Seattle 2011: An In Depth Guide to SIFF's Ridiculously Rich Lineup
Clocking in with 200-some features playing over 25 days, the Seattle International Film Festival is the king daddy of the regional exhibition fests. While they may not chase a lot of big name premieres, the nice folks at SIFF have put together an especially solid lineup of quality films for the Pacific NW audience. If you are wondering how to wade through such a vast array of titles, your task has been aided this year by a brand new feature at SIFF: pathways. An innovative experiment being pioneered in Seattle, pathways give the film viewing public a better way to navigate the torrential downpour of titles and find the films that interest them most. I'll take a look at the pathways and few movies of interest in each one.
SIFF's version of a midnight madness section.
With so many great films playing at SIFF, it is pretty hard to point to one overall favorite. But if I had to, I would probably say that if you can only catch one movie, and you are a fan of full fueled filmmaking, go see this one. Evan Glodell took Sundance by storm with his fuck the world story of love, liquor and leaded gasoline. Though it's a bit rough at times, I loved every second of this extremely impressive debut feature.
Assuming the mantle of the Indian Takashi Miike, director Q (gotta guess where that comes from?) has unleashed a whole new form of cinema on his home country. Gandu (translated as "Asshole") is a direct rejection of the boundaries of Bollywood cinema; a high voltage trip into crime, sex and rap music.
Japanese trail blazing director Shunji Iwai's first foray into English language cinema is an often taxing but ultimately rewarding exploration of depression and criminal illness. Though not for everyone, some will certainly appreciate his incredible artistic vision. Read my full review.
Though it suffers from the poorly implemented reality camera narrative device (think Blair Witch Project), Norwegian André Øvredal's giant troll action flick is a fun road trip into the absurd.
Noboru Iguchi just keeps rolling out the hits. The wackiness of this film follows up the wackiness of Mutant Girls Squad, RoboGeisha and The Machine Girl. Keep em coming good sir.
The more exciting side of SIFF is packed with films worth checking out.
ON THE ICE
I'm a big fan of Andrew Okpeaha MacLean's debut feature about a couple of 'Arctic thugs' from way up in the northern reaches of Alaska. This story of friendship and what happens when its bonds get pushed to their limit has been making its way through the fest scene since its premiere at Sundance, winning Berlin's prize for best first feature along the way. It will hopefully find a home with a distributor sometime soon. Read my full review
Beat Takeshi is back with this return-to-form Yakuza actioner. Go see it. Nuff said.
OUTSIDE THE LAW
French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb's 2006 film Days of Glory (Indigènes) was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar. His latest centering on a family in Algeria's civil war was shortlisted for this year's award but fell short. Nonetheless, the film is said to be incredible.
DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME
Yes it sounds like a Harry Potter title, but this Tang Dynasty costumer from HK master Tsui Hark played well at Toronto and Tribeca and while not perfect, the word is that it's a far more entertaining outing than Hark's last few films. You certainly can't argue with the cast that includes Andy Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fai, and Bingbing Li.
This big budget Thai superhero actioner is directed by Wisit Sasanatieng, best known for his oddly brilliant 2004 film Citizen Dog.
Everyone at Twitch loves Djo Tunda's Congolese crime drama for all its sexy style. The film opens in limited release June 10th.
THE YELLOW SEA
Na Hong-jin's awesome looking crime thriller is headed to SIFF straight from Cannes after already racking up lots of fans in South Korea.
12 PACES WITHOUT A HEAD
Part swashbuckler, part buddy story, this German high seas adventure from Sven Taddicken had its premiere in Munich almost two years ago and is slowly making its way stateside now.
Sweeping the Goyas (Spanish Oscars) with nine awards including best pic, this coming-of-age thriller set during the Spanish civil war is said to have one hell of a graphic opening scene.
FIRE OF CONSCIENCE and THE STOOL PIGEON
HK action master Dante Lam has two films in SIFF this year. The first stars Leon Lai and the second Nick Cheung, you guessed it, both as cops out to employ their unique form of vigilante justice to solve a harrowing crime(s).
No way I'm gonna let a soccer docu slip through the cracks. This film's three young co-directors followed the Chilean National team for eight years to make this incredible looking tale of what it takes to win on the world's biggest stage.
Stories of the road and distant worlds.
MAGIC TRIP: KEN KESEY'S SEARCH FOR A KOOL PLACE
I cannot more highly recommend ridiculously prolific and Oscar winning documentarian Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood's doc about Ken Kesey and the Merry Prankster's LSD-infused trip across the country in the bus known as Further. If the thought of seeing a 23 year old Jerry Garcia strumming a guitar on top of a bus in downtown San Francisco circa 1965 makes you smile, then drop everything and go get in line for this movie now. This is the birth of counter culture right here and it was remarkably all captured on film that is just now finally seeing the light of day. Magnolia plans to release the film on VOD in July and roll out the film to theaters slowly starting in August.
