Noir City 2017 is titled “The Big Knockover” and the theme is heists: big, small, and inevitably doomed. It kicked off Thursday, February 16 with John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950), the godfather of the heist film, and Criss Cross (1949), the darkest, most truly noir-ish heist film ever.
I wrote a preview for The Stranger this week but I and other Parallax View critics have covered a number of these films in past reviews and essays. So here some capsules and notes on the films of this year’s festival, many by me, with links to longer pieces where available.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – 7:00 PM
“Even as the perfect crime collapses in betrayal and the irrational impulses of human nature, The Asphalt Jungle is a model of elegant construction, street-level tragedy, and poetic justice, a film that both embraces the romance of the criminal code and acknowledges the mercenary impulses of outsiders and upstarts who have no code.” – More from Sean Axmaker for Stream On Demand
Throughout the years of Noir City’s Seattle residency, the programming has taken brief detours from the mean streets of hardcore noir to explore side alleys, from early influences on noir to noir influences on other genres. The 2017 festival, which runs February 16-22 and is the biggest to date (20 films in seven days), takes more leeway than usual for “The Big Knockover,” a week of capers, heists, and holdups. A lot of the films don’t qualify as pure noir. The heist genre occupies its own corner of the crime movie universe, sometimes embracing the dark heart of film noir’s world of corruption and desperation and doom, just as often skipping into lighthearted crime comedy or slipping into cool, calculated caper spectacle. You could say that the heist film is the original antihero team endeavor, the supervillain squad combining their unique skills to a common cause—in this case, the impossible robbery. This is one of those times when we root for the bad guys.
Most of the time, anyway.
John Huston essentially launched the heist drama as a genre of its own with The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Constructed around the meticulous planning and execution of a caper, it transformed the crime drama into a mission movie featuring shady soldiers of the urban underworld: mercenaries seeking redemption through one last gamble of action, trust, talent, and sacrifice. It’s a model of elegant construction, street-level tragedy, and poetic justice, with Huston’s wry fatalism providing the noir sensibility.
Okay, quick show of hands: Has sitting in the dark and temporarily saying goodbye to reality ever seemed like a better idea? Whatever your leanings may be, the Northwest Film Center’s 40th Annual Portland International Film Festival has you more than covered. Featuring over 160 features and shorts, this year’s PIFF lineup offers healthy, yuge doses of compelling fiction, strange facts, and pure escapism.
The positives begin on opening tight, with the terrific Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro.
I still marvel at how the Vancouver International Film Festival seems to be one of the best-kept secrets on the West Coast. Opening a few weeks after Toronto, it is almost concurrent with the New York Film Festival, which makes headlines with the official American premieres of some of the season’s most anticipated films. Many of those very same films are screening across the country in Vancouver, often a day or two before NYFF, and it is a mere 2 ½ hours away from my Seattle domicile. It’s one of the quirks of the festival circuit: the films that made their respective North American premieres in Toronto (after a possible “unofficial” screening at Telluride) vie for a spot at NYFF, where it gets the media spotlight, while Vancouver quietly slips somewhere around half of those into their line-up.
Here are a few titles snagged by VIFF this year: Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta, Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Unknown Girl, Hong Sang-soo’s Yourself and Yours, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, Pablo Larraín’s Neruda, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation, Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada, Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle…. There are other films playing both fests, and plenty of films screening at Vancouver that are nowhere to be seen on the NYFF schedule, but that should give you a taste of a few of the delights that Vancouver offers over 16 days and eight venues (seven of them within walking distance of one another). It’s why I go every year that I am able.
The autumn movie calendar brings a handful of essential annual events to local screens—for instance, the Seattle Art Museum’s Film Noir series (kicking off Sept. 29) is the world’s longest-running showcase for noir, and SIFF presents its yearly French Cinema Now festival (also Sept. 29). An increasingly important mainstay is the Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings Film Festival. Launched in 1997, Local Sightings draws its roster from movies made throughout the Northwest, casting its net far enough to include Alaska and Montana as well as near-flung Canadian provinces.
