SIFF 2018 Edition: Final Thoughts

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On June 10, SIFF 2018 ended. During the 25 days of the festival (plus press screenings, which add 10 more days to the total), I saw 19 feature-length films (including one archival), 2 collections of shorts (and yes, I count the Found Footage Festival as a collection of shorts), and a handful of VR. That’s out of 433 films (168 features, 4 secret films, 66 documentaries, 10 archival films, 164 shorts, and 21 VR/360 works). Out of those films, I sat through two world premieres, one North American premiere, and one U.S. premiere. That’s out of 35 world premieres (6 features, 29 shorts), 46 North American premieres (32 features, 14 shorts), and 25 U.S. premieres (16 features, 9 shorts). I haven’t seen so few films since my days of volunteering for the festival (in my first year of volunteering, I saw 10 feature-length films, no shorts, and parts of films that played during my shifts. My second year, I saw 18 feature-length films, no shorts, and parts of films that played during my shifts). If I were to add in the films I’ll be seeing after the fest that played during fest, however, that number would increase astronomically. It might even clear 25.

BEST AUDIENCE

Found Footage Festival: Cherished Gems

What’s better than watching some of the wackiest shows and videos ever put to VHS? Watching some of the wackiest shows and videos with an appreciative audience. I’m sure there were some people in the audience who didn’t laugh and gasp and cheer during the onslaught of public television and safety video gold, but they were drowned out by those who did.

BEST SATELLITE VENUE (i.e. not the Uptown, Egyptian, or Film Center)

Shoreline Community College

To be fair, I didn’t go to any of the other satellite locations this year, barring AMC (though I have in the past). Shoreline’s theater is a good size, sells concessions at decent prices, has the calming effect of being out in the middle of nowhere, offers plentiful parking, is easy to get to by bus, and doesn’t draw huge crowds of people (or at least didn’t on the night I was there). And while I love large audiences for their participation, sometimes it’s nice to see a movie where there are several seats between you and the person next to you.

BETTER AT THE BEGINNING THAN THE END

Mutafukaz

This animated movie had so much promise. The main character starts discovering he has special powers. Aliens seem to be hiding in plain sight. There’s a chase scene with an ice cream truck. A gang member recites Shakespeare as he lays waste to his enemies. Mexican wrestlers are really superheroes in disguise. And yet the execution as the film nears its conclusion is static, and the only female character is a deus ex machina plot device. Perhaps some character development and more innovative camera techniques would’ve made the conclusion as enjoyable as the commencement.

BETTER AT THE END THAN THE BEGINNING

My Name is Myeisha

Based on the play Dreamscape, the transition from movie to stage play adaptation is goofy — so goofy, I thought the film wouldn’t recover, yet it did, even creating poignancy at its shocking end. Much of that has to do with the main character, played by Rhaechyl Walker in an excellent performance in what is, for the most part, a one-woman show (she was first runner-up for Best Actress at the Golden Space Needle awards).

LONGEST APPLAUSE

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Director Morgan Neville was in attendance, so one would expect the audience to hoot and holler when the movie ended. They didn’t really do that here. Instead, they just kept applauding. And applauding. And applauding. I’ve heard applause crescendo into roars, seen people stand up and cheer as the house lights turn on, but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard such steady, continuous clapping before.

BEST SURPRISE/BEST FEATURE FILM

Tigers Are Not Afraid

I’d heard nothing about this movie before I saw it at the festival. I picked it because it fit in with my schedule, the title was cool, and the program compared it to a del Toro work. To be honest, I almost didn’t see it, as I’d already seen two films that day, the second of which (Mademoiselle Paradis) was very good. In the English-speaking world, there’s hardly any mention of it on the web. That is a travesty. Del Toro says he’ll produce writer/director/executive producer Issa López’s next film, but someone needs to distribute this film for her. It narrowly missed being my top pick of the fest. And that’s because…

BEST OVERALL/BEST DOCUMENTARY

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

…this movie played the same festival. Unlike Tigers Are Not Afraid, I knew going in that this was going to be a good film. It’s about Mr. Rogers and his Neighborhood, it’s by the same director who won an Oscar for Twenty Feet From Stardom, and the trailers looked great. But this film kept on giving in the selfless way that Fred Rogers did. Only a book could’ve included more information, and not even a book would’ve had access to all the home movies and archival material that this documentary did. If you don’t cry at least once during this film, you might want to check your pulse. I knew I was a goner when I started tearing up ten minutes in.

IN CONCLUSION

Each year of the festival holds its own charm. The first year I volunteered, everything was new and exciting. The second year, I knew that I’d be part of the last crew to volunteer at the Neptune. In 2012, I was part of the first crew to work the Uptown as a main venue (it was a satellite venue the first year I volunteered in 2010, but closed soon after). In 2013, I dedicated my posts to the late Roger Ebert, who had passed away only a month before. 2014 saw my first year covering the festival as an accredited reporter, and SIFF celebrated its 40th festival!* In 2015, I became one of the last staff members to work the Harvard Exit (that was the same year I saw six films in a row: a feat that led to my scaling down my movie-watching experiences the past two years. It’s also the first year I was rejected for a press pass). In 2016, I went to my first secret festival — and was sick on the day they apparently showed the best movie out of the four! And finally, I didn’t cover the festival at all last year (though I went), due to professional and personal reasons.

So what was the charm for me this year? It actually ties in to last year’s announcement that I wouldn’t be covering the festival. People actually cared. I had a couple of interactions with people who were shocked that I wasn’t doing it, and several disappointed people online. It was by no means a large swath of the population, but they were people I knew and were on friendly terms with. And that’s the thing. As a writer, I never know who’s reading these blogs (unless they comment or share), but more importantly, I only rarely get to glimpse how my writing impacts others. This was one of those times. So this year, the charm was that I got to cover it again, on my own terms, and see that I still have something to say.

