From May 21st to June 14th, The SIFF will screen 268 features and 124 shorts from 62 countries over 25 days, with 31 World Premieres, 45 North American Premieres, and 13 US Premieres. SIFF is the largest film festival in the US.
All Tomorrow’s Parties-(United Kingdom/dir. Jonathan Caouette)
Lively documentary about the popular British music festival (that has luckily spread to the U.S.) that is run in a different fashion. One band is the curator and they get to hand-pick what acts will play the festival. Making money is not the main goal here, but more of hosting a fun show. This independent theme is backed up by video interviews of some legendary rock rebels throughout the film.
A unique approach was splicing video together compiled by professionals and audience members over many years to see performances from all angles. The behind-the-scenes footage is at times hilarious while at other times it’s just plain magical; like Grizzly Bear harmonizing with friends on a beach.
Expect footage from bands such as Battles, Portishead, Belle and Sebastian, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Two Gallants, GZA, Iggy Pop, Les Savy Fav, Animal Collective and tons more. This film is a must-see for any indie rock fan and an instant-purchase if the British music is your cup of tea.
5/5~ Mackenzie McAninch
Art & Copy -(USA/dir. Doug Pray)
This documentary about American advertising â€“ its history, economy, and social impact â€“ has two things going for it. One is numerous interviews with industry heavyweights including those responsible for the â€œJust Do Itâ€ and â€œGot Milkâ€ campaigns. They explain how these powerful memes are created; some are the result of long and deliberate brainstorming, others arrive unexpectedly from other sectors of society. (For example, â€œjust do itâ€ were reportedly the last words of murderer Gary Gilmore before he was executed.)
The filmâ€™s other asset is the numerous clips of classic TV commercials which, depending on your age, will take you back to your childhood and possibly beyond. Some that sent chills down my spine are the famous â€œ1984â€ spot that introduced the Macintosh computer, the fast-talking Federal Express guy, the Stepword Wives-ish â€œItâ€™s Morning Again in Americaâ€ which helped get Ronald Reagan re-elected President, and Wendyâ€™s â€œWhereâ€™s the Beef?â€ campaign, which I have a personal connection to as I typed the script for the first commercial (I worked my way through college as an ad agency secretary in New York).
Less successful is an odd framing device involving billboards, during which random factoids are thrown on screen (e.g., the average number of ad messages encountered by an American per day has increased fivefold since 1970).
4/5~ Pam Inglesby
The Baby Formula–(Canada/dir. Alison Reid)
This mockumentary explains how a lesbian woman (Athena)Â gets pregnant from “man-less sperm,” which is created from parts of a stem cell from her partner (Lillith). However, Lillith gets a little jealous and does some experimenting on her own and gets pregnant also. Although they endure some hilarious encounters alongÂ the way, their families are notÂ so amused (well,Â Lillith’s gay dad was okay with it).
But the two families get along better than expected andÂ some touching moments emerge amid allÂ of the chaos, confusion, comedy and drama. The plot is pretty clever, but the film can be rather cheesy at times. Although it does make you wonder if this could be a preview to a real science experiment.
Bluebeard-(France/dir. Catherine Breillat)
A very female retelling of the French fairy tale about a young girl, recently made poor, who both helps her family and pursues adventure by marrying a wealthy man whose previous wives have all mysteriously disappeared.
During their short and chaste marriage, the spunky Mary-Catherine grows fond of the gently, aging, and not particularly threatening Bluebeard, who takes the place of the father she recently lost; in turn, he reluctantly hands her the key to the forbidden room that they both know will lead to a bad end for one of them. When the climax comes, it feels more like a coming-of-age ritual than the defeat of a villain.
The film cuts back and forth between the story and the telling of it, by a young girl in contemporary times (perhaps a stand-in for filmmaker Catherine Breillat) trying to scare her older but more timid sister. This story has its own climax, which speaks to the power of storytelling itself, and the importance of sisterhood links the two tales together. I loved everything about this movie, from the formal cinematography to the spirited performances of the young actresses to the intellectual but not heavy-handed approach. And itâ€™s onlyÂ eighty minutes, which feels just right.
