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 HAPPENED: Closing Thoughts on the 41st Annual Seattle International Film Festival

22 days of press screenings.  25 days of festival proper.  In those 5 1/2 weeks, I saw 48 films, including 25 press screenings, 5 archival films, 3 world premiers, and 7 North American premiers; worked 4 days out of the week at the Uptown and one day at the Harvard Exit (except on the second Sunday of festival, which I took off to see The Apu Trilogy); and saw five films on two occasions — on one occasion, six.  So, as both employee and patron, here are my final thoughts on the 41st Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

As an Employee

What our break room looked like at the beginning of festival...

What our break room looked like at the beginning of festival…

The start of festival.  When a friendly army of venue managers, house coordinators, and volunteers invade the Uptown Theater, and year-round staff slink behind the counter, firing up an overworked popcorn machine to keep up with the demand of bigger bags  — sprung on us just as festival began (the appearance of a popcorn warmer at the end of Week 2 helped).  Luckily, 99.9% of the customers are awesome.  On the last day of festival, I actually heard someone thank the box office staff.  At our final staff party, the managing director told us that operations staff (concessions, box office, events, etc) got positive feedback from everyone.  As for that .1% who complain about parking passes not being handed out when the shared lot is in the hands of its owners, or yell at volunteers over some real or imagined issue (REALLY?!!), or who text or talk during movies, there’s this great thing called Netflix, where you can stream movies at home and not bother those of us who wish to enjoy the communal experience of watching movies in the dark without your complaining or rudeness.

I could’ve worked press screenings again this year, the hardest component of which is waking up early, but I wanted a change, and I wanted to work at the Harvard Exit.  I got both wishes filled, with the added joy of seeing everyone in concessions jell by the second week into a fine-oiled machine, even when the popcorn machine — or signage — was doing its best to thwart us.  And I have to say, though I’ve enjoyed all the staff members I’ve worked with, this year’s crew was special.

..and at the end of festival.

..and at the end of festival.

As a Patron

I saw more movies this year than any other year — by a lot!  Watching so many press screenings before the festival officially began helped: 11 before opening night.

Some notable occurrences:

1. I missed seeing Liza, the Fox-Fairy during press screenings (it was a last-minute substitution for a noon film on Opening Night — and then the 2 pm screening of The Hallow was delayed 40 minutes), during festival (it went on standby), and during Best of Fest (I was working).  No other film did I miss seeing so many times.

2. During the Opening Night Gala, I spent a little too much time dancing near the speakers, the result being that my right ear felt blocked from Thursday night through Sunday, when watching Mad Max: Fury Road at the IMAX Theater removed the rest of the blockage (no joke!).

3. Besides Mad Max: Fury Road, I saw one other non-festival movie during SIFF.  On the first Saturday of the festival, I went from my shift at the Uptown to the Grand Illusion to see a restored copy of The Epic of Everest, a silent documentary with amazing visuals which filmed an unsuccessful attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.  Because I woke early that day, I zoned out a bit while watching the film.

4. The only time I tried to watch a movie that ended right as my shift began was the three-hour The Golden Era, so of course, that showing was delayed by 30 minutes, due to a theater swap that still makes little sense to me.  I should’ve left early, but I stayed till the end.

5. The day I saw six movies, I was fine, but when I saw five movies on the following Thursday (2 press screenings, 3 films), I felt chills during the third movie (The Birth of Sake), and yet stayed for two more.  While I felt a little better after eating, I canceled the shows I was planning to see after work on Friday and the one I was planning on seeing before work on Saturday.

6. I almost passed out during the press screening for Eisenstein in Guanajuato, which proves that my weak constitution can’t handle any sort of lengthy penetration in a film — by any object.

My Picks for Best of Fest

Though I saw some really good films during the festival, and even some great ones, none blew me away, as The Spectacular Now and Wolf Children did two years ago, unless I include the archival Apu Trilogy, which impacted me as greatly (but in a different way) as last year’s The Pawnbroker.  Though I saw it after festival, The Red Shoes also impressed, and there were a smattering of gems in the mix that ended up being better than they had to be, but there were no masterpieces waiting to be discovered, except for the ones I didn’t see.