Next year will be my tenth Seattle International Film Festival, so I plan on doing something special for the occasion. All I’ll say is that it’ll be a celebration that looks back, as well as forward. And for those of you who’ve been here since the beginning, since halfway in, or just joined this year, thank you.

 

*The first Seattle International Film Festival ran from May 14-31, 1976 [Source: historylink.org]. There was no 13th film festival.

 

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SIFF 2018 Edition: Capsule Reviews, Week Three

Here are all the capsule reviews for week three in alphabetical order, including the entire final weekend of SIFF. Release dates are included where applicable. Again, my rating system:

1=Awful. Major flaws in plot/characters/writing/filmmaking. No reason to see this film unless you have to, and then I still wouldn’t.

2=Okay to average. Some major/minor flaws in plot/characters/writing/filmmaking. Not good enough to recommend.

3=Above average to good. A few major/minor flaws in plot/characters/writing/filmmaking. Films in this category either garner a slight recommendation from me or almost do.

4=Very good to great. Might have a few minor flaws in it. All films in this category are recommended viewing.

5=Excellent to outstanding. Very few flaws, if any. The best of the best.

  1. Found Footage Festival: Cherished Gems: A collection of unintentionally hilarious, bizarre, or downright gross clips from the heyday of VHS. With explanations between curated clips and some live commentary. I laughed so hard my sides hurt afterwards. 4 (Presented by Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher)
  2. My Name Is Myeisha: Sandwiched between two movie bookends is an adaptation of the play Dreamscape, which uses hip-hop and spoken word to juxtapose the events leading to Myeisha’s (Rhaechyl Walker) death at the hands of the police (and the subsequent coroner’s report) and brief glances at her life and world. It humanizes her, to be sure, but what works in the theater doesn’t always work onscreen (the transition from movie to adaptation is pretty goofy), and while this one gets better as it goes, the event itself creates more of an impact and a sense of how tragic and unnecessary her death was than the means used to flesh out her story. Still, films reach more people than plays do, and that’s enough of a reason to be glad it was made. Plus, the home movie footage and ending are powerful stuff. (d: Gus Krieger)
  3. Naila and the Uprising: An important, informative, and necessary documentary about the first (and purest) intifada and the women who were a huge part of it, but were pushed out of their positions of power once the PLO returned to power.(d: Julia Bacha)
  4. The Silk and the Flame: A gorgeous-looking black and white documentary about a young gay man (Yao) from a small town in China trying to hold up against pressured from the community to follow familial tradition and marry. (d: Jordan Schiele) US Premiere Release date TBA.
  5. The Taste of Betel Nut: This movie begins at the end, then loops back in time to when polyamorous couple Li Qi and Ren Yu (Shen Shi Yu and Bingrui Zhao, respectively) allow a young woman, Bai Ling (Yue Yue) into their lives for a summer. A few questionable decisions (which might be answered by a second viewing) can’t mar the fact that this is one of the stronger films I saw at SIFF, though I would’ve given it higher marks if Bai Lung were fleshed out more as a person, and less as a plot device. 4 (d: Hu Jia) North American Premiere
  6. VR Zone: With 28 short subjects to cover in 90 minutes on the last (and busiest) day of the SIFF VR Zone, I didn’t have time to view all the recommended titles by friends and coworkers, let alone all 28. I ended up experiencing four of them: one documentary, one experimental, and two interactive. All used Samsung Gear VR headsets (with adjustable focus) and headphones (either attached to the headset or separate), a couple used controllers.
    1. Rone: A documentary about the street artist of the same name, who draws large portraits of women’s faces in abandoned buildings and other forgotten areas. He explains that he chose women’s faces because most of the street art he saw was masculine, and he wanted to counteract it. By far the best use of VR; everywhere you looked, there was something to see. The swivel chair helped. (Lester Francois)
    2. The Cabiri: Anubis: While waiting to see a recommended exhibit, I decided to try this one, which follows an ancient Egyptian man’s journey to the underworld, where he is judged by a dance troop (I mean, they’re playing roles, but it’s a dance troop). Oh, and acrobats. This film could’ve been effectively done on a front and rear projection screen, or on stage. Most of the time, it didn’t incorporate the immersive experience that the other exhibits did, as you sit on a bench and merely look in front or behind you. Also, with no dialog and occasional sentences grafted on the screen that seemed culled from abandoned movie trailer slogans, it failed to keep my interest. (Bogdan Darev & Fred Beahm)
    3. Where Thoughts Go: Boasting the longest run-time of all the exhibits, I only got partway through, due to demand. Like the other interactive exhibits, instead of a chair or a bench, you sat in a room which was decked out as part of the exhibit, this one with cushions, and manipulated two controllers to listen to previous people’s answers to deeply personal questions. To continue to the next question, you had to record your own answer, and then set the recording free. To give you an example, the first question was: Why did you fall in love for the first time? As this is an ongoing project, I hope to visit it next year (on a less busy day) and listen to (and record) more responses. Simple, yet rewarding. (Lucas Rizzotto)
    4. Queerskins: A Love Story: Another recommended exhibit, which also had its space built up, complete with a table, photos on the walls, and a bench to sit on as a stand-in for a car seat. In this exhibit, you sit in the back of a car as a devout Christian couple discusses their gay son on the way to visit his grave. As they talk, objects appear in a box next to you, which you can pick up and look at. While the views from the car were nice, the objects didn’t add anything to the emotional impact of the short, which would’ve been just as powerful as a feature film, rather than an interactive VR Exhibit. Still, it is powerful. (Illya Szilac & Cyril Tsiboulski)