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 Two

Here are my capsule reviews for the second week of the festival. None of these films have release dates outside of the festival, except for some of the web series. Again, my ratings are:

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.

Being There: This satire from Hal Ashby follows Chance the Gardener (Peter Sellers, in a Golden Globe-winning performance), who finds himself homeless and unemployed when his employer dies. Having witnessed the world only through television and the garden he tended, his simplicity and rich clothes (formerly belonging to his master) are mistaken for profundity and untold wealth as he ends up becoming a guest at the house of an old rich man (Melvyn Douglas in an Oscar-winning role) and his wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine), and even influences the President (Jack Warden).  And then there’s that final shot in the film. Helps that the audience was in tune with each joke. 5 Archival

Love Education: Huiying (Sylvia Chang) wants to bury her mother (Liyuan Wang) next to her father (Xiang Jia). Problem is, her father was originally married to someone from his home village (Yanshu Wu), and she won’t allow his “mistress” to be buried with him, or for his grave to be moved to the city. Huiying’s husband (Zhuangzhuang Tian) meanwhile, might be having a fling with one of his driving students. Her daughter Weiwei (Yueting Lang), in turn, starts having issues with her boyfriend Da (Ning Song) when his old flame comes to visit…and brings her son with her, who may or may not be his. Poignant, funny, and ironic, the real love here is how director/writer/actress Sylvia Chang handles the three generations of women, and the men in their lives (and the other women in theirs). 

Mademoiselle Paradis: Based on the novel Mesmerized by Alissa Walser, this is the true story of Maria Theresia von Paradis (Maria Dragus), a blind prodigy at the piano who was temporarily cured of her blindness by Dr. Franz Mesmer (Devid Striesow). A great, non-sentimental view of how disabilities and women were treated in the 18th century. Gorgeous cinematography, costumes, and music. (d: Barbara Albert)

Mutafukaz: Props for including a high-speed chase with an ice cream truck and a gang leader who quotes Shakespeare, but this fun and strange film about a boy named Angelino (Tay Lee) who starts seeing shadowy tentacle creatures attached to humans and must escape mysterious government agents becomes less and less fun as the movie continues. While visually stunning, it also feels incredibly static in its framing. (d: Shoujirou Nishimi,Guillaume Renard)

Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA: The man and his music are fascinating, the movie less so. The main issue here is that we follow Sakamoto through his daily routine, but the most interesting moments concern his career, or are in the studio, when his face lights up when he hears the perfect sound. Otherwise, it’d be better to do a traditional documentary on the man, or one with more of a focus (like on his activism, which begins the film). (d: Stephen Nomura Schible) Plays on Friday, June 8

Tigers Are Not Afraid: This film, which follows kids orphaned by the drug war in Mexico, mixes reality and fantasy ala Pan’s Labyrinth in a creepy, violent, and ultimately wonderful film in which fairy tales literally help our heroine in a world where the reality is too gruesome to bear. Story, acting, cinematography, humor, and visual storytelling are all used to masterly effect. No wonder Guillermo del Toro places this film 8th in his top ten movies of 2017 and offered to produce director Issa López’s next film. 5

WebFest at Shoreline: To quote from siff.net: “SIFF launches its new Episodic Content category with this exciting, diverse collection of outstanding new pilots and webisodes.” Based on the quality of these episodes, it won’t be the last. In order, they were:

  1. Other People’s Children (Episode 1: The Common Corpse): From the USA. A six-minute parent/teacher conference between a teacher (Atra Asdou) and the mothers of a gifted daughter (Brooke Breit, Sara Sevigny) who first refuse to believe she’s that smart and then don’t want to put her in the “gifted” program because they’d have to help with more homework. (d: Brad Riddell, Anna Hozian)
  2. Arun Considers (“Arun Considers Heroin”): From the USA. Arun (Arun Narayanan) thinks about how heroin might be worth trying in a short, two-minute episode. (d: Dave Dorsey, Jordan Ledy)
  3. ApartmentFrom Argentina. In this episode, Ramon (Ezequiel Campa) has to deal with shitty customers at an insurance job and then finds out at the end of the episode that he’ll no longer be able to afford his apartment under his new lease. (d: Jazmin Stuart)
  4. The Passage: From the USA. Phil (Philip Burgers) spends the episode escaping from two men. In 22 minutes, he interacts with people who speak Spanish, Japanese, French, and Norwegian(?). No subtitles, which I first thought was a mistake and then realized was a feature. Clever, funny, and absolutely bonkers. Particular props to the drumming gag, where he drums faster the closer the men get to him. (d: Kitao Sakurai)
  5. The Big Nothing: From Australia. A sci-fi whodunit in which a detective is sent to investigate the mysterious death of a captain on a mining outpost in space. Shows promise. (d: Lucy Campbell, Pete Ninos)
  6.  Strowlers: Pilot (half): From the USA. According to the Q&A afterwards, Strowlers is an entire universe in which magic is regulated by the government. In the first episode, we see a kid who is believed to have magical abilities being collared. The magic user is kept until all emotions are ripped out of them, then are released. (d: Ben Dobyns, L. Gabriel Gonda) Available in the fall.
  7. Otis (Episodes 1: After the Party & Episode 2: Six Months Earlier): From the USA. In the first episode, we meet Otis (Alexander Etseyatse) with one of his friends and find out he’s just been released from a mental institution. Walking near where he ex-fiancee now lives, he decides to visit her, against the advice of his friend. In the second episode, he’s in the mental institution, where he rebels against the strictures place against him. I preferred the first episode to the second one, which seemed a bit cliched. 3,2 (d: Alexander Etseyatse)
  8. UnspeakableFrom the USA. A young woman (Laura Vandervoort) who’s escaped from sex traffickers assumes the identity of a woman who was in captivity with her, but died. In the first episode, she’s having second thoughts about becoming this woman, but then is in danger of being picked up by the police, and so blurts out the lie. Can’t wait to see where this one goes. (d: Milena Govich)