Best Archival: The Apu Trilogy.  Technically three films, but really, how can I split them apart?  The World of Apu was my favorite by a hair, but I could as easily have picked Song of the Little Road or The Unvanquished.  Satyajit Ray may be my new favorite director.

Best Documentary: The Great Alone.  A documentary that is as much about the Iditarod as Hoop Dreams is about basketball.

Best Animated Film: When Marnie Was There.  Not the best Ghibli film, nor even the best by this director (I preferred The Secret Life of Arrietty), but still good.

Best Narrative Film: Snow on the Blades.  This would have just missed being in my top-tier the last two years, but that is not to take away from this excellent samurai drama.

Best Actor: Sir Ian McKellan, Mr. Holmes.  Why hasn’t the man won an Oscar yet?

Best Actress: Holly Hunter, Manglehorn.  Her scene with Al Pacino at a restaurant is the highlight of the film.

Best Animal Performer: Arrow Schwartzman, 7 Chinese Brothers.  The most enjoyable thing about this movie.  Maybe the only enjoyable thing.

Guilty Pleasure: The Astrologer.  More poorly put together than movies I rated higher, but amazing in its awfulness.  “You’re not an astrologer, you’re an asshole!” has to be one of the best lines ever uttered.

As for the Golden Space Needle Awards, you can find them here: http://www.siff.net/festival-2015/2015-award-winners

And for those of you wondering what the Fools picks were:

Most Liked: Corn Island, The Dark Horse, Me And Earl and the Dying Girl, Inside Out, The Passion of Augustine, Personal Gold: An Underdog Story, Little Forest – Winter/Spring, Secret #2, Love & Mercy.

Least Liked: Beach Town, Venice, The Hollow One, Not All Is Vigil, 7 Chinese Brothers, Chatty Catties, Uncle Kent 2, The Fire, Valley of the Sasquatch, Yosemite

Best Director/Cinematographer: Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Peter Greenaway/Reinier van Brummelen)

Best Script: Me and Earl and The Dying Girl (Jesse Andrews)

Best Music: Love & Mercy (Atticus Ross, The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson)

Best Actor: The Dark Horse (Cliff Curtis)

Best Actress: Phoenix (Nina Hoss)

Best “Guilty Pleasure”: The Little Death

Final Thoughts

This is the sixth festival I’ve helped out with, either as a volunteer (2010-11), concessionaire (2012, 2015), or press screening worker (2013-14), and the sixth I’ve attended.  It is the highlight of the year for me, despite its busy-ness.  I even managed to attend four of the parties this year (six, if you include the staff parties), and while I missed Centerpiece, I didn’t really mind.  I even attended the kickball match, though I didn’t play — partly because I arrived late, and partly because the temperature was in the 80s, and the field was in the sun.

For me, last year’s festival was more memorable, but perhaps that’s because I saw more great films, or due to it being the 40th festival.  This year, quantity did not lead to quality, as my Fool Serious Ballot attested to.  And while there are films I wish to see this summer (most of them festival films I didn’t get the chance to see), I don’t mind waiting in between viewings.  Watching almost 50 films in the space of a month-and-a-half takes a certain kind of insanity that, thankfully, is limited to one time a year.

SIFF 2014: Closing Night Gala, Final Thoughts, and Thanks

Closing Night Gala–Sunday, June 8

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The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI)

Like last year, the Closing Night Gala was held at the MOHAI.  Unlike last year, I had to work, but my shift ended early enough that I got to the museum in plenty of time.  It helped that I got a ride there from one of my friends (a different one from last year).

Just like last year, the food was great.  Since I got there early, I got to partake of the food before the crowds came, and even got some ice cream.  Also, I got to explore the MOHAI and realize just how many exhibits are in this thing.

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Plus, the DJ was actually good this year (even if he confused people by playing three crooner songs as the final three of the night, which might have just been his way of getting people off the dance floor so that they would go home).  The proof is in how many people came out to dance, and stayed out to dance, on the dance floor.

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Then it was off to the Super Secret Staff Party.  All I can say is I danced so hard there, one piece of my lanyard ripped out of the plastic sleeve it was attached to.  Still, I was more tired this year than in past years.  Maybe my years are catching up to me.  Or maybe I just worked too much.

 

Final Thoughts

On My First Year with a Press Pass

Though I was a bit overwhelmed with all the emails I received at the beginning of the festival, I eventually just did what I always do, which is to watch the movies, stay for the Q & A’s, take photos, take notes, and leave.  I was able to get into one screening that I wouldn’t have been able to get into (Lucky Them) because I had put in a request for a press ticket, and while I did request an interview with the director of that film, I understand how publicity agents might look at my blog and think that it wouldn’t give enough exposure to their client.  I probably would’ve had more luck with the new, untested directors.  Certainly the emails seemed to hint as much.  But then I would’ve had to find time to come up with questions for them.

On Working Press Screenings

This was the second year (and second year in a row) that I’ve done press screenings.  I didn’t get to see as many screenings this year as last year, partly because one of my coworkers wanted to see most of the ones I wanted to see, partly because a lot of the really good ones were at 2 pm, when I had to be on hand to help close concessions.

Occasionally, the newbie crew from the night before left some things undone (like cleaning the popcorn machine), which we then had to do.  In their defense, cleaning a popcorn machine beats cleaning poop off the floor of the men’s bathroom (though that was during the afternoon, during the first block of regular screenings).  And some days, we were the ones forgetting to do things, like grabbing ice or counting out concessions.  For the most part, however, everything went smoothly.

On Working Festival Screenings

Last year, we had plenty of people working festival, so we press screeners only had to work press screening shifts (plus Memorial Day Monday and the first block of shows after press screenings).  This year, due to the Egyptian being open, we were asked to help out on a few days that we would normally have had off.  It only ended up being three extra days of work, and it made my paycheck fatter, so I’m not complaining.  Plus, the shifts were the early shifts, which tend to be quieter than the evening shifts, and have fewer shows on standby.

And yet, all the exciting stuff  happened during that first block of shows after press screenings.  On the opposite end of the spectrum from the incident mentioned above, I served Lynn Shelton an iced tea.  Actually, we didn’t have iced tea, and she didn’t want Honest Tea, so I ended up getting her a hot tea and an 8 oz cup full of ice.  I also made her laugh.  A very nice person, and an experience that more than offset the men’s room incident.

On Films I Saw

As for the ones I went to, the final tally is: 28 feature films, 1 miniseries, and 6 shorts (4 of them part of the Chaplin Shorts that I saw with Sosin on Sunday for the silents).  4 of the features were archival (as were the 4 Chaplin shorts), 1 was a world premiere (as was one of the shorts), and 1 was a North American Premiere (Hard to Be a God).  Only two were prints (Last Year at Marienbad and The Whole Wide World).

As for awards, you can read who won the Golden Space Needles Awards, or you can read mine below.  Or both:

Best Film: Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

Here both the audience and I agree: the best movie of the festival was Linklater’s 13-year-in-the-making film about a boy (Ellar Coltrane) and his life from age 6 to 18.  Look for my full review of this great film next month, when it opens on July 11th.

Best Archival Film: The Pawnbroker (Sidney Lumet)

Not only did this DCP look pristine, the film itself is almost unbearably powerful, thanks to Lumet’s use of flashbacks, Quincy Jones’s score, and above all, Rod Steiger’s powerful performance as a New Yorker whose family was wiped out during the Holocaust.

Best Documentary: The Case Against 8 (Ben Cotner, Ryan White)

Keep On Keepin’ On was the audience favorite (and a really good film), but it didn’t pack the emotional wallop of this film, about the (successful) attempt to overturn Proposition 8 in California, which banned same-sex couples from marrying.

Best Animated Film: Patema Inverted (Yasuhiro Yoshiura)

Okay, so this was the only animated film I saw at the festival, meaning it also qualifies as the worst animated film….except that it was pretty good.  Some late reveals in this story about an underground world with an inverted gravitational field make it a solid animated effort, even if it is light years away from last year’s Wolf Children.

Best Foreign Film: Burning Bush (Agnieszka Holland)

Technically a three-part miniseries that ran on HBO Europe, this excellent film is primarily concerned with the repercussions following Jan Palach’s protest of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, in which he set himself on fire in January 1969 in the center of Prague.  A large portion of the miniseries involves the libel case brought by Jan’s mom against a communist official in the Czech government, a government which tried to discredit Palach’s actions as those of a madman.

Gem of the Festival: The Little House (Yoji Yamada)

My definition of a gem is a good film that catches you unawares at how good it is.  Gabrielle and The Whole Wide World could have easily been up here, but the former film was Canada’s Oscar nominee  in 2014 (it didn’t make the short list) and the latter film came out in 1996, so while both films were unknown to me, they were known entities coming into the festival.  And yes, The Little House did win the Silver Bear for Best Actress (Haru Kuroki) at the Berlin Film Festival, but that didn’t mean this film, about a woman writing about her time spent as a housekeeper in 1930s and 1940s Tokyo, would be any good.  It is, and is one of the most gentle and humane films I saw at the festival.

Other great films:  Gabrielle, Hate from a Distance (short), Keep On Keepin’ On, Last Year at Marienbad, Lucky Them, The Whole Wide World

Best Director (tie): Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Megan Griffiths (Lucky Them)

Linklater gets this award for the vision required to pull off a movie with a 12-year-shooting schedule, as well as the uniform excellence of the actors.  Griffiths wins for pulling some fantastic performances out of her entire cast, with the  help of an excellent script.

Best Screenplay: Lucky Them (Emily Wachtel, Huck Botko)

Seeing this film reminded me how long it’s been since I’ve seen a comedy this well-written, particularly the dialogue.  Kudos must go to the casting, as well, for Toni Collette and Thomas Haden Church make these words live.

Best Actor (tie): Dawid Ogrodnik (Life Feels Good), Thomas Haden Church (Lucky Them)

How Ogrodnik was able to play someone with cerebral palsy, when he doesn’t have it himself, is the most amazing thing about Life Feels Good, while Church stole (almost) every scene he was in in Lucky Them.

Best Actress: Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars)

The commitment Woodley brings to her roles is incredible.  Since she just played a teenage girl last year (in The Spectacular Now), she could’ve played a slight variation of the role as Hazel Grace Lancaster.  Instead, she creates a whole new person, but I’m mainly giving this award to her for a eulogy she gives that would force tears from stone.

Miscellaneous

Usually, no one pays attention to my badge.  This year, I had two of them, but the one everyone noticed was my staff badge, due to the picture on the front.  Provided I’m working for SIFF next year, I may use the same photo.

Channeling Vivian Maier...and apparently old school Hollywood glamour

Channeling Vivian Maier…and apparently old school Hollywood glamour

Thanks

Individual Thanks

  • To Rachel Eggers: for being my main contact concerning press questions, press tickets, press interviews, and all things press.
  • To Beth Barrett: for helping me label the guests correctly in my photos when more than the advertised guests showed up (i.e. Lucky Them)
  • To Ben Mawhinney: for doing the same thing for DamNation.
  • To Ryan Davis: for sending me the link for Red Knot, even though I didn’t get to see the film until Best of SIFF.
  • To my parents: for getting me a new camera this year that doesn’t suck in low light.

Group Thanks

  • To the press screening crew: for being awesome a second year in a row.
  • To the passholders: for chatting with me during press screenings and saying, “I’m so glad you’re getting to see some films,” whenever you saw me watching movies during festival.
  • To the entire Publicity Department: for sending out all those emails to the press and answering all of our questions.
  • To all the programmers: for programming some awesome movies (and even the not-so-awesome ones were kinda cool).
  • To all the SIFF Cinema crew, new and old: way to rock during the festival! And at two venues (three if you count the panels at the Film Center)!
  • To all the Events crew: for bringing us great food and music during the Galas, and all those parties that I didn’t have time to go to.
  • To all the volunteers: for doing what you do, every festival.
  • To anyone I forgot to mention: sorry, and thanks!

I haven’t thought about what I’m going to do next year.  One of these festivals, I may just decide to binge on movies and to hell with writing about them.  It may be next festival; it may be the festival after.  All I know is, another Seattle International Film Festival has gone by, and I’ve lived to tell the tale. 😉

Until next time!

And if y0u want to start reading from the beginning of my posts for SIFF 2014, start here.

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!