The result is inevitably a mixed bag, but that’s part of the point. Some of the films are authentic finds, some are not ready for prime time. But all movies need air, and the festival provides a way to get these things onto a screen and exposed to audiences, where they can flourish or wither. Almost as important, Local Sightings surrounds a year’s worth of regional films with panels, workshops, and parties, all part of maintaining the we-can-do-this-here energy.
After going on the lam for a year, Noir City is back in Seattle, and this time it takes up residency at SIFF Cinema Egyptian (is there a movie house better suited to noir atmosphere?) and expands to 18 films in seven days (July 22–28).
Why does noir hold such a fascination in 2016? There’s the style and energy and Damon-Runyon-gone-to-seed repartee of tough guys and brassy dames, of course. There’s something cathartic about wallowing in the bad decisions and bad behavior of bad guys and bad dames scheming and cheating in the dark corners of the urban jungle, too. But pulp-fiction pleasures aside, the films are dangerous and daring and savvy thanks to a combination of desperation and pessimism, and the implied sex and violence that filmmakers snuck past the censors of the time. Even audiences too jaded for the quaint conventions of old Hollywood movies are captivated by noir portraits of existential dread and urban corruption. These disillusioned portraits of the American dream gone sour are, at their best, too jaded to believe their own studio-mandated happy endings. They may look nostalgic, but they sure feel like a reflection of our own anxious times.
Seattle International Film Festival audiences bestowed top Golden Space Needle Awards on Captain Fantastic, Gleason and Spy Time (among others) while juried awards singled out Girl Asleep and the documentary Death by a Thousand Cuts at the 42nd Seattle International Film Festival.
Over 420 features, documentaries and short films from more than 85 countries were screened over the 25 days (and the last day is not over as of this writing, mind you) in 15 different venues.
Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic (US), starring festival guest Viggo Mortensen (who was honored with the Festival’s Outstanding Achievement Award in Acting over the final weekend) and shot in part in the state of Washington, took the audience award for Best Film, Javier Ruiz Caldera won the Best Director award for Spy Time (Spain), Best Actor went to Rolf Lassgård for A Man Called Ove (Sweden/Norway), and Best Actress to Vicky Hernandez for Between Sea and Land (Colombia 2016).
Best Documentary was awarded to Gleason (US), directed by Clay Tweel, and Alive & Kicking: The Soccer Grannies of South Africa (USA/South Africa), directed by Lara-Ann de Wet, took home the Best Short Film award. The Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision given to the female director’s film that receives the most votes in public balloting at the Festival, went to The IF Project (USA ), directed by Kathlyn Horan.
New to the competition awards this years is the SIFF Official Competition award, selected from 12 entries making their World, North American, or US premiere at SIFF. Girl Asleep (Australia), the debut feature directed by Rosemary Myers, was honored with the award in its inaugural year.
Also new is the SIFF Ibero-American Competition, for films having their US premiere during the Festival that do not yet have US distribution. The inaugural winner is You’ll Never Be Alone (Chile ), the feature debut from Chilean writer-director Alex Anwandter.
The New Directors Competition winner is Sand Storm (Israel), directed by Elite Zexer; the New American Cinema Competition winner is Middle Man (USA), directed by Ned Crowley; and the Documentary Competition winner is Death By a Thousand Cuts (Dominican Republic/Haiti/USA), directed by Juan Mejia Botero and Jake Kheel.
The Short Film awards went to Killer (USA, directed by Matt Kazman) for live action, These C*cksucking Tears (USA, directed by Dan Taberski) for documentary, and Carlo (Italy, directed by Ago Panini) for animation.
The complete press release, which includes runners-up and jury statements, is featured below. Keep Reading
Viggo Mortensen is honored with the Seattle Film Festival Award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting. The introspective, soft-spoken actor will be interviewed in an onstage Q&A at A Tribute to Viggo Mortensen on Saturday, June 11 at the Egyptian, followed by a screening of his latest film Captain Fantastic, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year and was just honored with the Best Director prize for writer/director Matt Ross from the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes. Ross will also attend the screening of the film, which repeats (sans onstage interview) on Sunday, June 12, at 2:30pm, Uptown.
