SIFF 2014: 40th Anniversary Special Presentation of The Whole Wide World–Saturday, June 7 — Anniversary Post

My last anniversary post from 2014 is bittersweet. Seeing The Whole Wide World on 35mm (at a time when 35mm was getting rarer and rarer) is one of my fondest memories from any of the festivals, and yet just two years later, SIFF would be mourning the loss of the film’s director (and SIFF co-founder), Dan Ireland. Also, like many of the links to SIFF’s old web page, one of the ones I cite below is no longer active, so I’ve removed the link, but kept the text.

Carl Spence and director (and SIFF co-founder) Dan Ireland
Carl Spence and director (and SIFF co-founder) Dan Ireland

The first Seattle International Film Festival began on May 14, 1976, at the Moore Egyptian Theatre and ended on May 31 (there was no 13th Seattle International Film Festival, which is why this year is the 40th Seattle International Film Festival).  Dan Ireland and Darryl Macdonald (which I’ve also seen spelled MacDonald) started the festival a year after taking over the Moore Theatre and renaming it the Moore Egyptian Theatre.  The first festival showed 18 films.  In 1985, the festival moved to the Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill, which was renovated (as was the Moore) by Ireland and Macdonald. (Sources: Historylink.org and SIFF History)  Therefore, it’s appropriate that not only would the 40th festival show one of Ireland’s films (his first feature), but that they would show it at the newly opened Egyptian Theatre.

Before the feature film, however, there was a short, and before the short, there was a wait period, as Carl Spence, Ireland, and Macdonald were all on hand to fiddle with the equipment after the previous screening in order to make sure that Ireland’s screening went off flawlessly.  That meant that passholders were put in a “holding area” in the lobby before being allowed to enter the theater.  Our passes were all prescanned, as well.

Once all was well, we took our seats, the ticketholders took their seats, and we were treated to an introduction by Spence.  Besides mentioning that Ireland and Macdonald started the Seattle International Film Festival, he thanked the sponsors (as the presenters always do), which in this case were board member Aron Michael Thompson, who underwrote the screening, and the always awesome Scarecrow Video, who has sponsored several of the screenings I’ve gone to at the festival.

Then Dan Ireland came out, thanking Carl for opening four screens that had been closed (three at the Uptown, one at the Egyptian).  He said his and Darryl’s hearts had hurt when the Egyptian had closed.  After that, he introduced the world premiere of his short, “Hate from a Distance.”  The story had originally come to him from Dennis Yares while Ireland was filming Jolene with Jessica Chastain (Yares wrote the screenplay).  The film coincides with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act and centers around an image that horrified Ireland when he first saw it: that of a mother dressing her son in a KKK outfit (the photo appears onscreen at the end of the film).  Ireland then introduced the cast and crew members in the audience and had them stand, which were Yares (writer, producer), Kate Krieger (actress), and Harry Gregson-Williams (composer).  He also thanked Darryl for continuing the festival after he left to pursue directing.

“Hate from a Distance” is an excellent short film that tells of racism as seen through the eyes of a child.  Danny Baker (Asher Angel) is a young white boy whose father Ned (Brendan Bradley) is forever at odds with his black neighbor, Clyde (Rashawn Underdue), despite the fact that they used to be friends when boys.  Danny traces the animosity back to when Clyde tried to prove that he had a claim on the land that Ned owned, only to have the deed ripped up before his face by the judge.  The current dispute is that Clyde’s children steal potatoes from Ned’s property.  The film ties in the Biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar and the three men in the furnace with the house that is set on fire near the end of the short.  The film is dedicated to the four girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing, an act that helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The dedication is preceded by a quote from Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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Dennis Yares, Kate Krieger, and Harry Gregson-Williams are asked a question by Ireland

When the short ended, Spence and Ireland were joined onstage by Yares, Krieger, and Gregson-Williams for a short Q & A.  Having come from Canada, Ireland noticed a difference in how blacks were treated in the U.S.  He said we shouldn’t look at “how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go.”  Spence asked if Ireland was worried the film was too dark.  “Of course!” Ireland said, but he wanted to make a statement.  Spence then wanted to talk about the music.  For that, Gregson-Williams (who has scored all of Ireland’s films) had written a gospel-like piece prior to being asked, which Ireland decided to use.

D.D. Yares expounds on an answer
Yares expounds on an answer

Then Ireland talked about Krieger and her character.  Even though Krieger is the most talented actress (or actor) he’s mentored, when he came to her with this character (who plays Danny’s mother), he told her, “This is the most constipated character you’ll ever play.”  Krieger wasn’t the only person acting in the film who Ireland has mentored; he also mentored Bradley.  As for Angel, there’s a different connection: he’s Yares’s grandson.  Though child actors can be “terrifying,” Ireland said, “Working with Asher is a dream.”

The film will be playing at the Museum of Tolerance on July 2nd.

The Whole Wide World (Dan Ireland, 111 mins, USA 1996)

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Renée Zellweger as Novalyne Price and Vincent D’Onofrio as Robert Howard (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Before The Whole Wide World was screened, Ireland shared a message that D’Onofrio had sent him (he couldn’t be there because he was shooting elsewhere).  In it, he said the film will always be close to his heart.  “I consider The Whole Wide World a classic,” he continued.  Also, there is a scene in the movie where he is swinging a sword, which had to be sharp enough to cut blades of grass.  At the end of the scene, he plunges the blade into the ground.  When he looked down, he noticed that the blade had only missed his foot by centimeters, and he thought, “Only for Dan.  Only for Dan.”

