Closing Night Film and Gala — Sunday, April 24

Despite this being my 11th SIFF, I’ve never been to the Closing Night Film. Unlike Opening Night, where there’s often been room for staff to attend, Closing Night tends to sell out early in the festival, so while I’ve often gone to the Gala, I’ve always skipped the movie.

If there was any year that I should’ve gone, this year was the year — less for the film itself (though it was filmed in my home state), and more for what happened at the theater.

On Saturday, one of my friends told me he’d heard that the Egyptian was only showing rentals once the festival was over. I hadn’t heard that bit of information, but my sources confirmed that was the case on Sunday. I also heard the workers might strike, and since I was going to the Closing Night movie — which was being held at the Egyptian — I assumed they’d be striking during that screening, as that would give them the most visibility.

When I got there, I went to where the ticket line was, since I wasn’t sure if they were letting in ticket holders yet (there wasn’t anyone in the line, just a marker where the beginning of the line should start). Someone asked if I was seeing the movie, and when I said yes, they gave me a slip of paper, which I at first thought was a placeholder, such as SIFF has done in the past for passholders so they could get out of line, but still be guaranteed entrance if the passholder allocation was filled while they were gone. This was not something they did for ticket holders, but maybe they did it for Closing Night? But as this person spoke to me, I realized what they had handed me was something quite different.

After looking at this paper, I noticed some people standing off to the side of the sidewalk — some of whom I recognized as Egyptian employees (and in at least one case, a former employee). Since I was early to the movie, I decided to stand with them in solidarity and observe.

One of the full-time staff working the event seemed very agitated that the year-round staff had decided to walkout. At one point, she walked up the line and pointed a finger at each of them while saying, “Don’t make a scene. Don’t make a scene. Don’t make a scene,” to which someone coming to the movie disagreed with, saying, “You SHOULD make a scene.” Another time the staffer said they should’ve just stayed home instead of coming into work that day. I saw another staff member usher ticket holders and passholders to the entrance if she thought one of the cinema staff were talking to them for too long. One person heading into the theater only cared that their movie experience wasn’t disturbed, but most people at least took the paper, and one person came back for another one. About 10 minutes to showtime, one of the staff wondered if they would be fired.

At about this time, I wished them good luck and headed inside (after overhearing from that full-time staffer that an email was going to be sent out), and saw a small group of people head to concessions and then turn right around and head to the theater when they realized no one was manning the counter (one person was manning the smaller concession stand on the right side of the theater — the same place where the drinks were served for the press launch).

Remember how I said how Closing Night sold out quickly in past festivals? Not so here. In fact, it might’ve been a bit less full than my first night at Noir City. I’d say there were maybe 100 people in a place that holds 500+.

Call Jane (Phyllis Nagy, 2022, USA, 121 min) — 6:00PM @ Egyptian

Photo courtesy of SIFF

Beth Barrett came out to introduce the film and to tell us there’d be a Zoom Q&A afterwards with the director. She then thanked the Board of Directors, members, and sponsors, and mentioned how film brings us together as a community, which I was trying to square with what I’d just seen outside. And the fact that this movie is about a (different) right that had to be fought for.

The film begins in August 1968 in Chicago, where we follow a well-dressed woman walk out of a hotel and into a line of cops. One of them notices her and tells her to stand back, as there’s a protest going on. We hear the protestors chanting, but she heads inside before one of the activists gets shoved against the glass and we can see the cops beating them in silhouette with their batons. She mentions to her husband that the cops are the same age as the protestors.

The woman’s name is Joy (Elizabeth Banks) and we soon find out that she is pregnant, and the pregnancy is negatively affecting her heart. Her doctor recommends going to the board at the hospital and getting an exception in order to terminate the pregnancy, where they talk as if she isn’t in the room and are only concerned with the fact the child might be born healthy. They unanimously deny the exception.