Carmo, Hit the Road– (Spain/Dir. Murilo Pasta)
The attractive/young Carmo is an ornaryÂ drifter Â who gets involved with the paraplegic Marco, who might be her only remaining ray of hope to return to her family and a normal lifestyle. At first Marco treats her poorly, but after he gets robbed of his possessions, he is forced to adapt to the company of Carmo. After a while, they discover they can hustle pretty well together. However, eventually gang-banging, gambling and even murder make their way into the equation.
The freeze-frame introductions are similar to the character intoductionsÂ in Guy Ritchie’s film Snatch. Much like that film, just when you think you have Carmo, Hit the Road mapped out, the ending takes a turn you might not expect.
Director Murilo Pasta expected to attend both screenings
Daddy Cool- (France/dir. Francois Desagnat, Thomass Sorriaux)
A goofy, French comedy aboutÂ a bio-chemist father who is put on duty to take care of his fifteen-year-old daughter for a few months, though he has always been out of her life and knows basically nothing about her…or parenting…a teenager.
The loveÂ for his daughter drives Philippe to work harder to be a part of Eglantine’s life, and to stop being so “lametastic.” Though extremely fictional, there are someÂ hilarious situations in this movie and it just passes the restrictions of being family friendly.
The Family Picture Show 2009-This seventy-nine minute â€œpackageâ€ consists of ten short films, mostly animated and all family-friendly. The big draw is the new Wallace and Gromit claymation comedy, A Matter of Loaf and Death, which is basically Nick Parkâ€™s previous work in new clothing but will likely please fans of the somewhat dim inventor (now inexplicably a baker) and his resourceful dog. Wallace falls in love, Gromit solves a mystery, and everything works out in the end.
My favorite in the lot is Western Spaghetti by the brilliant stop-motion animator PES, who re-purposes everyday objects to astonishing and often hilarious result. Here, pick-up sticks become spaghetti cooked over a candy corn flame; in a less family-friendly short available on his website (http://www.eatpes.com), two armchairs have wild sex on a rooftop. Would someone please nominate this guy for a MacArthur genius grant? Many of the shorts feel like (and indeed are) childrenâ€™s books brought to life, such as Lane Smithâ€™s Madame President, in which a girl walks through her typical day conducting herself as if she were Commander-in-Chief.
Although all the shorts are visually sophisticated, a few rise above the fray; Crane and Digger, about the relationship between two construction vehicles, makes excellent use of expressionist black and white drawings, while Dear Fatty places what appears to be a real hamster within gorgeous drawn and painted backdrops.
Hansel & Gretel-(South Korea/dir. YimPhil-sung)
A car accident leaves a young man stranded in the forest, where he is led by a lovely child to a charming cottage named â€œHome of Happy Children.â€ There he meets the rest of her family, who arenâ€™t quite normal: the parents seem a bit scared of the children, who eat cupcakes and candy for dinner in a room decorated with paintings of bunnies. The parents disappear, weird notices emit from the attic, and the young man canâ€™t walk away from the cottage without eventually returning.
What appears to be a fairy tale turns into a horror film as bodies begin to surface, a threatening stranger appears, and the hero learns of the childrenâ€™s horrific past. The film asks the unsettling question, what would happen if children â€“ demanding, selfish, unforgiving â€“ were allowed to have their way? Hansel & Gretel is visually effective in its sophisticated blend of live action, special effects and distinctive sets (reminiscent of the recent Coraline), and maintains suspense without becoming overly violent. It ultimately runs too long, though, and becomes sentimental and didactic at the end.
Director Yim Phil-sung expected to attend May 27 and May 29 screenings
The Headless Woman-(Argentina/dir. LucreciaMartel)
A bourgeois dentist strikes something with her car on the way home, and doesnâ€™t know (or doesnâ€™t want to know) what it was. Over the course of several days, as she tries to return to the routine of daily life, she gradually admits that it was not a dog, as she has told her family, but a person.