Zellweger also couldn’t be there, as she was attending her mom’s birthday on the East Coast (“That’s what I love about her, ” Ireland said).  Ireland had Spence read her message, in which she wrote, “Hi Danny boy!” and gave instructions to embarrass the brilliant composer (Gregson-Williams), but to embarrass Vinny (D’Onofrio) even more.  She also thanked D’Onofrio for helping her act (by putting it all out there).

We then learned that we would be seeing a print, and not just any print, but Ireland’s personal print (according to Ireland, it’s the only print out there, which is a shame)!  Spence also mentioned that they rigged the speaker system from McCaw Hall so that the movies at the Egyptian would sound better than they had in the past.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)
(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

The Whole Wide World opened SIFF 22 in 1996.  People who saw it back then recall it with fondness, and indeed, it is a wonderful film about the relationship between Texas schoolteacher Novalyne Price and Conan the Barbarian author Robert Howard.  Howard is uncouth, doesn’t like others, and isn’t respectable, but he has a good heart, is a good writer, and has a great imagination.  There is much made about his closeness to his mother, which might have prevented him from having any sort of romantic relationship, but the movie is really about two people who cared deeply for each other, even when they wouldn’t admit it.  The script is well-written, the acting is great, the Texas sunsets sumptuous (colors really pop more on film than they do on DCP–especially reds), and to watch a print, despite a few frames that had a bit of dust in them, was such a treat.  Sweet and sad, this is a lovely piece of work.

Like most of his criticism, Roger Ebert’s review of this film really gets to its heart.  If my review doesn’t convince you to see this movie, I hope his more detailed review does.

SIFF 2014: Silent Movie Sunday (with Sosin)–May 23 — Anniversary Post

One of the great things about film festivals is not just all the new films you can see, but also all the old ones. In the case of silent films, they’re often shown with new scores performed live. Though it’s more often the case that a new film you see at a festival will never play again, some of the old films can be quite rare, too. This was the case for SIFF 2014, where one of the films I saw is so rare, even Scarecrow Video doesn’t own a copy.

Though not planned, my Sunday consisted entirely of silent films, accompanied by Donald Sosin and introduced by SIFF board member (and silent movie scholar) Richie Meyer, who was himself introduced by artistic director Carl Spence.  To add a little silent film zaniness to my morning, the bus I was on blew out one of its tires.  Luckily, it was able to crawl to the next stop, which was only one stop away from mine.  And then, on the way back home that night, the bus I was on stalled right before the last stop!

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From “The Immigrant” (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

First came the Chaplin Shorts, consisting of “The Kid Auto Races at Venice” (1914-which includes a rare walk-on appearance by Chaplin, as an early incarnation of his Tramp character), “One A.M.” (1916), “Easy Street” (1917), and “The Immigrant” (1917).  Meyer mentioned that this year is the 100th anniversary of Chaplin’s first appearance on film.  He was signed by Keystone in December 1913 and made his first film with them in January the following year.  By the spring of 1914, he was directing his own films, as he hated being directed by others.  In 1915 (late 1914, according to Wikipedia), he was signed by the Essanay Company, and in 1916 he was signed by Mutual to a $700,000 a year contract (with a $100,000 a year signing bonus), making him the highest paid person in the world.

Meyer went on to talk a bit about Chaplin’s upbringing.  His mother was committed to an insane asylum and his father was a drunk, so he was mostly brought up by his older brother.  Chaplin’s early life experiences permeate the 81 films that he made.  Of the films we saw, the first one was made while Chaplin was at Keystone, while the last three were made at Mutual.  “One A.M.” includes Chaplin as an inebriate; “Easy Street” is where the word “heavy” comes from (as used to denote a bad guy), as the villain in the film is quite large; and “The Immigrant” includes social commentary (and is also the short that the boys see in Au Revoir, Les Enfants).  Meyer then introduced Donald Sosin, who had just come from Russia.  Coincidentally, he had just played accompaniment for “The Immigrant” there.  Then, Meyer called out different themes used in silent films: the hero, the villain, the heroine, the chase, the sad ending, the Hollywood ending.  Sosin played a bit of each theme before being cut off by Meyer.

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Donald Sosin at keyboard

The accompaniment to all of the shorts was excellent, though I’m not sure if Sosin played the original scores for each work or his own (UPDATE 6/1: Sosin played all original compositions, though he did make use of some of the themes in SONG OF THE FISHERMEN).  In any case, the shorts improved as they went on.  In “The Kid Auto Races at Venice,” Chaplin does little more than come into and out of the shot and hog the scenery.  Funny improvisation, but nothing spectacular.  “One A.M.,” which he directed (unlike the first short) has some hilarious gags, including an extended one where he tries to reach the second floor of his house, only to be thwarted by the stairs, then the pendulum on a clock, and even a stuffed bear.  That sequence, however, goes on for too long.  While the gags show off Chaplin’s inventiveness, he hadn’t yet learned how to tell a story in film form. That changes with the next two shorts, both considered among his best work.  “Easy Street” sees Chaplin as a man who reforms from a life of criminality and becomes a police officer, only to be assigned the most difficult beat in the city.  In “The Immigrant” he plays an immigrant, coming to America with other immigrants on board a sea vessel.  Both two-reelers include love interests and are better at balancing the comedy with story elements than the first two, which really have no story.  My favorite part of the shorts, however, was seeing young kids approaching Sosin after the shorts were over, and him asking if they liked them.