Joy thinks about throwing herself down the stairs, but can’t go through with it. Next is to convince two psychiatrists that she will harm herself, where one gives her a note in case she can’t convince the other psychiatrist. The note leads her to an abortion clinic in a run-down part of town, but it’s so unwelcoming that she runs out in terror. And then she finds stickers with a number on it to “call Jane.” For $600, she gets an abortion there from Dean (Cory Michael Smith), which he describes as he goes along, and then is served pasta and periodically checked on by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), the matriarch of the group.

The rest of the film witnesses Joy’s transformation from typical white suburban housewife to abortion doctor and activist, all the while hiding these facts from her daughter Charlotte (Grace Edwards) and husband Will (Chris Messina).

The organization this film is about, the Jane Collective, actually existed, and they performed 12,000 procedures before they were raided and shut down without losing a single woman (as the movie tells us) — despite the fact that none of the women who performed abortions there was a doctor (couldn’t be in those days) or a nurse. The movie ends with the Roe vs Wade decision in 1973, which finally makes abortion legal.

This film is great at noticing details that show the indignities women faced in the not-too-distant past. From being ignored by the hospital board to needing her husband’s signature to withdraw money from the bank (she forges it so she can pay for the abortion), to poor women and people of color not being able to afford the options that Joy can, to the fact that women can’t become doctors, to the illegality of abortions, this film does a great job in recreating this world and its injustices. It’s these details and the strong performances that makes this a really good film, and a timely reminder of a not-too-distant history that we’ll see ourselves sliding back into if the bastards win.

Q&A

Beth Barrett and director Phyllis Nagy

This is Nagy’s sophomore feature. She decided to shoot the film on film (Super 16mm, to be exact). One reason was that film is more forgiving. She also didn’t want to fetishize the 60s, so shooting on film helped with that.

The script is faithful to the spirit of what the Jane Collective did, though the actual participants were much younger than the ones in the movie (in the early days, it was mainly run by college students). One part where Nagy didn’t stray from the facts was in the abortion procedure itself. She wanted “absolute accuracy” in portraying it.

The script itself came from her lead producer, Robbie Brenner, and it already had Elizabeth Banks attached to it. Nagy and Banks have been friends for a long time. Sigourney Weaver had been at Berkeley during that time, and so the material was “near and dear to her.” She came onto the project very quickly. Nagy had worked with Cory Michael Smith in Carol (she wrote the screenplay, though that fact didn’t come up in the Q&A), and Grace Edwards is now doing a film for Wes Anderson.

When asked “What do you want people to take away from this?” Nagy said that no matter what they believe in, whether they are pro-choice or anti-abortion, she hopes there is something in the film that makes them go “huh.” When asked if there was a general change coming now, Nagy said that the grad students she teaches have grown up always having the rights that older women had to fight for. But now, they “have to fight for things.”

Call Jane is scheduled to be released in October. Check Roadside Attractions for updates.

The Gala

Like past years, the Gala was held at MOHAI, which involved a longer walk and a shorter bus ride than expected.

Year-round staff still weren’t at concessions when I left (one more movie was playing that night). They also weren’t standing outside. Because of where I had to walk to catch a bus (and later walk to a different stop to catch an earlier bus), I decided to walk past one of my former work places, since I used to walk from there to the first bus stop when I had to work at SIFF for the second half of the day. I walked by it, but the name of the company no longer adorned the front door, and so I fear it’s been shuttered for good. Just another reminder of how things have been affected by the pandemic (which isn’t over yet, thank-you-very-much).

During the last few days of the festival, all the programmers introducing the movies mentioned that people could get half off the price of a Gala Ticket if they showed a ticket for a Sunday movie at the box office. This reminds me of when they’d promise volunteers double and triple vouchers on the last night of the festival in order to guarantee people would sign up for and stay for their shifts. Even with that incentive, the Closing Night Gala was noticeably light on people.

But hey, at least the food (and the music) was good.

And outside MOHAI, people were partying on a boat.

At ten minutes to eleven, the music stopped, the Closing Night Gala ended, and the 48th Annual Seattle International Film Festival came to a close.

Next time, my final thoughts on SIFF 2022.