SIFF 2013 Wrap-Up

37 feature-length films.

16 shorts.

1 TV pilot.

6 parties.

Multiple Q & A’s.

Such was my experience at the 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

While SIFF 2013 ended five months ago, the films it showcased (276 features, plus shorts) will continue to trickle out until SIFF 2014 — if they’re lucky.  Others will be relegated to the forgotten scrap-heap of movie history, collecting dust until someone rediscovers them, or until they are buried forever.

In an effort to prevent the worthy films I saw from being relegated to that same scrap-heap, I have written these blog entries, starting with Press Screenings-Week One and ending with the one I am writing now.  In between are all the films I saw, most of the films I heard about, the guests I met, the parties I went to, and the adventures I had.

Now, as mentioned in Press Screenings-Week Two, I received a Fool Serious Ballot this year.  That ballot was turned in on Saturday, when the last official ballots were collected by SIFF for its Golden Space Needle Awards.  That meant that any films shown on the final day of the festival were not voted on.  The only films not eligible for Golden Space Needle Awards are the archival and secret festival films; the only films not eligible for the Fool Serious Ballot are the ones which didn’t play during the festival.  

There’s some strange mathematical formula that decides who wins the Golden Space Needle Awards, based not just on ballots, but on percentages, so that films with small audiences have as good a shot of winning as those with large ones.  There are also juries to decide some of the other awards, with the added bonus that the winner of each of the Shorts Categories are automatically eligible for Oscar consideration.  Here’s who won (I’ve starred the ones I saw during the festival):

Grand Jury Prizes

Best New Director: Emir Baigazin (Harmony Lessons)

Best Documentary: Our Nixon

Best New American Cinema: C.O.G.

Animated Short Film: Woody*

Documentary Short Film: Keep a Modest Head

Live Action Short Film: My Right Eye (The Apple of my Eye)

Youth Jury Award for Best FutureWave Feature: The Spectacular Now*

Youth Jury Award for Best Films4Families Feature: Ernest & Celestine

Wavemaker Award for Excellence in Youth Filmmaking: The Painted Girl

Special Jury Prize

Best Documentary: The Crash Reel

Animated Short Film: Malaria*

Animated Short Film: The Hunter*

Documentary Short Film: Today

Live Action Short Film: Mobile Homes

Live Action Short Film: Penny Dreadful

Live Action Short Film: Decimation

Youth Jury Award for Best FutureWave Feature: Blackbird*

Golden Space Needle Awards

Best Film: Fanie Fourie’s Lobola

Best Documentary: Twenty Feet from Stardom

Best Director: Nabil Ayouch, Horses of God*

Best Actor: James Cromwell, Still Mine

Best Actress: Samantha Morgan, Decoding Annie Parker

Best Short Film: Spooners

FutureWave Shorts Audience Award: Piece of Cake

Reel NW Award (presented by KCTS 9):  Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision (presented by Women in Film/Seattle): The Punk Singer

TheFilmSchool Prodigy Camp Scholarship: A Quest for Peace: Nonviolence Among Religions

For more information about the award winners, click here.

Now, a story about the Fool Serious Ballot: since I didn’t watch any films on Saturday, and since my friend was starving after the Industry Party (remember: they ran out of appetizers early on), we ended up driving to Capitol Hill so that I could turn in my ballot at the Egyptian Theatre (now sadly closed), and she could get something to eat.  There had been at least one person who had been collecting ballots at the Industry Party, but he didn’t announce himself, and I was unable to get his attention before he disappeared.  Showing up at the Egyptian, I ran into some other people with ballots, and one guy who knew where they needed to be dropped off.  With mine, I had included a self-addressed stamped envelope, along with $1, in order to have my personal results mailed to me (which is different from the award results).  The other option was to go to the Fool Serious party the following month and pick up the results there.  As for food, I would highly recommend the Lost Lake Cafe & Lounge, particularly if you’re looking for places whose kitchens are open late (and serve delicious food).