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Han Langen and Wang Renmei in SONG OF THE FISHERMEN (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Without Meyer, SIFF wouldn’t have been able to show the next film, so we were very lucky to see it.  Song of the Fishermen is a 1934 Shanghai film making its American premiere.  The Stamford Alumni Society was in the audience to see this film, as was a guest from the Beijing Film Institute.  Meyer told us it was a pristine restoration (and it was!) and that Shanghai in the 1930s made more movies than Hollywood.  This particular film was made by Niwa Studios, which was the leading film studio in Asia, and was directed by Chusheng Cai.

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Richie Meyer introduces SONG OF THE FISHERMEN

Silent Chinese cinema is a specialty of Meyer’s (which is how he got a copy of the film).  In fact, he was selling a book and DVD combo in the lobby after the film was over, which celebrate the star of the film.

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Wang Renmei is a fascinating person.  She was born right after the fall of the Qing Dynasty and lived through the Communist Revolution.  In fact, her father was Mao’s teacher when younger, and Renmei was a favorite of Mao’s.  While this is Renmei’s most famous role, she was fired by the studio after making this film for getting pregnant, as the studio felt their audience wouldn’t want to see a pregnant woman onscreen.  And yet, she continued to make films, even after the communists took over.

One of the most interesting things about this film is that the studio recorded Renmei singing the “Song of the Fishermen,” and while crude, it was played three times during the film, during which Sosin stopped playing.  The effect was a bit eerie, for here is a garbled voice from 80 years ago being heard for the first time in an American theater.  This was actually the first time the attempt was made to show it with the movie.  In the final scene in the film, it is even matched to the lips.

Before having Sosin play different themes, as he did for the Chaplin Shorts, Meyer had people call out a year, country, director, and genre.  Sosin then had to make up an original composition incorporating all of those elements.  The first one was 1939, Romania, Kurosawa, Western.  The second one was 1972, Russia, Scorsese, porn.  He did well with both themes.  For the film itself, he played the score composed by Nie Er, who later wrote the national anthem for the People’s Republic of China.

At the beginning of the film, there is a dedication to Jin Chuasong, who died during filming.  Meyer explained that it took four weeks to shoot the film, and several crew members got seasick while filming on the boats.  There also appeared to be some sections and frames missing, though what was there looked fantastic.  While not a great film, it still holds up, including some not-so-subtle jabs at the hypocrisy of the religious.  In addition, the suffering of Kitty (Renmei) and her brother, Little Monkey (Han Langen), as well as her entire family, is poignant, if melodramatic (the father dies at sea, the grandmother dies at home, the mother becomes blind, and the children cannot find work).

Afterwards, I bought the book/DVD combo and had Meyer sign it for me.  The price was $30 — all of which goes to SIFF.  While the book isn’t that long, there are some wonderful photos in it, and Sosin plays accompaniment on the DVD.

All in all, a pleasant day spent with a lost art.

SIFF 2014: Press Launch and Week One of Press Screenings — Anniversary Post

SIFF 2014 was the first year I applied for and received a press pass. Nowadays, the press launch is squeezed together with Donor Night, but back then, it was a separate event, took place in the afternoon, and occurred at the Uptown, rather than the Egyptian. To help with my reporting, I replaced my point-and-shoot camera with a DSLR that my parents had bought me the previous Christmas. This was a good year to upgrade my camera, for it also was SIFF’s 40th Festival (though there was no 13th festival), which meant that the programming (and guests) would be extra special that year.

Wednesday, April 30

Today I went to my first ever press launch.  I came directly from getting a small cavity filled, so there was still some sensitivity when snacking on the Continental Breakfast.  And, although I reached for an orange juice, one of my fellow staff members traded it for a Mimosa.  “It’s your birthday,” he said, though that had been last week.  I have to say, the Mimosa was the better choice.

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Once we had our fill of food, we  moved down the hall to Uptown 2, where the official press launch began.

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It began with Carl Spence, Artistic Director at SIFF, who mentioned that the Closing Night film this year will be The One I Love, starring Mark Duplass.  He also mentioned that the Centerpiece Gala will be Boyhood (Richard Linklater), which I already knew, but then we got to see a trailer for it, and I’m even more excited to see it than I was before, if that’s possible.  Slacker had its World Premiere at SIFF, and while Boyhood isn’t a World Premiere or even a North American Premiere, it’s appropriate that it’s making its Seattle premiere here.  And in case you want the breakdown of films at SIFF 2014:

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(Note: in my press packet it says the festival is comprised of 435 films, but the press release I received corresponds with the numbers here, so I’m going with 440 films.)

Then Mary Bacarella, Managing Director at SIFF, took the microphone to thank the staff and sponsors, as well as the caterers, Il Fornaio.

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The tribute guests were once again mentioned (Laura Dern, Chiwetel Ojiofor), with an addition: A Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented this year to Quincy Jones.  As part of the celebrations, SIFF will be showing Pawnbroker, which featured Jones’s first film score.  Carl went on to say that one of the midnight films this year will be the king of all midnight films: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which premiered at the first festival).  Other films celebrating SIFF’s 40th include The Stunt Man (which had a record-breaking 52-week run at the Guild 45th after playing at the 8th Seattle International Film Festival) and Dan Ireland’s The Whole Wide World.  Films with parties attached include Dior and I, I Origins (from Mike Cahill, director of Another Earth), and They Came Together (a romcom spoof from David Wain, the director of Wet Hot American Summer).  Also, the moods are back in the catalog to help people decide what films to see.

