SIFFRAFF's Most Surprising Cinema Moments

Monday, April 8, 2024

SIFFRAFF's Most Surprising Cinema Moments

This year’s Seattle International Film Festival ushers in 50 Years of Surprising Cinema for SIFF, a milestone achievement for all the film lovers who have come together over the past half century to delight in films that shock, awe, and inspire.

“Surprising cinema” means a lot of things–not just jump scares and plot twists (although those too!), but also unlikely new favorites, supporting characters who steal our hearts, documentaries that fundamentally shift our worldviews, and more.

We here at the SIFF office thought it would be fun to kick off the SIFFTY season by sharing some of our most surprising cinema moments with you. We look forward to hearing yours at this year’s Festival.


“The twist in Parasite - I gasped OUT LOUD in the theater enough that someone shushed me.”

–Carley Callahan, Associate Director of Festivals & Events

Everything Everywhere All At Once

“The bagel in EEAAO.”

–Laura Shapiro, Festival Marketing Outreach Associate


“Seeing the Russian counterculture jazz musical Hipsters (a.k.a. Stilyagi) at SIFF 2010 a few years before I joined staff demonstrated to me how weird SIFF programming could truly get. I still recommend that bonkers film to anybody who'll listen.”

–Marcus Gorman, SIFF Programmer and Festival Publications Editor


“Discovering I wanted to be an actor by seeing Jamie Foxx in Ray.”

–Patrick Tolden, SIFF Cinema Downtown Floor Staff

Sorry To Bother You

“In 2019, I was working as a teaching assistant for a college course called Film and Politics, which involved running weekly film screenings for the students. One week we were scheduled to show Sorry to Bother You, which I hadn’t seen or really heard too much about, so the whole “Equisapiens” thing caught me (and a lot of the students) completely off guard. Far from being just some absurdist plot twist, however, the human-horse hybrids of the film end up being a beautiful critique of today's techno-dystopian late stage capitalism. It was sad, funny, horrifying, and rallying all at the same time—totally surprising but in the most wonderful of ways.”

–Angel Cetorelli, Festival Marketing Copywriter


“The most surprising cinema moment for me was seeing Memoria at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian in April 2022. For me, this was a true 'returning to the cinemas' moment because it was such a unique film that wouldn't have resonated with me were it not for its unique presentation. The other films that I saw when I returned to cinemas were great but this really the one that made being in the cinemas a must for me. Before the film started, there was a 10 minute opening film that's only goal was to immerse you into the setting of the film through field recordings, still photographs, and sketches by the director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. In the film, Tilda Swinton is searching for the source of a loud booming noise that is following her around that only she can hear. When the first 'boom' is played over the speakers I literally got spooked in a way that I hadn't felt in a movie in nearly two years. It was an amazing moment. It was a long meditative film that I think greatly altered my view on how film can be presented and shared.”

–Carson Rennekamp, Development & Membership Manager

The Usual Suspects

“It was Kevin Spacey the WHOLE TIME. He was Keyser Söze [in The Usual Suspects]... Still blows my mind (along with that soundtrack!) Sorry if he's totally cancelled.”

–Andrea Stuart-Lehalle, Chief Operating Officer

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