Shorts at Shoreline

For the third straight year, Shoreline Community College (SCC) was one of the satellite venues for SIFF. This year, however, was the first year I attended a screening there, and the screening I attended launched the first-ever Episodic Content category: WebFest at Shoreline (this was the only screening of this content during the festival).

Besides having ample parking for people with cars, SCC boasts a leisurely bus ride for people who rely on public transportation. Of course, sometimes the buses don’t cooperate:

Normally, they’re 15 minutes apart.

Being out-of-the-way means that there isn’t a fight for seats, like can sometimes happen at other venues. For example, I saw no lines outside by the time I arrived. Inside, I saw few passholders and plenty of empty seats. If I’d stayed for Virus Tropical, the only line I would’ve seen is a short one for ticket holders. And the campus has a quiet, relaxed atmosphere to it. One feels they’ve escaped the city for the countryside.

The theater reminded me of the one SIFF used for years at McCaw Hall, in that there’s no middle aisle and the rows are long. Being a bit hungry, I hit the snack bar, where I was happy to discover that they had Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. Also, their popcorn bags are guaranteed not to make noise during the screening.

A cup of corn

While Shoreline upgraded their theater in 2017 to include a digital 4K projector and 7.1 surround sound, one of the trailers before WebFest sounded screechy in the high treble range, either meaning that the sound stretched the capacity of the speakers, or the volume was too high (there’s a possible third option: that the audio wasn’t formatted right). During the shorts (a mixture of pilots and webisodes), however, both sound and image quality weren’t a problem. Still, I’d love to see how the space handles a movie meant to be shown in theaters, rather than on a laptop.

Before the shorts began, Beth Barrett, Artistic Director at SIFF, introduced the 95-minute program and told us that multiple people involved in these episodes would be appearing afterward for a Q&A. In addition, Randi Kleiner (Chief Executive Officer) and Caleb Ward (Late Night Programmer), who run SeriesFest in Denver, would be joining them. Before the exclusive content of this program, we got to see a wonderfully amateurish promotional video for Shoreline, which looked like it was made by students at the college.

Beth Barrett, Artistic Director at SIFF, introducing WebFest

You can check out my capsule reviews for my thoughts about specific webisodes (unlike the feature films listed, they are listed in order of viewing, not alphabetically). In general, I enjoyed all of them, as they covered a diverse range of topics and genres, from slice-of-life humor (Apartment) to drama (Otis) to sci-fi (The Big Nothing, Strowlers) to thriller (Unspeakable). The Passage had the longest episode at 22 minutes, while Arun Considers had the shortest at 2 minutes.

(l-r) Strowlers: Claudine Nako (actress), Lisa Coronado (actress), Lindy Boustedt (producer), L. Gabriel Gonda (co-director, writer), Otis: Alexander Etseyatse (actor, director, writer, producer, film editor), Arun Considers: Arun Narayanan (actor, writer, co-director), The Passage: Philip Burgers (actor), Unspeakable: Kate Chamuris (producer)

The Q&A revealed interesting details. For example, the reasons behind developing these projects as web series were varied. Burgers (The Passage) said they just wanted to tell a story, born out of director Kitao Sakurai’s connection with various communities, while Narayanan (Arun Considers) said they did it as a web series for practical reasons (the series originally started as stand-up), as they needed to make it cheaply. For Otis, Etseyatse said the series was originally conceived as a movie.  He thought about making it into a short, but then decided to do a web series, instead. With Strowlers, the creators want to make an entire universe that encourages audience participation, which allows them to set stories in different places and different times (one of them pitched a story set in Nigeria). It also allows them to expand into different media, such as literature and comics. Finally, Chamuris said Unspeakable director Milena Govich wanted to do a series centered around an anti-hero.

Some of these series have multiple episodes up already (Arun Considers, Unspeakable), while others have only one episode shot (The Passage) or don’t have them online yet (Strowlers, which will have episodes up in the fall).

Then it was time for Kleiner and Ward to take the stage and explain what SeriesFest is. Basically, it’s a film festival that only shows web pilots, but they also bring network execs in to watch the pilots so that these series can receive financial backing. This year, the fest runs from June 22-27. Unbeknownst to the filmmakers in WebFest, Kleiner and Ward were judging their pilots, and Unspeakable won the honor of appearing at their festival.

Next year, I hope to visit this gem of the north more often when the 45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival begins. And I hope more people will join me.

A very special thanks to Beth Barrett for furnishing me with the names of all the guests for Strowlers.

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SIFF 2018 Edition: Capsule Reviews, Week Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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