The rest of the presentation included Beth Barrett talking about Northwest Connections films, Archival films, Docs, and Shorts; Dustin Kaspar talking about the Forums, African films, and Futurewave films; and Clinton McClung talking about Face the Music and Midnight Adrenaline films.  After each section, a trailer from one of the films featured was played.

We then had a break, where we each got a copy of the free guide for the festival.

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André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in Jimi: All Is By My Side (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Jimi: All Is By My Side played after the break.  André Benjamin channels Hendrix’s looks and mannerisms for the film, if not quite his onstage presence, but the movie has two serious flaws: a lack of emotion and little use for developing secondary characters.  Some nice touches (like the visual representations of drug trips), great costuming, and Hendrix’s cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” are the bright spots.  It’s interesting, but the EMP exhibit is better.

Thursday, May 1

Today was the first day of press screenings.  Press screenings are open to the press and anyone who has a full series pass or higher.  Traditionally, press screenings start on the last Monday of April and play Monday through Thursday until the end of festival.  This year, festival organizers decided to start screenings on May 1 (a Thursday).  In addition, there were press screenings scheduled on May 2.  While there have been press-only screenings on Fridays before, to have general press screenings on a Friday is unusual.

Last year, I remember a lot of scrambling and busy-ness on the first press screening day.  This year, not so much.  Of the three films shown (Mood Indigo, DamNation, Dear White People), DamNation received the most critical praise from the people who watched it.  It deals with dam removal, including the Elwha Dams on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

Friday, May 2

Our rare Friday press screenings began with #Chicagogirl-The Social Network Takes on a Dictator and continued with The Skeleton Twins before concluding with The Congress, which I am very much looking forward to seeing.  Since I got to leave early, I don’t know how The Congress was received, but I do know a few people were disappointed with the ending of The Skeleton Twins.

Jimi: All Is By My Side (John Ridley, 118 mins, United Kingdom/Ireland 2013)

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(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Jimi: All Is By My Side tells a fascinating story with interesting people, but somewhere along the way, the makers of this film forgot to add any energy to their finished product.  It begins at the Savoy Theatre, where Hendrix is about to go out and perform, before the film flashes back to a nightclub in New York City, where Linda Keith discovers Hendrix (Andre Benjamin) playing backup guitar.  Amazed with how good he is, she goes backstage and offers him drugs, then tells him that he needs to become noticed.  She brings agents to see Jimi, and even brings him one of Keith Richards’s guitars, but they are turned off by his lack of charisma onstage.  Linda chides him for not owning the stage when he’s out there.

Finally, they get a break when Linda bumps into Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), the bassist for the Animals who has decided to start producing bands.  Linda informs him that she has an act for him, then tells Jimi to play the blues at his concert, because that’s what Chandler loves.  It works, and Chandler is soon trying to bring Jimi to London.  Unfortunately, Jimi doesn’t have a birth certificate and so can’t get a passport.  Then, he has to break the contracts he signed as a studio player in America before he can play in London.

How these scenes are handled highlights a key problem with the film: a lack of urgency.  Hendrix was one of the most charismatic musicians who ever lived, and yet much of the film is on one low energy level.  The performances, especially by Andre Benjamin as Hendrix and Imogen Poots as Linda Keith, keep the film from lacking interest, but when the film returns to the Savoy and shows Hendrix teaching his bandmates how to play “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” moments before they’re about to take the stage, the excitement caused by the build-up and payoff reminds one of how lacking it has been in this picture.  In fact, most of Hendrix’s concerts in London are disasters, including one in which he spends most of the concert tuning his guitar.

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Imogen Poots as Linda Keith (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

The second issue is the film’s treatment of secondary characters, especially women.  They exist in the picture only as romantic interests for Hendrix.  When Keith finds Hendrix in bed with a woman soon after he arrives in London (Kathy Etchingham, played by Hayley Atwell), she disappears until after he brutally attacks Kathy with a telephone, then breaks up with her.  Kathy disappears when Ida (Ruth Negga), a woman Jimi meets in a bookstore, gets with Jimi.  She, likewise, vanishes once Keith is back in the picture.  Keith is also the only female who appears to have any sort of backstory.  They all have personalities, but the audience knows nothing about them.  We likewise find out only a few things about Jimi, but Benjamin channels his mannerisms and speech patterns so exactly and looks so much like him that I felt I was watching Hendrix in the role, minus the slightly less charismatic way that Benjamin performs as Jimi onstage.  No guitars being lit on fire in this film, and in fact, no music licensed to them from the Hendrix Estate.  When Benjamin sings, though, it sounds so  like Hendrix that I had to read the credits to make sure that Hendrix himself wasn’t the one doing the singing.

The film adopts a faux documentary style, showing two characters talking to each other only to continue the conversation as voiceover as the images skip to a different part of their meeting, one in which they aren’t speaking.  Also, when important people appear in the film, we get a freeze frame and their name next to their photo.  This happens with managers, famous musicians, and Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, who formed the other two-thirds of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  In addition, the costumes and lens filters used in the film evoke the 60s.

With more energy and care given to its secondary characters, especially its females, this film could have been great.  As it is, it’s decent, but for a more fascinating look at this period in the life of Hendrix and of rock and roll history, see the Hendrix in London Exhibit at the EMP.