The movie is told largely through the facial expressions of the excellent Maria Onetto, who withvery little dialogue, masterfully conveys denial, confusion and guilt. As the men in her life refuse to listen, and even cover up what she has done, it becomes clear that the story is about silencing â€“ both of women and of anything that a society doesnâ€™t want to know. Given that the film was made in a part of the world were dissidents used to routinely be â€œdisappeared,â€ the film raises questions about taking responsibility and the importance of bearing witness. Although the filmâ€™s deliberate pacing and minimal style made it seem too long as I was watching it, I can still feel it with me days later.
Independent America: Rising from Ruins-(USA/dir. Hanson Hosein)
A few stats about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans: $81 billion in damage; over one million people displaced and only 5-10% returned; 80% of the city was submerged; over 1,800 people died. How does a city bounce back from that? Through community power, that’s how; and Director Hanson Hosein pours all of this soul into one documentary.
Many of the chain conglomerate stores never returned and even though the mom-and-pop stores re-built their businesses, not enough people have returned to the city for them to flourish. Deep-pocket giants like Starbucks gave up on New Orleans and didn’t return, but some smaller coffee shops were back in business within weeks after Katrina, which really gave the community something to cling to.
The government has been happy to assist large corporations like Cabella’s and Walmart, but not the smaller companies that really need it. New Orleans is more than a city; it’s a way of life. This film is a prime example on how a city in distress got back on it’s feet and it shows other places that might be struggling how to return to a form of normalcy.
Director Hanson Hosein is expected to attend both screenings
Light Year-(Sweden/dir. Mikael Kristersson)
This documentary starts with a leisurely eight-minute tracking shot of filmmaker Mikael Kristerssonâ€™s back yard and garden, exposing us to a sumptuous array of flora and fauna that the rest of the film will wordlessly explore in depth over the course of the next year. Long takes of birds, plants, insects, cats, water and even humans reveal the hidden beauty of nature that is revealed to those patient enough to stop and observe.
Reality provides the plot: a mother bird feeds her young, bees build a hive, an icicle melts. Thereâ€™s even some drama as a bee eats a caterpillar and a baby bird corpse is discovered. Unlike in recent crowd-pleasing nature films, everything here is familiar and mundane; thereâ€™s no penguins or rousing soundtrack, only moths and a vegetable garden and the sound of cheeping birds over the hum of passing traffic. Once I adjusted to the rhythm of this movie, I found it mesmerizing, and an exercise in meditation. Needless to say, the photography is gorgeous.
Morris: A Life With Bells On-(United Kingdom/dir. Lucy Akhurst)
A small town British folk dancer gets in trouble with the draconian â€œMorris Circleâ€ and must reinvent his life in America in this fake documentary comedy. I would like it better if it was just a straightforward comedy about a bunch of quirky characters (ala Napoleon Dynamite) without all the interviews, which arenâ€™t very funny and detract from the story. (Enough with the mockumentaries already!) The film is mildly amusing and includes a few memorable bits and pieces, especially an American philanthropist based on George Soros. If it sounds like youâ€™d like it, you probably will.
Writer, producer and actor Charles Thomas Oldhamexpected to attend both screenings
Nurse.Fighter.Boy– (Canada/dir. Charles Officer)
Jude is a widow who has a touching love for her tween son, Ciel. But she does have daily battles of raising a boy, working a full-time job and a medical illness. Through a couple of chance encounters, she becomes involved with a washed-up boxer (Silence) who fights illegally for money and is dealing with a death of his own. The one thing the three of them have in common is their love of vintage music.
When her illness gets worse, Silence agrees to watch after Ciel for a little while until things get better. A heart-string-tugging ending will keep the viewer on the edge of their seat.
Director Charles Officer expected to attend May 22 and May 23 screenings
Small Crime-(Cyprus/ dir. Christos Georgiou)
In this romantic comedy/murder mystery set on the island of Cyprus, a bored small town cop investigates a supposedly accidental death in hopes of winning a transfer to the big city. As it turns out, the dead man had a connection to the townâ€™s pride, a local girl who left and became a TV personality. Now sheâ€™s back, helping our hero track down the killer and falling for him in the process. This is lightweight, familiar stuff; if it was American, it would be a made-for-TV movie on Lifetime. The exotic setting helps a little, but not enough.
Snow-(Bosnia-Herzegovina/dir. Aida Begic)
Set in Bosnia in 1997, in a village decimated by the war, Snow chronicles the lives of the mostly female survivors who have difficulty facing the future as they still mourn their lost husbands, fathers and children. One feisty young widow, Alma, wants to build up the villageâ€™s cannery into a business. Others are more defeatist; their attachment to the past, as demonstrated by the relics they worship (a razor, a pair of glasses) and the games they play (a form of Charades in which they impersonate massacred family members) interferes with their ability to move forward. Almaâ€™s differences with the others is brought to a head when two Serb businessmen appear, offering to buy the village for development. They offer the women a new future, elsewhere, but what the women need is closure on the past.
Everything about this movie is excellent, from the well-crafted script to the beautiful cinematography to the highly believable performances. This is the kind of movie they made international film festivals for, so we can learn about each other through art.
SÃ¼gisball–(Estonia/dir. Veiko Ã–unpuu)
A haggard man stands on the balcony of his apartment, gazing forlornly into the distance. Is he going to jump? Instead he returns inside, where he confronts his wife who is about to leave him. He kisses her then tries to kill her. As she leaves, he tosses down a handful of pills.
This sets the stage for a bleak yet darkly comic portrait of the lives of a diverse group of modern-day Estonians who happen to live in the same apartment complex. In addition to the would-be suicide, we also meet a pretentious architect and his depressed wife, a lonely single mother, and a ladiesâ€™ man who canâ€™t find a woman who will take him seriously.
The plot, such as it is, comprises the small defeats and victories that make up most of our lives, and the characters are treated with empathy and clear-eyed insight. What I like most about this touching portrait of modern day Estonian existentialism is the tone, as funny, absurd moments are placed cheek-to-cheek with acts of violence and despair, blurring the line between comedy and tragedy. Melancholy music, muted colors, and understated performances support the filmâ€™s thesis, as stated by the man on the balcony, gazing out over the apartment complex: â€œIn every fucking box out there, there is a human being trying to be happy.â€
Terribly Happy -(Denmark/dir. Henrik Ruben Genz)
Due to some undisclosed bad behavior, big city cop Robert has been banished to a small Norwegian town in this modern film noir. As the new marshal, he is soon seduced by femme fatale Ingelise, an abused wife married to the town bully, and mother to a pigtailed little girl who reminds Robert of his own daughter he is forbidden to see. Robert gradually integrates himself into the town, which doesnâ€™t like strangers, by taking on the habits of the previous marshall, and â€“ after a plot-shifting incident I canâ€™t reveal â€“ helping put the bully in his place. The movie borrows a lot from American directors; I actually found myself saying â€œthat dialogue is Coen brothers,â€ â€œthat character is pure David Lynch,â€ etc. The Norwegian setting freshens the noirconcept a bit, but I prefer my suspense with some original sensibility, not mashed up like a smoothie.
Trimpin: The Sound of Invention–(dir. Peter Esmonde)
German import Trimpin (the only name he goes by) is a Seattle-based mad-scientist inventor (or Sound-Installation Artist) and this film is a documentary on the how and why he makes crafty musical inventions. He has no cell phone, no websites, doesn’t like recorded music or loud speakers. However he once wrote out on a napkin a detailed description on how a piano could tune itself while simultaneously being played…with the help of a computer.
My first question of “how does he fund this?” was eventually answered when Trimpin won a $250,000 MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 1997. Plus, Microsoft guru Paul Allen hand-picked Trimpin to create the massive Guitar Gallery at Seattle’s Experience Music Project.
Although the film was on the right track in wanting to showcase such a remarkable inventor, the film really drags on in a dry way, much like the personality of Trimpin. He’s simply too smart for the audience to connect with him. Interesting movie idea, but it’s just not very high on the scale of importance these days.
Director Peter Esmonde and subject Trimpin expected to attend May 22 and May 23 screenings