Meet a SIFF Programmer: Clinton McClung

Buffy brought Clinton McClung to Seattle. The lifelong film fan, who put in his time shoveling popcorn as a 20-something, was hosting monthly screenings of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sing Along in New York City almost a decade ago. The opportunity to take the show on a U.S. tour came up, and when a midnight showing at the Egyptian Theatre sold out, McClung and his wife fell in love with our pop culture-savvy, cinema-crazed town.

So how did you land at SIFF?
I was working at Central Cinema doing film and event programming when I met with SIFF Artistic Director Carl Spence, who offered to hire me as a festival programmer in 2010. It was my first experience working for a film festival, and I had an amazing time. One day I was talking to Carl about an idea I had to present Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in an interactive format called Smell-O-Vision –with goodie bags of treats to smell as the movie plays. We scheduled a screening, I put together the details and hosted the show dressed up like an Oompa Loompa, and it sold out almost immediately! Then Carl made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: to program SIFF Cinema full time, just as we moved up the street from McCaw Hall and took over the historic Uptown Theatre. That was in 2011, so this is my fourth year as Cinema Programmer, and my fifth as a Festival Programmer.

What are the differences in year-round programming and Festival programming?
They’re fairly similar in terms of how we decide what to play—a mixture of the quality of the films, audience interest, and what we’re able to secure for exhibition (which isn’t 100% our decision, a lot of that is decided by the studios). A huge part of my job is augmenting first run film programming with a steady flow of special events, smaller indie films that don’t have huge theatrical releases, classic films, and collaborations with local organizations. Almost every week there are three or four unique programs that you won’t find anywhere else. Kind of like a year-round film festival!

Are you able to do things during the Festival that you can’t during the year—take bigger risks in any way?
During the festival our staff beefs up a lot to handle the massive planning and organization that it entails. The rest of the year we’re a much more condensed team, so we don’t have the resources to pull off too many huge events or bring in big name guests all the time. But we try and make sure to do something big and splashy every couple of months—because it’s FUN!

What’s the most rewarding thing about your job?
My favorite thing is to watch a film connect with the audience, either by sitting in the theatre and watching a film with the crowd, or leading Q&As with our guests. I also like to wear really stupid costumes and get a little dangerous on stage in order to get people psyched up for watching a movie, because there is a little bit of P.T. Barnum attitude in me.

What’s the most difficult aspect of your job?
There’s a funny perception that all I do is sit around and watch movies all day. What I really do is answer emails and plan logistics and solve problems all day. I don’t get to watch nearly as many movies as I would like to!

What’s your favorite part of Festival?
June 8 [Ed note: when it’s over]. **Rim shot**

But seriously, my favorite thing is taking my wife to a screening of a film that I’ve been talking about all year so that I can get her take on it as well. Oh, and this year I’m co-hosting the Studio 54 Experience at the Neptune, which means I’m helping to orchestrate a non-stop music video dance party right in the middle of the festival. YES!

Does the Programming team have good mix of personalities informing the picks?
The Festival program team works really well together because we all have different strengths and focuses—otherwise there’s no way we would be able to juggle so many films. That said, sometimes we have arguments about what films should or shouldn’t make the final cut, but we all respect each other’s opinion and take it into account, so we rarely come to blows. Except for Dustin Kaspar. Everyone hates that guy. (Hi, Dustin!)

Any non-SIFF movies you’ll see in the theater during Festival?
I actually just played hooky on Saturday night and went to see Mad Max: Fury Road because I could NOT wait to see that. And there was a whole audience filled with people in post-apocalyptic costumes at the screening I attended, so it felt just as crazy as some of our Festival screenings.

What’s up with Midnight Adrenaline this year?
I’m really proud of the variety of films we have this year, including two documentaries, a Danish werewolf movie, a creepy Cub Scout horror thriller, a loving homage to 80s post-apocalypse films, and one movie so gloriously strange that you will leave scratching your head in wonderment about what the heck just happened.

What of SIFF’s achievements are you most proud to be a part of?
I am most proud to be a part of the reopening the Uptown and the Egyptian theatres. Our year-round presence has expanded so much in the five years I’ve been here, and it’s all because we were willing to take a chance and step in to save these cinemas. We need more classic movie houses and less soulless multiplexes in this world! (PS – goodbye Harvard Exit. You will be sorely missed. *sniff*)

Here are Clinton’s favorites for the rest of the Fest, updated from his 2015 Programmers Picks:

I do love me some outsider cinema, and this recently unearthed passion project by a real-life “astrologer to the stars” from 1975 is a 10 on the WTF scale. Be prepared for totally nonsensical dialogue, whiplash-inducing editing, slo-mo dining, and perhaps the most meta moment in all film history.

As a kid, my Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle was my favorite toy, though I only have vague memories of the man himself. This portrait paints him as a superstar, a hero and a total bastard. Fascinating stuff.

You honestly couldn’t ask for a better double feature than these two documentaries. One is a look at the legendary B-movie studio from the 1980s whose behind-the-scenes stories are even wilder than their films. The other is an unlikely story of how many of these same films were bootlegged, dubbed, and distributed around Romania, becoming an unlikely catalyst for revolution.

Just added to the festival line-up is this fresh, fun, vibrant, and, yes, totally dope coming-of-age movie that wowed audiences at the Sundance Film Festival. At once timeless and totally modern, it feels like a contemporary Ferris Bueller’s Day Off set in South Central LA and directed by Spike Lee with a classic ’90s hip-hop soundtrack and a script as smart as Neil deGrasse Tyson. One of my favorite films not just of the festival, but of the year!

The blending of Western rock and roll and traditional Cambodian music made for a new sound so strong that even the Khmer Rouge couldn’t stop it from influencing the world (and inspiring the sound of American indie band Dengue Fever). Now the secret history is revealed.

Seriously, the scariest film I’ve seen all year is this documentary about the terrifying condition of Sleep Paralysis, a condition in which one lies awake, unable to move as the brain conjures nightmare visions. Not a film to watch just before bed, which of course makes it the perfect midnight movie.

I love me a good rom-com, and this sassy female-directed film is full of wonderfully dirty dialogue and two of my favorite comedic actors, Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie (plus, toss in Adam Scott for good measure).

A low-budget film about transsexual prostitutes on the streets in LA may not sound ripe for comedy, but Tangerine is one of the most laugh-out-loud films I’ve seen in ages. Fresh, funny, totally original, and with a donut shop finale that is not to be missed!