Jimi: All Is By My Side was shown as the Opening Night film at the 40th Seattle International Film Festival

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 164 mins, USA, 2014)

Photo Courtesy of SIFF

Ellar Coltrane as Mason in Boyhood (Photo Courtesy of SIFF)

Boyhood may be director Richard Linklater’s best film.  It’s certainly his most ambitious, shot over 12 years using the same principle actors to cover a 12-year-period in the main character’s life. That main character is Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane).  He lives with his mother Olivia ( Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).   Mason is six when the film starts; his sister two years older.  The children’s father (Ethan Hawke) is no longer with their mother, but is allowed to visit them on weekends.  While he loves his kids, we get the sense that he is too irresponsible to care for them as their mother wants, and an argument between them is intentionally overheard by the children from an upstairs window. Throughout the course of the film, the family moves several times, their mother marries and divorces, their father remarries and has a kid, and Mason gets into photography.  Elementary school gives way to middle school, which gives way to high school, and then college.  Department store magazines with women in bras and panties progress to Internet porn and talking about sex with high schoolers.  Olivia reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to Mason and Samantha progresses to them going to a launch party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  Mason’s hair style goes from long to longer to short to long back to short again.  In high school, he pierces his ears and lets girls paint his nails.  Both siblings go from not-so-serious relationships with the opposite sex to serious ones.  Flip phones give way to smart phones.  Coldplay’s “Yellow” gives way to Arcade Fire’s “Deep Blue.”

(Photo Courtesy of SIFF)

(Photo Courtesy of SIFF)

And yet, despite all the changes in their outward lives, the characters remain who they are at their core, even as they continue to grow and mature as people.  The boy looking up at the sky from his front yard is the same young man looking out over the landscape at the end.  The girl waking up her brother with her performance of “Oops, I Did It Again” is the same young woman who toasts her brother at his high school graduation by saying, “Good luck?”  The father who is much of a child himself at the beginning of the film is still the same one who has matured to the point where he can thank their mother for raising them, but doesn’t have any cash on him to help her pay for Mason’s tuition.  Finally, their mother is the same woman who got swept up with their father, and yet constantly sacrificed so that her kids could have the lives they deserved.  When Mason is packing up for college and she says, “This is the worst day of my life,” we know why.  She has lived for her kids, and now they will be living for themselves. I found myself drifting off at moments in this film, remembering scenes from my childhood.  The ones that came back most vividly were from high school and my freshman year of college.  I felt surrounded by these memories, memories that I didn’t know were so vivid.  Maybe, as one character remarks at the end of the film, we don’t seize the moment; the moment seizes us.  This film is about those moments.  Following them leads us to who we were and who we will be, as they make a path that leads both forward, and back.

This film played as the Centerpiece Gala at the 40th Seattle International Film Festival. It opens Friday at the Harvard Exit Theatre.

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.

Lucky Them (Megan Griffiths, 96 mins, USA 2013)

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Thomas Haden Church and Toni Collette (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Two years ago, Megan Griffiths wrote and directed Eden, a film that deals with human trafficking in America.  Now she had directed a comedy, using a script written by Emily Wachtel and Huck Botko (from an original idea by Caroline Sherman).  While I admired the first film, I find myself loving the second.

It starts 10 years ago, when Matthew Smith, the greatest singer-songwriter in Seattle, doesn’t show up for his last gig.  The event is narrated in voiceover by Collette’s character, Ellie Klug.  We then switch to the present day, where Collette is a rock critic who seems more interested in bedding new talent than meeting her deadlines.  Her boss Giles (Oliver Platt) warns her that he can’t keep her on if she keeps producing sub par work.  He then assigns her a story on Smith, who vanished that night and is presumed dead, but like Elvis, is still sighted everywhere.  He even gives her company money in order to follow-up on a claimed sighting on the Internet, complete with a video that could be of anyone.

In the meantime, she has found another fresh talent, the baby-faced Lucas Stone (Ryan Eggold).  Though she promises him a feature article, she shelves in it favor of the Smith article.  Lucas won’t be easily deterred, in both the article and his affections for Ellie.  In one of her confrontations with him, she leaves the money Giles gave her behind.  Though he tries to give it back to her, she won’t answer his phone calls.  Then she realizes the money is gone.

Enter Charlie (Thomas Haden Church), an old, rich friend of Ellie’s.  He is actually introduced a bit earlier in the movie, so that we can see why Ellie would be hesitant in asking him for a loan.  He’s a bit annoying and a bit odd.   Still, she is desperate, so he loans her the money on the condition that he can come along and film a documentary about her search for Smith.  This is a neat plot device, as it allows Ellie to talk about her past with Smith, and it shows that she’s never gotten over him.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

If Collette brings heart to this movie, Church brings laughs.  I have never seen him better than I have in this film.  His dry delivery steals every scene he’s in, while he also manages to give Charlie some humanity.

What makes this film special, though, is its combination of excellent dialog, great chemistry between Collette and Church, a sense of humor, and heart.  And the acting!  There is a scene late in the film that is one of the most poignant I’ve seen all year, and it’s due entirely to acting.  In fact, besides the dialog, the acting is the best thing about Lucky Them.  That is a credit not just to the actors and actresses, but to Griffiths.  I sincerely hope this is the film that introduces her to the mainstream.

And make sure you stay for the credits.

Lucky Them played at the 40th Seattle International Film Festival. It’s currently available on video on demand and plays for two weeks at the Northwest Film Forum starting tonight.