Just as Fool Serious ballots are collected on the final day that Golden Space Needle ballots are collected, Fool Serious Award winners are decided the same day as the Golden Space Needle winners, with the results passed around on Sunday.  So, when I went to see Phase IV, I received a sheet of paper with the results.  The most liked films were (in order) Secret Festival #2, The Hunt, Still Mine, Circles, Two Lives, A Hijacking, The Attack, Muscle Shoals, Key of Life, and In the Shadow.  Of the films listed, I only saw The Hunt, which is a really good film.  I told Beth Barrett (Director of Programming) that, because Secret Festival #2 got the highest number of votes, we would never know what film won that year.  

“Yes,” she laughed, then paused.  “But it was really good.”

The least liked films (from most-least liked to least-least liked) were Eden*, Together, Interior. Leather Bar., Dog Flesh, I Used to Be Darker, Teddy Bears, Last Flight to Abuja, Crystal Fairy, Youth, and Improvement Club.  I saw none of those films.  The top documentaries were The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Stories We Tell, The Last Ocean, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story.  I saw Stories We Tell after festival, which is outstanding.  All the rest (except the Muhammad Ali doc) were films I wanted to see, but missed.  Top archival presentations were Safety Last!, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Richard III, and A Man Vanishes.  I wasn’t as impressed with Safety Last! as I thought I’d be, but I did enjoy it, as I did Richard III and A Man Vanishes.  If Phase IV had been shown any other day of the festival besides Sunday, I’m sure it would have been up there, as well.

In addition to most and least liked films, the Fools voted on films  in the style of the Golden Space Needle Awards.  These results are below (note: the results only listed the movie titles, so I have provided the names of the people involved, where appropriate):

Best Director: Nabil Ayouch, Horses of God

Best Cinematographer: Florent Herry, Jin

Best Script: Laure Gasparotto, Gilles Legrand, Delphine de Vigan, You Will Be My Son

Best Music: Various, Twenty Feet From Stardom

Best Actor: Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt

Best Actress: Martina Gedeck, The Wall

Best “Guilty Pleasure”: Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Now then, the Fool Serious Ballot operates on an entirely different scale from the Golden Space Needle ballots.  While the latter involves a 1 to 5 scale, 1 being awful and 5 being awesome, the Fools rate films on a 1 to 9 scale, with 1 being the absolute best film seen at the Festival, and 9 being the least liked.  Here, then, are my rankings:

Least Liked (9): A Teacher

Not the worst film I’ve ever seen, but bad on so many levels, with the biggest fault being a lead character that didn’t lend herself to empathy, but merely disgust.

Way Below Average (8):  N/A

Below Average (7): Ripples of Desire, Two Weddings and a Funeral, Yellow

Yellow is the worst of these, Two Weddings and a Funeral is stereotypical and clichéd, and Ripples of Desire isn’t very original in its characters or situations.

Average (6): Augustine, Dirty Wars, Fatal, The Human Scale

All these films fell just short of being good.

Above Average (5): Capturing Dad, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, The Girl With Nine Wigs, Goltzius and the Pelican Company, Her Aim is True, Imagine, Ludwig II, Safety Last!, Short Stories, The Wall, Wish You Were Here, (Phase IV)

Films of varying quality, with some of the above average films being good, and some being just above average.  I put Phase IV in parentheses because this is the rating I would have given it, if ballots hadn’t been closed by then.  My favorites of this bunch are probably Capturing Dad, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, The Girl With Nine Wigs, Goltzius and the Pelican Company, Her Aim is True, Safety Last!, and Phase IV, but even those films cover a wide range of quality and likability.

Great (4): After Winter, Spring; In the Fog; Inch’Allah; Inequality for All; A Man Vanishes; Much Ado About Nothing; Richard III; Short Term 12; The Summit 

All great films, though some I enjoyed more than others.  A Man Vanishes, for example, took some time to really take off, and In the Fog requires one to be in a certain mood, as the pacing is deliberate.

And now we get to my top films of the festival, starting with —

Truly Great (3): Blackbird, Blackfish, Horses of God, The Hunt, The Spectacular Now, What Maisie Knew

Of the ones listed here, The Spectacular Now would be at the top of the list, with Horses of God not far behind.  After that, take your pick.  These are all truly great films.

Almost Best (2): The Act of Killing

For a while, I wondered if any film I saw at the festival would equal or surpass this one.  A mind-blowing documentary that forces regular men to view their crimes through a movie lens.  Just astonishing.