Protégé of Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe) and one time cinematographer for Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee), Sivaroj Kongsakul looks poised to be the next big time director to come out of Thailand with this gorgeous looking debut feature love story that took the top prize at Rotterdam earlier this year.
A CAT IN PARIS
The French have been killing it with their animation lately and this hand-painted feature from directing team Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol looks like another stylized hit. The story revolves around a house cat who moonlights with a burglar and a little girl trying to solve a murder.
LIFE IN A DAY
Kevin Macdonald has had a great career. He won an Oscar for his first widely released film, the Palestinian docu One Day In September, a BAFTA for his next wide release Touching the Void (still the highest grossing British doc), and then directed Forest Whitaker to an Oscar (and multiple BAFTAs) in his first dramatic attempt The Last King of Scotland. His latest film is a bit more experimental - a YouTube doc about one day in the life of everyone on planet earth. Ambitious. The film was met with praise at Sundance and opens in theaters in late July.
A BAREFOOT DREAM
This story of a retired pro soccer player who travels to East Timor and ends up coaching youth soccer was South Korea's entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar last year.
These films focus on interesting and innovative narratives.
I've heard nothing but amazing things about this documentary after its screenings at Tribeca. Gemma Atwal's labor of love follows a small boy from the slums as he is groomed to be India's next Olympic hero.
THE REDEMPTION OF GENERAL BUTT NAKED
Daniele Anastasion and Eric Strauss's documentary about a Liberian General responsible for the deaths of thousands and his quest for atonement was a hit at Sundance where it won the cinematography prize. Still no word on distribution.
Actor Paddy Considine's directorial debut was hailed as one of the best dramas of Sundance. Peter Mullan stars as a degenerate drunk looking for a way to reconnect with society. If this film is any indication, we can expect more great things from Considine.
BRUCE LEE, MY BROTHER
Tony Leung Ka Fai and Aarif Rahman star in this biopic of Bruce Lee's early days in HK. While reviews have been mixed (including ours), big Bruce Lee buffs will likely want to catch the gorgeous visuals on the big screen.
KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND
I hadn't previously heard of Marius Holst's early 20th century juvie prison drama, but with Stellan Skarsgård in the lead and a very atmospheric and polished looking trailer, this one might just be worth making an effort to catch.
Apparently you get to decide if it is "Sci-fi" or "Beyond..."
What started as a project to create visuals for the music of Angels and Airwaves, William Eubank's out there drama looks to be an incredibly ambitious film in the vein of 2001 and Moon.
I particularly enjoyed this Ewan McGregor and Eva Green love story at Sundance. The film does a great job of imagining what would happen if everyone in the world suddenly started losing their senses. Read my full review
SUSHI: A GLOBAL CATCH
Hmmm, this one must be in the "Beyond" category because it certainly doesn't appear to be sci-fi. This doc from first-timer Mark Hall explore the global sushi trade and how we can work to make the world's growing favorite food sustainable.
This doc from Ballets Russes directors Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine explores the birth of Silicon Valley tech companies through the venture capitalists who gave the Apples and Ataris of the world a shot.
This mixture of sci-fi and horror explores the ideas of suicide and the afterlife. It is said to be the most expensive Brazilian film ever produced ($9.9M USD - still qualifying it as low budget here).
From competitions to revolutions, films in this pathway are supposed to make you think as much as they entertain.
One of my absolute favorite films at Sundance, this doc takes us deep into the world of a group of ex-gang members on the South side of Chicago, trying their hardest to just do good. It is simultaneously heart breaking and inspirational and cements Steve James's (Hoop Dreams) place as one of the best documentary directors working today. Do whatever you can to see this film.
PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES
I cannot recommend Andrew Rossi's insightful documentary highly enough for anyone interested in the changing face of journalism and the media in these fascinating times. From Iraq to WikiLeaks, Rossi's camera follows NYTimes personalities David Carr, Brian Stelter and others as they explore what it takes to bring the news to people all over the world. This film will make you feel a whole lot closer to the people you're probably already following on twitter.
THE FIRST GRADER
Justin Chadwick's drama about an 84-year old man in Kenya trying to get a basic education is a story of hope, an examination education in Africa, and SIFF's selection for their Opening Night Gala.
FIRE IN BABYLON
Steven Riley's acclaimed doc tells the story of the 70s champion West Indies cricket team against the backdrop of apartheid, post-colonial social unrest, and reggae music.
AN AFRICAN ELECTION
This doc directed by actor Jarreth Merz takes you onto the podium, inside the voting booth and behind the protest lines for the very controversial Ghanaian election of 2008. The trailer looks innn-tense.
HOW TO DIE IN OREGON
Peter Richardson's euthanasia doc won the prestigious Grand Jury Documentary Prize at Sundance this past year. If you can't make it to SIFF, it premieres on HBO May 26th.
You got it - funny movies only in this section.
I'm still pushing the hell out of Taika Waititi's auto-biographical-ish coming-of-ager set in 1980s New Zealand. I've said it before, and I'll say it again; do not miss your chance to see this charming little film.
Robbie Pickering's ridiculously funny family comedy won just about every award on the table at SXSW and continues its path towards world domination at SIFF.
THE BENGALI DETECTIVE
Philip Cox's hilarious documentary about a comic detective in India was such a hit at Sundance that Fox Searchlight bought film rights to remake it as a scripted comedy.
Upright Citizens Brigade founding member Matt Walsh directs an all star cast including Abby Elliott, Rob Riggle, Lizzy Caplan, and Ed Helms in this stoner-crime-romance-comedy.
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon resume their roles of themselves in Michael Winterbottom's deliciously clever real world continuation of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. Cut down from a three hour mini-series, the film finds Coogan and Brydon touring the English countryside throwing jabs at each other and generally having a grand old time.
Another Brit comedy (this one set in Wales), Richard Ayoade's hilarious coming-of-ager has been loved by audiences from Toronto to Sundance. A big part of this is the clever script - and an even bigger part is the wonderful cast made up of Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige.
"Romantic, carnal, illicit, amour fou; absent love, unrequited love, lost love; filial, familial, parental, conjugal; self-love, altruistic love..." it's all here.
John C. Reilly stars as an assistant principal who plays mentor to an overweight teen in Azazel Jacob's coming-of-age Sundance hit.
Errol Morris has made some of the best docus of our time from The Thin Blue Line to the Oscar winning Fog of War. His latest is the examination of a 1970s kidnapped Mormon beauty queen and the media circus that followed. The film played well, if not quite gangbusters, at Sundance and SXSW - it will get a release from Sundance Selects July 15th.
Tom Tykwer returns to his Run Lola Run roots with this German language story following all three legs of complicated love triangle.
This Iranian story of forbidden love between two women in Tehran's art and music scene received mixed marks at Sundance but did walk away with the Audience Award for Dramatic feature.
Miranda July follows-up her Me and You and Everyone We Know with this adult-angst film told from the perspective of her cat. I guarantee that you will love this film... if you love everything that Miranda July does.
The trailer for this Vietnamese Step Up has all the dance movie clichés (they are gonna close the rec center?!) - but even so, it shows some promise if you are into Asia and/or hip hop - and how many movies make it over here from Vietnam anyway? I just wish they'd stuck with the film's original title in Vietnam, Saigon Yo!
Films that focus on musicians or feature music in a prominent way.
DAMIEN JURADO & THE RUSSIAN AVANT-GARDE
Seattle indie-rock darling Damien Jurado has been playing with sounds since his early releases in the mid-90s. Here he gets a chance to play his songs and some of his own avant-garde samplings to a host of interesting early 20th Century Russian silent cinema. Sounds great!
BLACK, WHITE AND BLUES
Jefferson Bailey, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Tom Skerritt star in Mario Van Peebles's blues-infused road story of redemption.
WHO TOOK THE BOMP? LE TIGRE ON TOUR
Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields director Kerthy Fix takes us on the road with feminist -electronirockers Le Tigre for a tour spanning four continents.
Director Michael Cuesta is perhaps best known for his 2001 Sundance winning L.I.E.. Since then he has directed a slew of cable dramas including Six Feet Under, Dexter, and True Blood. His latest feature is the story of a roadie returning home after 20 years touring and stars Ron Eldard alongside favorite (of anyone who saw Win Win) Bobby Cannavale.
A collection of films that "celebrate artistic aspirations and achievements."
BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY
Constance Marks's documentary about Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash had a lot of buzz going into Sundance, received some great reviews and won the Special Jury Prize. Unfortunately none of this has been enough to find the film a distributor. While it is far from too late, take the opportunity now to see it on the big screen.
This documentary from Swedish first-timers Victor Köhler & David Dworsky looks to be an interesting examination of the digital arts revolutions and the dissolving barriers between creator and consumer. Check out the trailer on its SIFF page (or go out and make your own).
A MATTER OF TASTE: SERVING UP PAUL LIEBRANDT
Sally Rowe's docu about the rise, fall, and resurrection of avant-garde chef Paul Liebrandt has received a colon and second title since it impressed audiences at SXSW and Tribeca.
SHUT UP LITTLE MAN! AN AUDIO MISADVENTURE
What happens when two assholes from the Midwest decide to record the hysterical alcohol-induced rants and raves of their homophobic neighbor and his flamboyantly gay roommate? This doc by Aussie Matthew Bate had Sundance audiences in stitches.
LA DOLCE VITA
Don't miss this rare chance to see this restored print of Fellini's 1960 masterpiece on the big screen - a true cinematic indulgence.