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Seattle mayoral candidates stump on favorite films

The classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" is among the choices made by a handful of Seattle mayoral candidates for a weekend film series where they'll introduce their favorite movie and discuss their picks. (AP file)

When it comes to deciding who to vote for in the Seattle mayor’s race, forget boring old budgets, transportation, housing or other issues. How about casting your ballot based on their taste in movies instead?

That’s exactly what the wonks at noted Seattle political blog Publicola thought when they brought the idea to the Northwest Film Forum, and got the candidates to bite.

NWFF will present a series of movies July 5-8 selected by each of the candidates to demonstrate the “cinematic examples that inspire their personal political style and philosophy.”

Five of the candidates, including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, will introduce their picks and discuss why they chose it.

“In an age when the relevancy of art in relation to society has become increasingly disjointed, Mayoral Movies provides a focused example of art in practice: this program promises to pack more punch than Limbaugh, Olbermann, or any episode of The Newsroom,” touts the program description.

KIRO Radio’s award-winning film critic Tom Tangney thinks it’s a great way to learn something more about the candidates.

“I love this. It gets the politicians out of their comfort zone and talking points,” Tangney says. “When you get down to something like movie tastes, you might get a little insight into what really makes them tick. Something that breaks through the typical political cant, political rhetoric they normally give you.”

McGinn selected the 1962 courtroom classic “To Kill a Mockingbird”, starring Gregory Peck as a passionate white lawyer defending a wrongly accused black man.

“I think it’s a good and bad choice,” Tangney says. “It’s everything that we want in a film and our heroes. It’s a great movie, but it’s a little on the safe side because I don’t know anybody that will criticize that one.”

State Senator Ed Murray will introduce his pick “The Wind That Shakes The Barley,” a 2006 Irish film about the struggle for Irish independence at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Tangney says it’s a surprising pick, because even though the film appeared on a number of top-10 lists, it wasn’t widely seen.

“If nothing else, it shows Murray’s a sophisticated film-goer,” Tangney says. “The film is very complex. It isn’t black and white. Not all the Irish rebels are pure, and not all the British soldiers are bad. It actually is a very tempered look at the complexities of the Irish troubles.”

Tangney also praises Greenwood neighborhood activist Kate Martin’s choice of The Watergate reality-flick “All The President’s Men” from 1976, featuring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as groundbreaking Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein.

“She’s an activist fighting the establishment. What better movie to choose than a movie about a couple of inexperienced journalists taking down what we thought of as one of the most corrupt presidencies. It’s the power of individuals to make a difference.”

City Councilman Bruce Harrell chose “Papillon,” the dark 1976 story of a brutal life spent in a French penal colony, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.

“I’m really fascinated to see what it is about Papillon that really inspired him,” Tangney says. “It’s a great movie that was very popular, but it doesn’t have the same iconic status or reputation as some of the other picks.”

Perhaps the most surprising selection is former City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck choosing 2007’s “Buddy, The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Notorious Mayor.” The documentary profiles Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, the longest-serving mayor in modern day history.

Tangney says he would have expected Steinbrueck to pick something more recognizable or safe like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” especially after facing some controversy for reading a book passage in a black dialect during a recent forum that featured the candidate’s literary selections.

“It’s definitely unconventional. Peter Steinbrueck continues to operate outside of the norm or mainstream, which I think a lot of people can see as a positive,” Tangney says.

The organizers of the series say their goal is to “mend the fracture between art and civics by employing the town square format of civic dialogue.”

“I’m impressed with the quality of the choices,” Tangney says. “I can’t wait to hear their reasoning.”

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