Absolute Best (1): Wolf Children

The antithesis of The Act of Killing.  Whereas the latter is a live-action documentary about old men, the former is an animated fantasy film about children.  If The Act of Killing is an eye-opener into how evil truly operates, Wolf Children reaffirms the beauty of life.  I admire The Act of Killing, but I love Wolf Children.

Below are my picks for the Fool Serious Awards:

Best Director: Mamoru Hosoda, Wolf Children

It was the best film I saw at the festival, so it made sense that its director would be my pick for best director.  James Ponsoldt, director of The Spectacular Now, would also have been a good choice.

Best Cinematographer: Oleg Mutu, In the Fog

The lighting in this film made me want to move to Eastern Europe, or at least take my camera there.

Best Script: Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright, What Maisie Knew

Not only did the writers update a Henry James novel to modern times; they kept the same limited perspective on what Maisie notices, and were able to make a cohesive story around it, so that the audience infers more than Maisie does.

Best Music: Wolf Children

I didn’t see Twenty Feet from Stardom until after the festival, and all the other music-centric movies passed me by.  Therefore, I chose this film, which has quite a beautiful soundtrack.

Best Actor: Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt

Mikkelsen is a great actor, and he proves it in this film.  The scene where he breaks down in the church pew is incredible, not least because he’s not acting opposite anyone, but is alone in his grief.

Best Actress: Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now

This was a tough category.  I almost went with Onata Aprile (Maisie), since she had to carry the entire movie, but Woodley impressed me in The Descendents, and here she plays a completely different and natural teenage girl.  She’s so good, you never catch her acting.

Best “Guilty Pleasure”: Comrade Kim Goes Flying

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a joyful film, and the characters are so earnest in their roles that even nods to “Our Great Leader” left me smiling, instead of repulsed.  It’s impossible to hate, even though much of it is ridiculous.

Final Thoughts

This was the second year I worked the festival  (though the first doing press screenings) and my fourth year overall (I volunteered the first two years).  When the festival ends, many of the temporary staff leave for other festivals, but this year we also said goodbye to two long-time staff members.  Deborah Person’s last SIFF as Managing Director was Mary Bacarella’s first, while Holden Payne left the Cinema Manager position to work for Sundance.  Both staff members had been there for years, though I believe Holden wasn’t cinema manager until my second year volunteering.

And now, some personal thank yous are in order:

To Beth Barrett, Director of Programming, for emailing me the entire text of Joshua Oppenheimer’s letter, which Beth read before each screening of The Act of Killing.

To Dan Doody, Programmer, for confirming the name of the Shortsfest Opening Night guest as being Neil Dvorak (for “Overture”).

To Phoebe Hopkins, Special Events Manager, for outdoing herself this year with the quality of the parties.

To my partners-in-crime during the press screenings, including the passholders.  It was a joy to work with/serve you!

To the volunteers, who pulled off what many long-timers have said is the most smoothly run festival they’ve seen.

To everyone else who helped make this festival a success, including everyone working in the SIFF offices, the floor staff, the sponsors, the venues, the guests, and the audiences.

And finally, to the two people most responsible for these blog entries.  I always enjoyed reading Roger Ebert’s coverage of the major film festivals, including Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance.  Some of his Far-Flung Correspondents lived in areas where they could cover other festivals, yet none of them lived in Seattle.  So, when I first came to Seattle and decided to volunteer for the film festival, I  decided to write about my festival experience on my blog.  In addition to Roger’s correspondences from film festivals, I relied on the blog of someone who would later become one of the FFCs, Grace Wang, who had reported on films at the Toronto Film Festival, which is how Roger discovered her, and how I discovered her through him.  In fact, during my first Seattle International Film Festival, I made sure to see City of Life and Death due to her review of the film.

Over four festivals, I’ve changed how I reported on it, deciding on a different template each year.  This year was probably the closest to Roger’s (and his contributors) format, in that I mentioned a short blurb about the films I had seen, while expanding those blurbs for films that I thought were interesting or worthy of being highlighted.  Still, the only thing I directly copied from his influence, and from Grace’s, was in covering a film festival.

As mentioned in my first post about the festival proper, this year’s posts are dedicated to Roger Ebert.  I hope he would have been proud of me.

Until next year!