You can also read my post on the film from SIFF 2014.

SIFF 2014: Week Three Wrap-Up

Sunday, June 1

Me, Myself, and Mum (Guillaume Gallienne, 95 mins, Belgium/France/Spain 2013)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Guillaume Gallienne as his mother and as himself, at the dinner table with his father (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Guillaume Gallienne plays both himself and his mother in this film about his upbringing…as a girl.  When he finds out he has to be gay to like boys, he sets out to discover whether he is gay or straight.  The film switches between a one-man show he’s doing and the film.  While very funny, the movie is a little too light and fluffy, and doesn’t have a big emotional payoff.  SIFF wanted to bring Gallienne to the festival, but his star is rapidly rising.  Currently, he’s in the play Lucrèce Borgia….playing Lucrèce Borgia.

The Little House (Yoji Yamada, 136 mins, Japan 2014)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Takeshi and his great-aunt, Taki (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

In Yoji Yamada’s long career as a director, this is his first romantic drama.  The movie starts with the death of Taki Nunomiya (Chieko Baisho).  Through flashbacks, we see her grand-nephew Takeshi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) encouraging her to write her autobiography, as well as the time she is writing about.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Mrs. Hirai with Taki (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

In the 1930s, Taki (now played by Haru Kuroki) is sent from the countryside to Tokyo to work at a famous writer’s house.  Through him, she meets the Hirais, whom she ends up working for.  One day, a coworker of Mr. Hirai’s comes to their New Year’s Party.  He is Shoji Itakura (Hidetaka Yoshioka), and as war between China and Japan heats up, so does the relationship between Mrs. Hirai (Takako Matsu) and Itakura.

Shoji Itakura and Tokiko Hirai (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Shoji Itakura and Tokiko Hirai (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

While the emotions are kept in check, this is a beautifully shot, well-acted, well-scripted movie. It doesn’t go for an overwhelming emotional payoff, but rather for quiet moments when decisions are made that have unforseen consequences.

Monday, June 2

Our Sunhi (Hong Sang-soo, 88 mins, South Korea 2013)

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Donghyun and Sunhi (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

I enjoyed this movie slightly less than Sang-soo’s last film, the inventive In Another World.  Our Sunhi is about three men who fall for Sunhi (Jung Yu-mi) on her quest to get a recommendation letter from her professor: her ex-boyfriend Munsu (Lee Sun-kyun), the director Jaehak (Jung Jae-young), and the professor himself, Choi Donghyun (Kim Sang-joong).  The dialog is circular, which means that certain things said by one character to another character will be repeated by the second character to a third character, until all of them are saying the same thing.  This is most evident in how the three men describe Sunhi: she has artistic sense, she is reserved, and she’s smart.  What’s funny is not just the repetition of the dialog, but the fact that each man says it as if it’s an original thought.  But it’s not just the dialog that repeats.  At some point, each of the characters ends up meeting another character at the same bar, where the same song plays, and the same chicken order is placed at the same great chicken restaurant.

**Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s, and Thursday’s events were written about separately.**

Friday, June 6

Life Feels Good (Maciej Pieprzyca, 107 mins, Poland 2013)

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Mateusz (Dawid Ogrodnik) (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

While this film topped the FOOLs Ballot this year, I found it to be good, but not great. This based-on-a-true-story movie follows Mateusz (Dawid Ogrodnik, who is truly great in this role), a man born with cerebral palsy, who everyone believes is also mentally retarded, as he is unable to communicate with anyone (Kamil Tkacz is equally good as a young Mateusz).  The film is broken up into chapters (Proof, Wizard, Boyfriend, Everything’s Fine, Smile, Words, Human Being, and Life Feels Good) and is narrated in voiceover by Mateusz.  Predictability in the plot at the beginning and female characters who don’t stick around long enough for us to really know them gives way to two powerful scenes in this film: one in which Mateusz finally communicates with his mother (it will make you cry), the other in which he slams his fist on the table.  Even better, the end credits includes footage of Ogrodnik, who doesn’t have cerebral palsy, interacting with the real Mateusz.  If I hadn’t come into it with such high expectations, I may have liked it even more.

Saturday, June 7

**Dan Ireland’s “Hate from a Distance” and The Whole Wide World were written about separately.**

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 94 mins, Australia 2014)

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Amelia (Essie Davis) reads Samuel (Noah Wiseman) a bedtime story.  (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

A mysterious book appears on Samuel’s bookshelf one day.  After his mother Amelia reads it to him, there’s no getting rid of the Babadook.  Creepy, psychological, and fairly gore-free, the real shock is that people still know how to make classic horror films in this day and age, and one with layers of meaning.

NOTE: I was originally going to see Calvary and Black Coal, Thin Ice on Saturday, but The Whole Wide World ended too late for me to see Calvary, and I was discouraged from seeing Black Coal, Thin Ice by passholders who had seen it during press screenings.  Instead, I ate dinner and watched The Babadook.  If I had seen Calvary and Black Coal, Thin Ice, however, I would’ve needed the press tickets I acquired, as both were on standby (Calvary in the big house!).  For Life Feels Good, my staff badge was sufficient.

