential for the horror-inspired short, it helped launch Burton's live-action filmmaking career. 1989 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Short: 'Tin Toy' John Lasseter directed this computer-animated short film released by the then-fledgling company Pixar. Not only did Tin Toy go on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, it inspired the company's successful Toy Story franchise. 1990 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Short: 'Knick Knack' John Lasseter and Pixar repeated their success at SIFF the following year, again winning for Best Short for its newest animated short, Knick Knack. 1993 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film: 'The Wedding Banquet' Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee directed this Taiwan-U.S. romantic comedy film and also received the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Director. The Wedding Banquet was later nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 1994 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film: 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' The Australian comedy The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, directed by Stephan Elliott, is a groundbreaking LGBT comedy film. Actor Terence Stamp was also awarded the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actor. The movie later won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and also won the BAFTA awards for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hair. 1994 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Short: 'The Wrong Trousers' Nick Park and Aardman Animations' second stop-motion short film starring the characters Wallace and Gromit, The Wrong Trousers, not only won the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Short, but it would later win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film. 1996 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film: 'Trainspotting' English filmmaker Danny Boyle's comedy Trainspotting won Golden Space Needle awards for Best Film as well as for Best Director for Boyle. Trainspotting won the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for an Oscar in the same category. 2003 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film: 'Whale Rider' The New Zealand drama Whale Rider, directed by Niki Caro, won the Best Film and Best Director honors at the 2003 SIFF. Later, star Keisha Castle-Hughes became the then-youngest actress to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. 2009 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film: 'Black Dynamite' The cult classic blaxploitation homage Black Dynamite, directed and co-written by Scott Sanders, was not under consideration for more prestigious awards after winning the Golden Needle Space for Best Film. However, it became a popular film with audiences who appreciate its parody of 1970s action film genre conventions. 2009 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Short: 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' Fifteen years after The Wrong Trousers won the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Short, the fourth Wallace and Gromit stop-motion animation short, A Matter of Loaf and Death (again directed by Nick Park), won the same award. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Short Animation and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. 2014 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film: 'Boyhood' Filmmaker Richard Linklater's 12-years-in-the-making coming-of-age drama Boyhood won the Golden Space Needle awards for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actress for star Patricia Arquette. Boyhood received six Academy Award nominations, with Patricia Arquette winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It also won three BAFTA Awards, including Best Film and Best Direction. SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 12: Director Matt Ross (L) and actor Viggo Mortensen pose for a photo after winning the Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle Award for best film "Captain Fantastic" at the Space Needle on June 12, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Seattle International Film Festival ) 2016 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film: 'Captain Fantastic' After winning the 2016 Golden Space Needle for Best Film, the comedy-drama Captain Fantastic, which was written and directed by Matt Ross, was nominated for the Academy Award and the BAFTA for Best Actor for star Viggo Mortensen. 2018 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Documentary: 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' Director Morgan Neville's documentary about iconic American children's entertainer Fred Rogers, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, won the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Documentary. Among the many other honors it would go on to win, the documentary won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary.