SIFF 2012: Galas, Tributes, Parties, And Other Happenings — Anniversary Post

One of the perks of working for SIFF, as opposed to volunteering, is that employees are usually allowed to attend the parties (though it depends on capacity). It only seems fitting, then, that my second repost from SIFF 2012 focuses on the parties and galas I attended that year. Removing the links that no longer work (or that are no longer relevant, like one for David Poland for Movie City News) makes me realize how much has changed in seven years. Even the cover band that played at the Closing Night Gala no longer has a webpage.

At Kaspar’s for my first ever SIFF party

First, I should mention that I didn’t go to every party, and even fewer Galas (movie+party).  I didn’t go to the Opening Night Gala because no one told me I could, until after I had made plans.  Then, I didn’t get invites to the first couple of parties because I wasn’t on the staff-generated email list.  Once I got on the staff list, I got every update that I was supposed to get, and if I didn’t go to a party, it was because of work, exhaustion, or some other excuse. But first, I burned my fingers.

This is why one should never pour coffee directly from the brewer, or at least pay attention while one is doing it.  So, after spilling much of the coffee out of the cup in a reaction to the incredible burning sensation and shock that I felt when the coffee hit my fingers, I filled the order, controlled my desire to faint, and then calmly walked over to the sink and doused my hand in cold water.  Later I put on some ointment we had upstairs, which worked amazingly well.  My fingers stopped hurting after that, and it healed in two days.  The picture above is what I wore home that night, but I traded it for a band-aid for the following night, when I went to my first movie+party, a Saturday Gala on May 26.  The movie was As Luck Would Have It at 6:30 pm at the Uptown, with Salma Hayek.  The party was at Kaspar’s at 8:30.

There were appetizers.  There were drinks.  There was dancing.

My yellow staff wristband got me unlimited drinks at the party, as opposed to the two drink limit that everyone else had.  Not that it mattered, as I’m not much of a drinker.  At the party, I sat with some of the staff from the theater, had two glasses of chardonnay and some rich food, and woke up the next day with a massive headache, which I thought was a result of the aforementioned chardonnay.  Except that a hangover doesn’t result in brief and multiple reigns on the porcelain throne.  Luckily, while I had to work Sunday, I had the following two days off to recuperate, even slipping in a movie on Tuesday.

I was plenty rested up for the Centerpiece Gala on Saturday, June 2, which is why it was such a shame that I couldn’t go, due to work.  Some of my coworkers were meeting for drinks after the official party, but for me, drinks alone do not a party make.  There must be either dancing or karaoke, too.  Plus, I was tired, so I went home and gave up my two invites to one of my friends, who invited one of her friends to go.

The next party I went to was the Gay-La in Capitol Hill on Wednesday, June 6, at The Lobby Bar.  Because I worked until 9:30 and the party was at 8:30, I got there late, apparently after the party reached its peak.  The place was nice, but there was no designated dance floor, so apart from people dancing in their chairs, it was a lot of drinking and talking until the bar closed at midnight.

Downstairs
Upstairs

The bar did, however, have a nice view of the road from the upstairs area, where I once again sat with some of my coworkers, including some people who only work the festival, and their friends.

I should also mention that, both times, I brought one of my friends, too.  That pattern changed for the final three parties I went to. But first, SIFF had its first tribute, An Evening with Sissy Spacek, on Thursday, June 7, at the Uptown.

Long before the festival began, I offered to work that day. Then, the day after the event, I read an email saying that all staff could see the tributes for free (normally, we would have to pay for a ticket, since they cost more than your usual $11 movie).  Oh well.  I still had some time to duck into the theater for a few minutes here and there to see the Q&A, which was moderated by Richard Corliss.  I also saw another familiar person there as part of the press junket.  I remembered him from Ebertfest, but it took me awhile to remember his name.  Then it hit me: it’s David Poland! We had a red carpet for Spacek, then she was whisked away to the employee break room for any last-minute preparations (and possibly, to nibble on the Theo Mint and Hazelnut bars and drink some of the bottled water that had come from concessions).  Apparently, she entered the theater through the lobby, instead of going through the back entrance.  Only my boss noticed it, despite concessions being full of people.  As such, I only got a picture of the red carpet after she had left, and pictures of her during the Q&A from the back of the room.  I also got to use the break room right after she left it, though I refrained from sitting on the director’s chairs there.  I’m not that kind of fan.

From what I picked up from the Q&A, Spacek thinks it ridiculous to compare “mere mortals” (including herself) to Meryl Streep (Streep is “the best actress…actor…of all time”), believes Jessica Chastain is the best young actress currently working, and loves telling stories.  Most of what I heard had to do with The Coal Miner’s Daughter.  In short:

  • Spacek knew how good Tommy Lee Jones was in the film because she knew his real-life counterpart.
  • Loretta Lynn kept telling people that Spacek would play her in a film.  Spacek met with Lynn to squash that rumor.
  • The Oscar Spacek won made her bankable in Hollywood.

During one of the times I went in, one of the spotlight operators asked me if I would be there long.  When I answered in the affirmative, he put me in charge of his spotlight until he returned.  All I had to do was turn it off if more clips from Spacek’s career were shown.  They weren’t, so I just stood next to it the whole time.

The other tribute was for William Friedkin on Saturday, but he was at the Egyptian and I was working at the Uptown, so I didn’t get to go.  Emile Hirsch came, too, as both of them were promoting their new film, Killing Joe, which Friedkin directed and Hirsch starred in.

In between these tributes was the NW Connections Party on Friday, June 8, at The Grill on Broadway, which, unlike the other parties, started late, at 11 pm.  This party was for all the local filmmakers who had made films shown during the festival.  It is also where local public TV station KCTS gave out the first annual Seattle Reel NW Award, of which they were a sponsor.

And the winner is…
…Megan Griffiths, for EDEN!

While I didn’t see Lynn Shelton there (director of the Opening Night movie, Your Sister’s Sister), I did meet Megan Griffiths, soon after she won her award (I also talked with the person in charge of social media at KCTS).  Unfortunately, by that point they had taken her award away (to be given back to her on Closing Night–she also told me she wanted to “keep it [the award] clean”), but despite interruptions occurring every time I talked with her, she seems like a nice person.  She even agreed to take a photo with me.