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SIFF 2014: 40th Anniversary Special Presentation of The Whole Wide World–Saturday, June 7

Carl Spence and director (and SIFF co-founder) Dan Ireland

Carl Spence and director (and SIFF co-founder) Dan Ireland

The first Seattle International Film Festival began on May 14, 1976, at the Moore Egyptian Theatre and ended on May 31 (there was no 13th Seattle International Film Festival, which is why this year is the 40th Seattle International Film Festival).  Dan Ireland and Darryl Macdonald (which I’ve also seen spelled MacDonald) started the festival a year after taking over the Moore Theatre and renaming it the Moore Egyptian Theatre.  The first festival showed 18 films.  In 1985, the festival moved to the Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill, which was renovated (as was the Moore) by Ireland and Macdonald. (Sources: Historylink.org and SIFF History)  Therefore, it’s appropriate that not only would the 40th festival show one of Ireland’s films (his first feature), but that they would show it at the newly opened Egyptian Theatre.

Before the feature film, however, there was a short, and before the short, there was a wait period, as Carl Spence, Ireland, and Macdonald were all on hand to fiddle with the equipment after the previous screening in order to make sure that Ireland’s screening went off flawlessly.  That meant that passholders were put in a “holding area” in the lobby before being allowed to enter the theater.  Our passes were all prescanned, as well.

Once all was well, we took our seats, the ticketholders took their seats, and we were treated to an introduction by Spence.  Besides mentioning that Ireland and Macdonald started the Seattle International Film Festival, he thanked the sponsors (as the presenters always do), which in this case were board member Aron Michael Thompson, who underwrote the screening, and the always awesome Scarecrow Video, who has sponsored several of the screenings I’ve gone to at the festival.

Then Dan Ireland came out, thanking Carl for opening four screens that had been closed (three at the Uptown, one at the Egyptian).  He said his and Darryl’s hearts had hurt when the Egyptian had closed.  After that, he introduced the world premiere of his short, “Hate from a Distance.”  The story had originally come to him from Dennis Yares while Ireland was filming Jolene with Jessica Chastain (Yares wrote the screenplay).  The film coincides with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act and centers around an image that horrified Ireland when he first saw it: that of a mother dressing her son in a KKK outfit (the photo appears onscreen at the end of the film).  Ireland then introduced the cast and crew members in the audience and had them stand, which were Yares (writer, producer), Kate Krieger (actress), and Harry Gregson-Williams (composer).  He also thanked Darryl for continuing the festival after he left to pursue directing.

“Hate from a Distance” is an excellent short film that tells of racism as seen through the eyes of a child.  Danny Baker (Asher Angel) is a young white boy whose father Ned (Brendan Bradley) is forever at odds with his black neighbor, Clyde (Rashawn Underdue), despite the fact that they used to be friends when boys.  Danny traces the animosity back to when Clyde tried to prove that he had a claim on the land that Ned owned, only to have the deed ripped up before his face by the judge.  The current dispute is that Clyde’s children steal potatoes from Ned’s property.  The film ties in the Biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar and the three men in the furnace with the house that is set on fire near the end of the short.  The film is dedicated to the four girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing, an act that helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The dedication is preceded by a quote from Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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Dennis Yares, Kate Krieger, and Harry Gregson-Williams are asked a question by Ireland

When the short ended, Spence and Ireland were joined onstage by Yares, Krieger, and Gregson-Williams for a short Q & A.  Having come from Canada, Ireland noticed a difference in how blacks were treated in the U.S.  He said we shouldn’t look at “how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go.”  Spence asked if Ireland was worried the film was too dark.  “Of course!” Ireland said, but he wanted to make a statement.  Spence then wanted to talk about the music.  For that, Gregson-Williams (who has scored all of Ireland’s films) had written a gospel-like piece prior to being asked, which Ireland decided to use.

D.D. Yares expounds on an answer

Yares expounds on an answer

Then Ireland talked about Krieger and her character.  Even though Krieger is the most talented actress (or actor) he’s mentored, when he came to her with this character (who plays Danny’s mother), he told her, “This is the most constipated character you’ll ever play.”  Krieger wasn’t the only person acting in the film who Ireland has mentored; he also mentored Bradley.  As for Angel, there’s a different connection: he’s Yares’s grandson.  Though child actors can be “terrifying,” Ireland said, “Working with Asher is a dream.”

The film will be playing at the Museum of Tolerance on July 2nd.

The Whole Wide World (Dan Ireland, 111 mins, USA 1996)

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Renée Zellweger as Novalyne Price and Vincent D’Onofrio as Robert Howard (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Before The Whole Wide World was screened, Ireland shared a message that D’Onofrio had sent him (he couldn’t be there because he was shooting elsewhere).  In it, he said the film will always be close to his heart.  “I consider The Whole Wide World a classic,” he continued.  Also, there is a scene in the movie where he is swinging a sword, which had to be sharp enough to cut blades of grass.  At the end of the scene, he plunges the blade into the ground.  When he looked down, he noticed that the blade had only missed his foot by centimeters, and he thought, “Only for Dan.  Only for Dan.”

Zellweger also couldn’t be there, as she was attending her mom’s birthday on the East Coast (“That’s what I love about her, ” Ireland said).  Ireland had Spence read her message, in which she wrote, “Hi Danny boy!” and gave instructions to embarrass the brilliant composer (Gregson-Williams), but to embarrass Vinny (D’Onofrio) even more.  She also thanked D’Onofrio for helping her act (by putting it all out there).

We then learned that we would be seeing a print, and not just any print, but Ireland’s personal print (according to Ireland, it’s the only print out there, which is a shame)!  Spence also mentioned that they rigged the speaker system from McCaw Hall so that the movies at the Egyptian would sound better than they had in the past.

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

(Photo courtesy of SIFF)

The Whole Wide World opened SIFF 22 in 1996.  People who saw it back then recall it with fondness, and indeed, it is a wonderful film about the relationship between Texas schoolteacher Novalyne Price and Conan the Barbarian author Robert Howard.  Howard is uncouth, doesn’t like others, and isn’t respectable, but he has a good heart, is a good writer, and has a great imagination.  There is much made about his closeness to his mother, which might have prevented him from having any sort of romantic relationship, but the movie is really about two people who cared deeply for each other, even when they wouldn’t admit it.  The script is well-written, the acting is great, the Texas sunsets sumptuous (colors really pop more on film than they do on DCP–especially reds), and to watch a print, despite a few frames that had a bit of dust in them, was such a treat.  Sweet and sad, this is a lovely piece of work.

Like most of his criticism, Roger Ebert’s review of this film really gets to its heart.  If my review doesn’t convince you to see this movie, I hope his more detailed review does.

SIFF 2014: Quincy Jones, Part 3/3–An Evening with the Justin Kauflin Trio

Thursday, June 5

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Before Thursday’s concert, I had never been to the Triple Door.  If you have the money, it’s a beautiful venue, though watching a show there and eating dinner will put you back $60 or more.

I got there early and saw Justin Kauflin enter the building, along with Candy, his guide dog, and another person, who led him to the door.  I was waiting for Kenji Fujishima, who was leaving for home the following day.

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The stage at the Triple Door

The way the Triple Door is arranged for concerts is as follows: there are tables that people can sit around, as well as counters that snake behind these tables.  Kenji and I sat at one of the latter, which had an excellent view of the stage.  For dinner, I went with the server’s recommendation: the seven flavor beef, which is one of the few dishes that has been served since the Triple Door opened.

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Delicious!

At roughly 7 pm, Carl Spence introduced Quincy Jones, who then introduced the trio by way of a fascinating glimpse into Seattle’s past, as he talked about the Palomar Theatre, where everyone used to play, and about talking to Toscanini after the great conductor performed at Seattle Symphony Hall.  He had visited Brazil and told Q that jazz music “will crash through the symphony halls.”

Quincy Jones introduces the trio

At work earlier that day (which had been the last day of press screenings), I had gotten the sad news from one of our lead ushers about the shooting at Seattle Pacific University.  Kauflin addressed it before his trio started playing, saying, “I hope we can bring a little positivity into the world” through their concert.

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Justin Kauflin (piano), Christopher Smith (bass), Billy Williams (drums)

They then went into their first song, a new tune called “Illusive,” which features an excellent drum solo.  Kauflin took the mic after the song finished and introduced his band mates.  Williams is one of his friends from Virginia Beach (where Kauflin is from) and has been friends with Kauflin since high school, while he met Smith while trying to find gigs in New York, though Smith is originally from Milwaukee.  Finally, he introduced us to his guide dog, Candy.  He warned us that she is working, so we shouldn’t pet her afterwards, even though she may give us “the look,” because then he’ll have to tell us, “Please stop.”

The trio plays "A Day in the Life"

The Justin Kauflin Trio plays “A Day in the Life”

Here are the rest of the songs they played:

A Day in the Life

Based on the Beatles song, which Kauflin says is one of the few ones where you can tell which part is Paul’s and which part John’s.  The song opens with a piano solo, based on the opening of that song.  Off Kauflin’s first album.

Exodus

Also off his first album, this song is “all about the journey” and starts with a slow piano intro.

The Nearness of You

One of Clark Terry’s favorite ballads, which has a lovely bass line in it.

B-Dub

A new song, which is dedicated to Billy Williams.  It begins with a bass line, then adds drums, then piano.  The measures are alternately in 6 and 5, which showcases the drumming ability of Williams.

For Clark

The rest of the trio took a break, as Kauflin played this piece for solo piano, which he had previously played after Keep On Keepin’ On the night before.  He’s been with Clark Terry now for eight years.

Heads Up

The rest of the trio came back to play this piece, which features a bass solo.  Once this song ended, Candy got up to leave, and Kauflin had to push her down a few times to get her to stay for two more songs.  This is also around the time that Kenji and I got the check for our meal.

Epiphany

Influenced by Vince Mendoza, who has multiple sections in a piece constantly moving forward, this song included electric keyboard with regular piano, which Kauflin played at the same time (the chords on the piano, the melody on the keyboard).  Around this point is when I received my second root beer, which I had ordered somewhere around the fourth song.  Guess they weren’t kidding when they said that faster service was available before the concert began.

Thank You, Lord

Kauflin said, “I had a wonderful time playing here, in this beautiful room, with this beautiful piano.”  He then said this song is all about gratitude, for even when things are bad, it ‘s better to find things you’re grateful for, rather than what’s not good.  Both the piano melody and the rhythm reminded me of a gospel tune, while the song went from a piano solo to a bass solo to a prominent piano line.

When he finished, he gave us his website address and then played us out with a raucous song that had my whole body moving.  I remember him really getting into the notes.  I also remember our server coming back and asking if we were ready with the check, and then hovering around us as I tried to figure out tip and tax in cash.  I ended up giving him a dollar more than I intended, which might be what they hope for when they rush you out of there (though the food was quite good, and I did eventually get my second root beer).  Other than that, I had a wonderful time throughout their roughly 90-minute set (it ended at 8:42), and I look forward to listening to Kauflin’s new album when it’s released.