Though that would have been a great time to whip out my business card and ask her to let me know if she ever needs a screenwriter, I did not (not that I’ve even written a screenplay before, but she doesn’t need to know that).  To be honest, I wouldn’t mind just being on a movie set and learning as much as I can from the crew.  For example, I’d love to learn about cinematography, including lenses, filters, and use of light.  I already have a pretty good eye for photography.

But I digress.

After the NW Connections Party (during which I sat, again, with some coworkers), there were only two more on the schedule: the Closing Night Gala (Sunday, June 10 at 8:30 pm), and the Super Secret Staff Party, which started when the Closing Night Gala ended.  But before the party, there was the movie, and for the first time all festival, it had multiple screenings.  In the same theater.  At the same time.  I doubt I will ever see concessions that busy again.

The movie was Grassroots, which was based on a book written by a former writer for The Stranger about his friend’s campaign for City Council.  Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (father of Maggie and Jake), who was in attendance, the film stars Jason Biggs, who was also in attendance, and a dude dressed up in a polar bear outfit, caught later dancing at the party.

Polar bear dancing

Here I feel I should mention something about Biggs.  After the movie ended, he stayed around for at least 10-15 minutes, talking with fans, signing autographs, and posing for pictures.  In fact, most of the guests at SIFF spent lots of time hanging out with moviegoers once their films had ended, often having to continue conversations in the lobby so that the next film could start on time.

Despite all this time he spent standing right next to our concession stand, I did not get a picture of Jason Biggs.  I got something even better: a picture of Jason Biggs’s soda.

Some of the ice cubes in there are mine.

The party for the Closing Night Gala was at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.  I got there for the last hour with a coworker, who graciously offered me a ride from work.  I couldn’t imagine how the Centerpiece Gala could have been better; this one had a cover band.  And they were awesome.

All Mixed Up plays at the Closing Night Gala

As for the Super Secret Staff Party, I cannot tell you anything about it: not where it was held, who went to it, or what occurred during its duration.  All I can share with you is this photo:.

Post-Festival Events

The last official SIFF party occurred on Tuesday, June 12, at 4 pm.  Like the NW Connections Party, it took place at the Grill on Broadway, after our kickball game at Cal Anderson Park (held at 2 pm).  The teams were Operations (which included Floor Staff) versus Artistic.  Though Artistic surged back, Operations won 6-5.  My contribution was in not catching a ball that resulted in a triple, getting out twice, and wearing the team t-shirt. There was also an unofficial karaoke party on Wednesday night, which I went to after my cleanup shift at the Uptown was over.  Apparently, performances from that night can be seen online.  For that reason, I’m not going to tell you where it was held, since my voice gave out near the end of “Uptown Girl.” 😛

The Film Festival Cometh… — Anniversary Post

SIFF 2012 was the first film festival I worked as staff, not as a volunteer. It also was the first festival after SIFF had acquired and opened the Uptown Theatre in Lower Queen Anne. And, it was the first festival where I went to a press screening. This was back before I had my website, so while I still tweet under the Twitter handle linked at the end of the post, if you want to follow my tweets during this year’s festival, you’ll want to follow @salvatorespeak.

Today I went to my first press screening (ever) for the Seattle International Film Festival.  This is where the press, people who shell out tons of money on movie passes, and movie staff, who don’t shell out lots of money on movie passes (because, hey, we work at movie theaters) get to see films picked for the Seattle International Film Festival before they play the festival.  For the past two weeks now, Monday through Thursday, the Uptown Theater has shown films at 10 am, 12 pm, and 2 pm.  You can stay for all three press screenings, but I had time I’d rather waste at home, and so only went to the first showing at 10 am.  Directed by Seattle’s own Megan Griffiths, the film was called Eden, and is based on a real incident that happened to Chong Kim, who was kidnapped as a teenager and forced into sexual slavery.  After reading about the Seattle film scene in the latest City Arts magazine, I was hoping to have a chance to talk to Griffiths at the screening (the notice I read said she would attend).  While I’m sure she was there, the notice did not say where she was sitting.  For all I know, she could have been the one who introduced the film, though I believe that person works in the SIFF offices.

Anyway, Eden is a solid, well-made film, and while the screenplay is by Griffiths and Rick Phillips, Jr., the story is by Chong Kim herself.  Considering how professional and well-crafted the film is speaks well for Griffiths’s future, as this is only her second feature-length film (I missed her first film, The Off Hours, when it played at SIFF last year).  To quote Benjamin Kasulke, the cinematographer on The Off Hours, in that same City Arts article, “Eden is a movie-movie.  It doesn’t show the edges of its indie-ness.”  The plot misses most clichés, the acting is strong, the dialog is mostly good, and the film makes the audience feel for these characters and their situations.

If I have a caveat, it involves a lack of underlying tension throughout.  Sure, some scenes were tense, such as when Vaughan (Matt O’Leary) asks Eden (Jamie Chung) to shoot one of the girls to prove her loyalty to him, but the film only occasionally highlights the danger that danger she, and all the other girls, are in.  This kind of plot should allow the audience to breathe, but I felt it let us breathe too much.  Only in dealing with the abduction itself is the tension there.  Would that it had kept that tension up throughout the film (Note: as I didn’t have my notepad with me, I don’t know what Eden’s name was before she was given the name “Eden,” and an Internet search has turned up nothing).

And now for something (not) completely different….

This year is the first year I will be working at the festival, having accepting a job as floor staff for SIFF Cinema at the beginning of 2012.  This is both good and bad: good, because I can go see any regularly priced film without having to cash in vouchers for it ahead of time (see my badge photo at the top of this post); bad, because my work hours won’t be as flexible as they would have been had I been volunteering.

Also, since I rather tired myself out trying to finish up blog entries about last year’s festival, and as that isn’t conducive to anyone, I will only be focusing on the truly great films on my blog this year, and leave the film-by-film account for Twitter, which is on the sidebar (you can follow me here).

SIFF 2012 runs from May 17-June 10. Click here for information on the movies playing this year. [Note: the link no longer exists. -5/21/19]

A SIFFtacular Wrap-Up to SIFF 2012

With the Volunteer Appreciation Night having occurred two weeks ago, right after the soda machines stopped working (they’re working now), the 2012 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival is at a close.  Last year, I saw 18 films and continued to write about the festival until the following year.  This year, I saw 20 films and will end my SIFF-related posts with this one.

So then, here are the films I saw during this year’s festival, along with when they played and what rating I gave them (5 is awesome, 1 is horribly, horribly bad).

  1. Eden (press screening); W, 5/9 10:00 am; Uptown 2; 4*
  2. Trishna; Su, 5/20 3:30 pm; Uptown 1; 3
  3. Goodbye; M, 5/21 6:30 pm; Pacific Place 11; 5
  4. How to Survive a Plague; — 9:00 pm;  —  ; 5
  5. Sacrifice; Tu, 5/22 4:00 pm; Harvard Exit; 2
  6. Tatsumi;  — 7:00 pm;   —   ; 3
  7. God Bless America; —  9:30 pm; Uptown 1; 4
  8. Sleepwalk With Me; W, 5/23 9:00 pm; Uptown 2; 4
  9. Superclásico; Th, 5/24 4:00 pm; Egyptian; 4
  10. As Luck Would Have It; Sa, 5/26 6:30 pm; Uptown 1; 3
  11. Charles Bradley: Soul of America; Tu, 5/29 6:30 pm; Harvard Exit; 4
  12. The Revolutionary; Th, 5/31 4:30 pm; Pacific Place 11; 4
  13. 170 Hz (NA Premiere);   —  9:00 pm;   —   ; 5
  14. Sunny; Sa, 6/2 11:30 am; Egyptian; 4
  15. Romancing in Thin Air; M, 6/4 4:00 pm; Egyptian; 4
  16. Rent-a-Cat;  —  9:30 pm;   —  ; 3
  17. Innocence; F, 6/8 4:00 pm; Harvard Exit; 3
  18. Wuthering Heights;   —  ; 6:30 pm; Harvard Exit Upstairs; 3
  19. A Checkout Girl’s Big Adventures; Sa, 6/9 12:30 pm; Uptown 1; 4
  20. Nosilatiaj: Beauty; Su, 6/10 11:00 am; Harvard Exit Upstairs; 4*
* These are the numbers I would have given these films, but press screenings and movies on the last day of the festival aren't voted on.

Last year, I tried to be tough on films; this year, I was a bit too lenient.  For me, a 3 meant the film was neither good nor bad, while a 4 was good to great, and a 5 was outstanding.  Still, I feel I should have given some films (like Sunny and A Checkout Girl’s Big Adventures) a 3 instead of a 4, and in rarer instances, a 3 should have been given a 2.  But, the rankings above were my immediate judgments after the film, so I shall let them stand.

As for the films I didn’t get to see (but wanted to):

  1. 11 Flowers
  2. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
  3. Alois Nebel
  4. Any Day Now
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  6. Brave
  7. The Chase
  8. Dreams of a Life
  9. The Empty Home
  10. Fat Kid Rules the World
  11. Finding North
  12. Fuck My Wedding
  13. I Wish
  14. The Intouchables
  15. The Invisible War
  16. Keyhole
  17. Kiss Me
  18. Little Toys**
  19. Lola Versus
  20. Long Night’s Journey Into Hell (shorts)
  21. Moonrise Kingdom
  22. Putin’s Kiss
  23. Robot and Frank
  24. Rose
  25. Safety Not Guaranteed
  26. Simon and the Oaks
  27. Take This Waltz
  28. Volcano
  29. Your Sister’s Sister
**An old and very rare leftist film from China.

Some of the films above I hope to see post-festival (I’ve already seen I Wish, which is excellent).  Others I’ll have to grab on DVD, or not at all.  The list, initially, was longer by one or two titles, but audience reaction and further investigation led me to leave those films off the list.

Now then, since this was the first time I worked as paid staff as the festival, rather than as a volunteer, my experience was different this year from past years; busier (at concessions), but also more rewarding (tips).  In addition, though I talked to my seatmates at past festivals (especially when I would pull out my notebook–always a great conversation starter at a movie), I found that the passholders talked to me more this year, for I was now one of them.  And when they saw that I was staff….  Plus, I got invited to events and films that I would have had to pay for in years past, such as the parties and the tributes.  I also felt that, by the end, I started to know the other seasonal staff that I was working with better than I had as a volunteer.  I also talked to the volunteers, since they had to come to us for their free popcorn and soda, but it was the venue managers and house coordinators that I saw and worked with every day.  By the end of the festival, even some of the people in the office knew my name.

So, after screening 454 films from 65 countries, with the help of 800+ volunteers, here are the winners of the Golden Space Needle and related awards: http://www.siff.net/festival/film/programdetail.aspx?FID=254&PID=442

And now, here are my awards, for achievements of my own making:

Most uplifting film: Charles Bradley: Soul of America

Most shocking film: Tatsumi

Funniest film: Sleepwalk with Me

Best use of comedic violence: God Bless America

Strangest use of comedic violence/Best use of 80s pop songs: Sunny

Worst use of a song: Wuthering Heights

Cutest film: Rent-A-Cat

Longest movie with the smallest pay-off: Sacrifice

Most mediocre adaptation of a British novel: Trishna (based on Tess of the D’Urbervilles) and Wuthering Heights (tie)

Most awkward narrative lurch: Innocence

Most interesting documentary subject: Sidney Rittenberg, The Revolutionary

Best sex scene: bathtub sex between the maid and the husband, Superclásico

Best cinematography: 170 Hz

Best dialogue: God Bless America

Best screenplay: Goodbye

And now, my picks for Golden Space Needle Awards:

Best actor: Michael Muller, 170 Hz

Best actress: Gaite Jansen, 170 Hz

Best director: Mohammad Rasoulof, Goodbye

Best documentary: How to Survive a Plague

And finally….

Best film: How to Survive a Plague

Until next year!

SIFF 2012: Galas, Tributes, Parties, And Other Happenings

At Kaspar’s for my first ever SIFF party

First, I should mention that I didn’t go to every party, and even fewer Galas (movie+party).  I didn’t go to the Opening Night Gala because no one told me I could, until after I had made plans.  Then, I didn’t get invites to the first couple of parties because I wasn’t on the staff-generated email list.  Once I got on the staff list, I got every update that I was supposed to get, and if I didn’t go to a party, it was because of work, exhaustion, or some other excuse. But first, I burned my fingers.This is why one should never pour coffee directly from the brewer, or at least pay attention while one is doing it.  So, after spilling much of the coffee out of the cup in a reaction to the incredible burning sensation and shock that I felt when the coffee hit my fingers, I filled the order, controlled my desire to faint, and then calmly walked over to the sink and doused my hand in cold water.  Later I put on some ointment we had upstairs, which worked amazingly well.  My fingers stopped hurting after that, and it healed in two days.  The picture above is what I wore home that night, but I traded it for a band-aid for the following night, when I went to my first movie+party, a Saturday Gala on May 26.  The movie was As Luck Would Have It at 6:30 pm at the Uptown, with Salma Hayek.  The party was at Kaspar’s at 8:30. There were appetizers.  There were drinks.  There was dancing. My yellow staff wristband got me unlimited drinks at the party, as opposed to the two drink limit that everyone else had.  Not that it mattered, as I’m not much of a drinker.  At the party, I sat with some of the staff from the theater, had two glasses of chardonnay and some rich food, and woke up the next day with a massive headache, which I thought was a result of the aforementioned chardonnay.  Except that a hangover doesn’t result in brief and multiple reigns on the porcelain throne.  Luckily, while I had to work Sunday, I had the following two days off to recuperate, even slipping in a movie on Tuesday.

I was plenty rested up for the Centerpiece Gala on Saturday, June 2, which is why it was such a shame that I couldn’t go, due to work.  Some of my coworkers were meeting for drinks after the official party, but for me, drinks alone do not a party make.  There must be either dancing or karaoke, too.  Plus, I was tired, so I went home and gave up my two invites to one of my friends, who invited one of her friends to go.

The next party I went to was the Gay-La in Capitol Hill on Wednesday, June 6, at The Lobby Bar.  Because I worked until 9:30 and the party was at 8:30, I got there late, apparently after the party reached its peak.  The place was nice, but there was no designated dance floor, so apart from people dancing in their chairs, it was a lot of drinking and talking until the bar closed at midnight.

Downstairs

Upstairs

The bar did, however, have a nice view of the road from the upstairs area, where I once again sat with some of my coworkers, including some people who only work the festival, and their friends. I should also mention that, both times, I brought one of my friends, too.  That pattern changed for the final three parties I went to. But first, SIFF had its first tribute, An Evening with Sissy Spacek, on Thursday, June 7, at the Uptown.

Long before the festival began, I offered to work that day. Then, the day after the event, I read an email saying that all staff could see the tributes for free (normally, we would have to pay for a ticket, since they cost more than your usual $11 movie).  Oh well.  I still had some time to duck into the theater for a few minutes here and there to see the Q&A, which was moderated by Richard Corliss.  I also saw another familiar person there as part of the press junket.  I remembered him from Ebertfest, but it took me awhile to remember his name.  Then it hit me: it’s David Poland! We had a red carpet for Spacek, then she was whisked away to the employee break room for any last-minute preparations (and possibly, to nibble on the Theo Mint and Hazelnut bars and drink some of the bottled water that had come from concessions).  Apparently, she entered the theater through the lobby, instead of going through the back entrance.  Only my boss noticed it, despite concessions being full of people.  As such, I only got a picture of the red carpet after she had left, and pictures of her during the Q&A from the back of the room.  I also got to use the break room right after she left it, though I refrained from sitting on the director’s chairs there.  I’m not that kind of fan. From what I picked up from the Q&A, Spacek thinks it ridiculous to compare “mere mortals” (including herself) to Meryl Streep (Streep is “the best actress…actor…of all time”), believes Jessica Chastain is the best young actress currently working, and loves telling stories.  Most of what I heard had to do with The Coal Miner’s Daughter.  In short:

  • Spacek knew how good Tommy Lee Jones was in the film because she knew his real-life counterpart.
  • Loretta Lynn kept telling people that Spacek would play her in a film.  Spacek met with Lynn to squash that rumor.
  • The Oscar Spacek won made her bankable in Hollywood.

During one of the times I went in, one of the spotlight operators asked me if I would be there long.  When I answered in the affirmative, he put me in charge of his spotlight until he returned.  All I had to do was turn it off if more clips from Spacek’s career were shown.  They weren’t, so I just stood next to it the whole time.

The other tribute was for William Friedkin on Saturday, but he was at the Egyptian and I was working at the Uptown, so I didn’t get to go.  Emile Hirsch came, too, as both of them were promoting their new film, Killing Joe, which Friedkin directed and Hirsch starred in.

In between these tributes was the NW Connections Party on Friday, June 8, at The Grill on Broadway, which, unlike the other parties, started late, at 11 pm.  This party was for all the local filmmakers who had made films shown during the festival.  It is also where local public TV station KCTS gave out the first annual Seattle Reel NW Award, of which they were a sponsor.

And the winner is…

…Megan Griffiths, for EDEN!

While I didn’t see Lynn Shelton there (director of the Opening Night movie, Your Sister’s Sister), I did meet Megan Griffiths, soon after she won her award (I also talked with the person in charge of social media at KCTS).  Unfortunately, by that point they had taken her award away (to be given back to her on Closing Night–she also told me she wanted to “keep it [the award] clean”), but despite interruptions occurring every time I talked with her, she seems like a nice person.  She even agreed to take a photo with me.

Though that would have been a great time to whip out my business card and ask her to let me know if she ever needs a screenwriter, I did not (not that I’ve even written a screenplay before, but she doesn’t need to know that).  To be honest, I wouldn’t mind just being on a movie set and learning as much as I can from the crew.  For example, I’d love to learn about cinematography, including lenses, filters, and use of light.  I already have a pretty good eye for photography.

But I digress.

After the NW Connections Party (during which I sat, again, with some coworkers), there were only two more on the schedule: the Closing Night Gala (Sunday, June 10 at 8:30 pm), and the Super Secret Staff Party, which started when the Closing Night Gala ended.  But before the party, there was the movie, and for the first time all festival, it had multiple screenings.  In the same theater.  At the same time.  I doubt I will ever see concessions that busy again.

The movie was Grassroots, which was based on a book written by a former writer for The Stranger about his friend’s campaign for City Council.  Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (father of Maggie and Jake), who was in attendance, the film stars Jason Biggs, who was also in attendance, and a dude dressed up in a polar bear outfit, caught later dancing at the party.

Polar bear dancing

Here I feel I should mention something about Biggs.  After the movie ended, he stayed around for at least 10-15 minutes, talking with fans, signing autographs, and posing for pictures.  In fact, most of the guests at SIFF spent lots of time hanging out with moviegoers once their films had ended, often having to continue conversations in the lobby so that the next film could start on time.

Despite all this time he spent standing right next to our concession stand, I did not get a picture of Jason Biggs.  I got something even better: a picture of Jason Biggs’s soda.

Some of the ice cubes in there are mine.

The party for the Closing Night Gala was at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.  I got there for the last hour with a coworker, who graciously offered me a ride from work.  I couldn’t imagine how the Centerpiece Gala could have been better; this one had a cover band.  And they were awesome.

All Mixed Up plays at the Closing Night Gala

As for the Super Secret Staff Party, I cannot tell you anything about it: not where it was held, who went to it, or what occurred during its duration.  All I can share with you is this photo:.

Post-Festival Events

The last official SIFF party occurred on Tuesday, June 12, at 4 pm.  Like the NW Connections Party, it took place at the Grill on Broadway, after our kickball game at Cal Anderson Park (held at 2 pm).  The teams were Operations (which included Floor Staff) versus Artistic.  Though Artistic surged back, Operations won 6-5.  My contribution was in not catching a ball that resulted in a triple, getting out twice, and wearing the team t-shirt. There was also an unofficial karaoke party on Wednesday night, which I went to after my cleanup shift at the Uptown was over.  Apparently, performances from that night can be seen online.  For that reason, I’m not going to tell you where it was held, since my voice gave out near the end of “Uptown Girl.” 😛

Next post: my official wrap-up of SIFF 2012, including all the films I saw, all the ones I wish I had seen, and my final impressions of this year’s festival.

Best of SIFF 2012: Week Three and Closing Weekend

Out of the six films I saw during the final week and weekend of SIFF, I gave out no 5s.  Therefore, this post will include only an honorable mention, which also happened to be the last film that I saw, complete with a Q&A.


Honorable Mention: Nosilatiaj.Beauty (North American Premiere on Sunday, June 3)

(d: Daniela Seggiaro, c: Ximena Banús, Rosmeri Segundo, Victor Hugo Carrizo, Argentina 2012, 83 mins)

Called Nosilatiaj.La Belleza in Spanish, this film tells the story of Yolanda (Rosmeri Segundo), who works for the matriarch of a family; her name is Sara (Ximena Banús).  Yolanda is a Wichi: an indigenous group that lives in the northwest part of Argentina (the film was shot in the Gran Chaco area, specifically where Argentina meets Bolivia and Paraguay).  During the movie, she narrates memories of her culture in her own language (Wichi Lhämtes), while most of the film is in Spanish, revolving around the 15th birthday party celebration of Antonella (Camila Romagnolo), Sara’s daughter.  Through Sara’s betrayal, Yolanda’s hair is cut — hair which, in Wichi culture, is never to be cut unless someone dies.  Nominated in the New Directors Competition (as was Joost van Ginkel for 170 Hz), Daniela Seggiaro trusts the intelligence of her audience in this well-crafted, meditative view of how Argentinians, and indeed all of us, do much harm to indigenous cultures through our ignorance of their customs and our inflated view of our own.

Q&A with director Daniela Seggiaro: Based on the subject matter, perhaps it’s no surprise that Seggiaro’s mother is an anthropologist (the film is dedicated to her).  Indeed, Seggiaro based her film on a story someone told her and her mother’s work with indigenous people, particularly the Wichi.  Seggario spoke through a translator (Spencer, who did a fantastic job), but can also speak some English, which might have made my later meeting with her a little less awkward since, like many Americans, I can only speak English–and some French and Japanese.

Much of the Q&A focused on Yolanda’s hair, which is a central part of the story.  One person asked about the connection between the hair being cut and the trees being cut.  Seggiaro explained that they are connected: just as the earth shakes when the trees are cut (earthquake), so Yolanda shakes when her hair is cut.

Seggiaro also explained in more detail the relationships between the people living with Sara, since some of them are not her children.  In the movie, she wanted it to be subtle, but the youngest boy in the family has the same father, but a different mother, from the other children.  As for the still shots expertly worked into the film, she and the director of photography decided on what images to use, both in symbolizing remembrances of a past time (when Yolanda is narrating) and for arbitrary moments as a way to let the audience reflect on what has transpired, like the pillow shots employed by Ozu (note: no director of photography is listed on IMDB, but the cinematographer is Willi Behnisch).

Like I mentioned, I met with her afterwards and had my picture taken with her, after she spoke a little English, and I stood there having forgotten my native tongue.  Unfortunately, the person who took my photo forgot to hold down the shutter button first so that the lens would focus correctly.  Being that the remembrance shots in the film were blurred, though, perhaps this photo is an unintentional homage to her film.  Regardless, I hope Nosilatiaj.Beauty finds distribution.  And whether she continues to turn out solid films like this one (for which she wrote the screenplay) or turns out the occasional masterpiece, I look forward to seeing what Daniela Seggiaro plans on making in the future.

 The IMDB page for Nosilatiaj.La Belleza can be found here.

And here is a trailer for the film.

The Best of SIFF 2012: Week Two

I didn’t see nearly as many films this week as I did last week, and the films this week were not the juggernauts that Goodbye and How to Survive a Plague were.  Still, I found one surprisingly great film, and an honorable mention whose greatness came from its subject, if not always its execution.

170 Hz (North American Premiere)

(d: Joost van Ginkel, c: Gaite Jansen, Michael Muller, Eva van Heijningen, Netherlands 2011, 86 min)

This was the second of two films I saw on Thursday at Pacific Place, which has moved out of the doghouse and into the mansion, based on the quality of films that I’ve seen there during the festival this year.  Digital still looks a bit too harsh for me (not every line has to be delineated), but the cinematography and lighting in this film are gorgeous.  Some of the artsiness, however, is overdone (closeups of eyes, bodies, and red paint thrown in slow motion).  Still, what matters is the impact of the ending, which is not affected by these affectations, and the performances, which filled scenes that could have devolved into clichés with energy.

The movie follows two adolescents, Nick (Michael Muller) and Evy (Gaite Jansen), both of whom are deaf, both of whom have fathers who don’t accept them for what they are. Nick has an especially volatile relationship with his father (Porgy Franssen).  When we first meet his father, he comes home in a new, vintage car.  Instead of signing to his son, as his wife (Ariane Schluter) does, he just looks at him with disappointment on his face.  After his father leaves, Nick opens the door of the car and pees over the interior.  On the other hand, Evy’s father (Hugo Haenen) signs with his daughter, but seems overly protective of her.  One night, he makes the mistake of slapping her over her decision to keep seeing Nick.  Though he is sorry, this pushes Evy to the only solution she believes will allow her to stay with Nick forever: they will run away together, and she will come back pregnant with his baby.  Still, she is surprised when they leave so early in the morning to live in an abandoned Soviet sub. While the audience can guess what has happened from the moment Nick starts hallucinating about his dad, Ely does not find out until later, after which the film references images seen at the very beginning of the film, but which we now have context for, making them all the more powerful for it.

While the movie mostly takes place in the world of sound, occasionally we are plunged into Evy and Nick’s soundless world.  Sign language is the main form of communication in the film.  Because of this, and because it focuses so strongly on the two leads, they must carry the film, and they do.  They, and the gorgeous cinematography, are the reasons why this film works as well as it does.  A real find.

Honorable Mention: the Revolutionary (World Premiere on Sunday)

(d: Lucy Ostrander, Don Sellers, Irv Drasnin, USA 2012, 92 min)

This fine documentary (which I saw on Thursday before 170 Hz) follows the exploits of the now nonagenarian Sidney Rittenberg, who first went to China in 1945 and stayed until the 1980s.  Along the way, he joined the Communist Party, met Mao Zedong and other important communist leaders, was imprisoned twice in solitary confinement, and survived the Cultural Revolution. While the voiceovers at the beginning of certain sections of the narrative play too much like a History Channel special, Rittenberg is that rare individual who can not only recall events that took place almost seventy years ago, but can also be critical of his past actions.  Through his memories, and some from his wife, the entire Chinese communist revolution plays out before us.  As of yet, this film has no distributor.  It should.  It’s an important film about a great man that falls just short of being a great film.

(One of my favorite parts in the film is when Rittenberg comes out of solitary confinement for the first time.  His Chinese wife, not knowing where he was, has divorced him.  Back in his office, he sees a secretary in pigtails enter.  When she returns to the reception area, “she left the door open, which she still does.”  So, he is able to hear the office ladies talking about his wife divorcing him.  They side with his wife.  Only the girl with pigtails sides with him.  When one of the women says, “What should she have done?  She didn’t know where he was for six years,” the girl says, “For love, she should wait six, ten, twenty years!”  That girl with pigtails, named Yulin, is his wife to this day.)

Q&A with directors Lucy Ostrander, Don Sellers, Irv Drasnin, subject Sidney Rittenberg, and consultant Xiaoyan Zhao: Before the Q&A began, I really had to use the restroom.  Unfortunately, when I zipped up, I caught part of the fabric from my boxers in my zipper.  So here I am, in the men’s bathroom, thinking, “Oh crap. I’m going to miss the entire Q&A over a Ben Stiller moment.”  I eventually got it unstuck, but I had to go into a stall so as to have more privacy to really yank at it (the zipper, that is).  Anyway, I missed part of the Q&A because of that.  To compensate, Rittenberg had been sitting at the end of our row during the film, so when he directed glowing words to his wife as part of the Q&A (one person said she’s the only person in the documentary who comes out looking good), I could lean over a bit and see her embarrassed, but pleased, expression, as if a teacher were praising her in front of the class.

In the free SIFF guide, there are two errors in regards to this film: one is that Rittenberg had “divided loyalties” (during the Q&A, he said that his underground name was “Thomas Paine” and that he always wore Western dress, so as to show where his loyalties were), the other that he “befriended Mao” (as Sellers mentioned in the lobby, one doesn’t really “befriend” Mao).  Other topics covered during the Q&A included why Rittenberg left China (once he realized that the problems with Marxist communism were systemic–its main idea is that “through a dictatorship, you can get a democracy”–he left), whether communism has been good for China (Rittenberg said that life expectancy has doubled for babies since the DRC was formed, though Sellers pointed out that not everyone is enjoying the benefits of a long life in China), and the issue of Tibet.  Rittenberg mentioned that the current Dalai Lama’s predecessor tried to find national recognition for Tibet as a country separate from China, but no government agency would do so, and never has.  Also, while Tibet has experienced “tremendous economic success,” that hasn’t carried over into ethnic autonomy.  The main problem with that is what Rittenberg describes as Great Han chauvinism, which is similar to the white chauvinism that occurred in his home state of North Carolina in the 1960s.  In other words, Chinese people believe that all the non-Hans should be grateful to the Hans for all that they’ve given them, which breeds contempt for the non-Hans when they complain.

The final two questions touched on U.S.-Chinese relations and why the Cultural Revolution ended so abruptly (and why it didn’t end earlier).  On the first, Rittenberg said that they will continue to be bumpy, but both countries realize that their economies are interlocked.  We buy cheap goods from China so that they can finance our debt.  Human rights are more a political tool than a serious charge against China; if we ever got serious about human rights in China, then that would be a different story.  On the second, people saw early on that the Cultural Revolution was bad, but nothing could be done while Mao was alive.  Once he died, all that had to be done was to arrest the Gang of Four, and the revolution ended.  Also, the death of Zhou Enlai (Mao’s main political opponent), six months before Mao’s death, brought out an outpouring of national grief in Tiananmen Square, which turned into a protest against the Gang of Four, and Mao.

Out in the lobby, I only got photos of the directors and Rittenberg separately (without my being in them), but as I wandered around the area, camera in hand, I was approached by Xiaoyan Zhao, who asked if I would take a picture of everyone (the directors, Rittenberg, Yulin, and Zhao) in front of the poster.  Handing her much better camera to me, she then asked if I take good pictures, to which I said, “Yes.”  So, although I didn’t get a photo with anyone from the film, I did take the official photo of them.  I’ll take that as a consolation prize. 🙂

Sidney Rittenberg signs a program for a fan

Sidney talks to SIFF patrons

Irv Drasnin and Lucy Ostrander (standing next to each other, center of photo)

Lucy Ostrander and Don Sellers

Irv, Lucy, and Don in front of the poster for The Revolutionary

Here is the official home page for 170 Hz (in Dutch)http://www.170hz.nl/

And here is the official home page for The Revolutionary: http://revolutionarymovie.com/

The Best of SIFF 2012: Week One

Inside AMC Pacific Place

Goodbye

(d: Mohammad Rasoulof, c: Leila Zare, Hasssan Pourshirazi, Behname Tashakor, Iran 2011, 104 min)

Last year, I didn’t go to Pacific Place, mad as I was that the previous year, they had shown two movies (on two different screens) with bulbs that wouldn’t have lit my closet.  This year, however, I decided to give them another chance (especially after seeing a well-lit screening of Shame there and realizing that perhaps their bulbs were just in need of replacement near the end of a three-week festival).  On the positive side, it wasn’t the picture this time.

Instead, a speed demon had possessed the subtitle machine, churning out subtitles faster than the characters could speak the words in their native language.  Luckily, as is true with most great works of art, even a poor production couldn’t hide its brilliance.  (I should note that refunds and vouchers were given to people who wanted them.  As my pass allows me to get into movies for free, I stayed, more concerned that I would be working the next and final time that this movie plays. Hopefully they’ll show it again during the Best of SIFF.)  Despite the subtitles completely throwing off the rhythm of the dialogue, at least they came before, and not after the action had occurred.  As a result, it required a strong memory to remember what had been translated a scene or two before, and then to match it up with what was being heard at present.  If anything, I should thank the faulty equipment for helping me learn Persian.  Had the film been longer, I might have become fluent.

The film deals with Noora (Leila Zare), a pregnant woman trying to obtain a visa so that she can leave Iran.  The woman has been stripped of her law license, which she used to defend advocates against the regime.  Her husband (Shahab Hosseini, who was in the excellent A Separation) is working somewhere in the south, and is unreachable by phone.  He used to write articles critical of the government.  She has several unpleasant encounters with the authorities, and several with the associate of a man who might be able to get her out of Iran, despite her own activities and those of her husband.

From the SIFF brochure: “The director, Mohammed Rasoulof, was imprisoned in 2010 for ‘propagandizing against the regime.'”  Goodbye is not him playing nice (in fact, it was the last film he made before he was imprisoned).  In it, he gives us a beautifully shot film about life and oppression in Iran, filled with little details that say so much with so little (Noora’s turtle trying to escape its cage, Noora removing her fingernail polish on the train ride back home from the doctor’s), and a great balance between words and silence.  Much of the action occurs off-screen, allowing the audience to think on what they are seeing, and focus on the reaction of the characters they can see.

Last year, I named The White Meadows (also directed by Rasoulof) as the best film at SIFF.  Without seeing it with its subtitles at the proper speed, I can’t say whether this film is its equal (though I suspect that it is), but I can say that these two films, in addition to A Separation and the films of Kiarostami, show that something special is happening in Iran in regards to filmmaking, even as life for the artists there is becoming more and more unbearable.

UPDATE: After the festival ended, I got to seen a screener of the film with the subtitles intact.  It’s as powerful as I imagined, though I still give the edge to The White Meadows as the slightly better film.

I then had a short break before my next film, so I decided to buy some overpriced food in order to support the theater (distributors aren’t good at sharing) and my stomach.  In retrospect, I shouldn’t have bought the large soda, as it took me two days to finish, and was larger than the pizza I ordered.

I’d hate to see their X-Large.

How to Survive a Plague

(d: David France, USA 2012, 110 min)

The next movie I saw had no subtitle issues.  I was going to say that’s because it had no subtitles, but it actually did have some closed-captioning, which worked fine.  As fine a film as the previous one, but with even more emotional heft, How to Survive a Plague documents ACT UP New York, as it raced to get affordable drugs on the market for people dying of AIDS.  Though there are roughly two more weeks left of the festival, I seriously doubt any other films I see will be better than this one.  Informative, exhaustive, uplifting, sad, and consisting almost entirely of archived footage shot by amateurs, this is one incredible film.

How to Survive a Plague covers the years 1987-1996, beginning when ACT UP began and when AIDS was at its peak, and continuing until the correct cocktail of drugs was found so that people could live long lives with the disease.  It focuses on the heroes–including Larry Kramer, Mark Harrington, , Bob Rafsky, Jim Eigo, Ray Navarro, David Barr, Gregg Bordowitz, and Peter Staley–as they first stage protests, and then (with the help of Iris Long, a retired chemist and another name that history should remember) learn to navigate through scientific waters, even preparing a report on how the United States should handle the epidemic, something that no one in the U.S. had yet done.

Eventually, TAG (Treatment Action Group) forms within ACT UP to work with pharmaceutical companies and government agencies in getting effective drugs on the market to combat AIDS and its effects. It is one of these companies, MERCK, that finds the first protease inhibitor, and later discovers the three drugs needed to reduce the HIV virus to undetectable levels.

Beyond being a film about the fight to find a cure for AIDS, the film is also about a grassroots organization that evolved into the most potent weapon against AIDS.  While millions of people still die from AIDS every year (2 million from not being able to afford the necessary drugs), millions more would have died if not for ACT UP and TAG and their relentless efforts to get affordable and effective drugs on the market.

Q&A with director David France: David France was in attendance and received a richly deserved and prolonged ovation after the film.  Also, the Q&A session was the best one I’ve ever attended at SIFF, with Carl Spence (artistic director) as moderator.  The first “question” was from a man who talked a little about ACT UP Seattle, which had been the first branch to create a needle exchange (later copied in other cities) and adult hospice care during the day. As French explained, there are over 200 branches of ACT UP around the country (245?), though the film only dealt with the one formed in Greenwich Village.  He also mentioned that he thought he would have enough archival footage to tell the story, since AIDS was first identified in 1981 and the first camcorders came out in 1982.  Since the news media ignored AIDS when it first appeared, it was mostly documented by activists.  Some of this footage came from the New York Public Library, and organizations within ACT UP, such as DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activist Television), whose job was to document police brutality.  Most of the footage, however, was in private video collections not stored in optimal conditions.  As videotape deteriorates fast, the sound quality on some of these tapes was horrendous.  To help, Skywalker Sound allowed their technicians to work on it pro-bono, including Lora Hirschberg, who won an Oscar for Sound Mixing on Inception.  France said that she found inflections where they couldn’t hear words.

The next question involved the Occupy Wall Street Movement. France said that he was already editing the film before the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring occurred, but he did see similarities.  He also said that it takes time for organizations–“great organizations”–to decide what they are about.  ACT UP began with anger channeled into confrontational protests before Iris Long explained to them that this would not get drugs on the market faster, which subsequently led them to research the science behind drug toxicology and the process behind FDA approval of new drugs.

The last question of the night was merely a statement that all of us in the room felt: a thank you to David French for making the film.  Though I had ample time to ask for a photo with French, I merely shook his hand on the way out and said, “Thank you for making such a great film.”  I then went into the restroom, where I was blocked in by a small dumpster.  All I have to say is, good thing I’m skinny.

P.S. Before How to Survive a Plague began, I talked with the two women next to me about Goodbye, and I found out something highly significant about the last scene in The White Meadows (SPOILER ALERT). When the tears are used to wash the feet of an old man, Iranians would recognize that the old man is the Ayatollah.  In other words, their tears (grievances) are being wasted at his feet.  Same with pouring them in the water.

Honorable Mention: Sleepwalk with Me

(d: Mike Birbiglia, c: Mike Birgiblia, Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane, USA 2012, 90 min)

The funniest film so far at the festival, it brings This America Life contributor Mike Birbiglia’s one-man show to the screen, which follows a struggling comic named Matt Pandamiglio (Birbligia), who has been going out with his girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose) for eight years but can’t commit.  And, oh yeah, he acts out his dreams in his sleep.

There is no official website for Goodbye, but here is an interview with Rasoulof, talking about the film  There are a couple minor spoilers, so you might want to read this after you see the film: http://idiommag.com/2012/03/strange-times-my-dear-mohammad-rasoulof-on-goodbye/

IFC Films will be distributing How to Survive a Plague in the fall. For more information, you can go to the official website, which has a great press package pagehttp://www.howtosurviveaplague.com/

And finally, here is the official website for Sleepwalk with Me: http://www.sleepwalkmovie.com/

The Film Festival Cometh…

Today I went to my first press screening (ever) for the Seattle International Film Festival.  This is where the press, people who shell out tons of money on movie passes, and movie staff, who don’t shell out lots of money on movie passes (because, hey, we work at movie theaters) get to see films picked for the Seattle International Film Festival before they play the festival.  For the past two weeks now, Monday through Thursday, the Uptown Theater has shown films at 10 am, 12 pm, and 2 pm.  You can stay for all three press screenings, but I had time I’d rather waste at home, and so only went to the first showing at 10 am.  Directed by Seattle’s own Megan Griffiths, the film was called Eden, and is based on a real incident that happened to Chong Kim, who was kidnapped as a teenager and forced into sexual slavery.  After reading about the Seattle film scene in the latest City Arts magazine, I was hoping to have a chance to talk to Griffiths at the screening (the notice I read said she would attend).  While I’m sure she was there, the notice did not say where she was sitting.  For all I know, she could have been the one who introduced the film, though I believe that person works in the SIFF offices.

Anyway, Eden is a solid, well-made film, and while the screenplay is by Griffiths and Rick Phillips, Jr., the story is by Chong Kim herself.  Considering how professional and well-crafted the film is speaks well for Griffiths’s future, as this is only her second feature-length film (I missed her first film, The Off Hours, when it played at SIFF last year).  To quote Benjamin Kasulke, the cinematographer on The Off Hours, in that same City Arts article, “Eden is a movie-movie.  It doesn’t show the edges of its indie-ness.”  The plot misses most clichés, the acting is strong, the dialog is mostly good, and the film makes the audience feel for these characters and their situations.

If I have a caveat, it involves a lack of underlying tension throughout.  Sure, some scenes were tense, such as when Vaughan (Matt O’Leary) asks Eden (Jamie Chung) to shoot one of the girls to prove her loyalty to him, but the film only occasionally highlights the danger that danger she, and all the other girls, are in.  This kind of plot should allow the audience to breathe, but I felt it let us breathe too much.  Only in dealing with the abduction itself is the tension there.  Would that it had kept that tension up throughout the film (Note: as I didn’t have my notepad with me, I don’t know what Eden’s name was before she was given the name “Eden,” and an Internet search has turned up nothing).

And now for something (not) completely different….

This year is the first year I will be working at the festival, having accepting a job as floor staff for SIFF Cinema at the beginning of 2012.  This is both good and bad: good, because I can go see any regularly priced film without having to cash in vouchers for it ahead of time (see my badge photo at the top of this post); bad, because my work hours won’t be as flexible as they would have been had I been volunteering.

Also, since I rather tired myself out trying to finish up blog entries about last year’s festival, and as that isn’t conducive to anyone, I will only be focusing on the truly great films on my blog this year, and leave the film-by-film account for Twitter, which is on the sidebar (you can follow me here).

SIFF 2012 runs from May 17-June 10. Click here for information on the movies playing this year.