Frank & Lola, a romantic noir thriller starring Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots, is directed by Matthew Ross (not to be confused with Captain Fantastic director Matt Ross), who will attend the screening. Saturday, June 11, 7pm. Pacific Place
Jocelyn Moorhouse will attend the SIFF Closing Night Gala The Dressmaker, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham and starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, and Hugo Weaving, at The Cinerama. It is sold out and on standby and a second show has been added at 6:30pm, Pacific Place Cinemas (does not include a director appearance or closing night party).
SIFF celebrates its Renton Opening Night on Thursday, May 26 with a screening of the comedy My Blind Brother at the IKEA Performing Arts Center, followed by a party at the Renton Pavilion Event Center. Because SIFF isn’t just about the movies. It likes to party too.
And on Friday, May 27, SIFF extends its reach to Shoreline for the first time this year and it kicks off with a Shoreline Opening Night screening of The Tenth Man (Argentina), a lighthearted drama of a New York-based Jewish-Argentinian man returning home to Bueno Aires for Purim. Screenings take place at the newly-renovated theater on the Shoreline Community College campus (building 1600; see the Shoreline CC map), which is said to be state-of-the-art. I’ll be verifying this weekend; as a Shoreline resident myself, I’m thrilled to see the festival in my backyard. Campus parking is free for visitors after 4pm on weekdays and all day on weekends.
Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, a follow-up to the devastating documentary Streetwise, received its World Premiere at SIFF. More than thirty years after that acclaimed exploration of the culture of homeless teenagers in Seattle, Tiny revisits Erin Blackwell, the poster girl of Streetwise—literally, her stone face behind vintage second-hand fashions was the defining image of the film. Director Martin Bell and photographer Mary Ellen Mark profile Ms. Blackwell as struggling mother with ten children, still fighting to get by. Martin Bell is scheduled to attend screenings. Sunday, May 29, 4pm, Pacific Place; Monday, May 30, 11am, Pacific Place.
Chinese filmmaker Xu Haofeng brings the North American premiere of The Final Master (China) for three screenings across the city. Xu co-wrote the award-winning The Grandmaster with director Wong Kar-wai and his action choreography for The Final Master won an award at the Golden Horse Film Festival. Saturday, May 28, 6pm, Uptown; Sunday, May 29, 6:30pm, Shoreline Community College Theater.
Also making its North American premiere is Eternal Summer, a road trip crime movie through Northern Sweden. Filmmaker Andreas Ohman is scheduled to attend all screenings this weekend. Friday, May 27, 7pm, Lincoln Square Cinemas; Saturday, May 28, 1:30pm, Pacific Place; Sunday, May 29, 6:30pm, Pacific Place.
Truman (Spain/Argentina) arrives with five Goya Awards to its credit, including Best Picture. Director Cesc Gay scheduled to attend screenings at the Egyptian only. Sunday, May 29, 4:30pm, Egyptian; Monday, May 30, 6:30pm, Egyptian; Friday, June 3, 9pm, Shoreline Community College Theater.
The 42nd Annual Seattle International Film Festival opens on Thursday, May 19, with the opening night gala presentation of Woody Allen’s Café Society (in its North American premiere), and closes 24 days later on Sunday, June 12 with Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker. In between there are (at last count) 181 feature films, 75 documentary features, 8 archival films, and 153 short films. All told: 421 films representing 85 countries (as of opening night).
Here is Parallax View’s coverage and guide to SIFF resources from around the web. We will update a few times a week.
The 42nd Seattle International Film Festival opens on Thursday, May 19 with a gala screening of Woody Allen’s Café Society, direct from Cannes where it was the opening night event. That would generally be considered a coup for SIFF but the glitz is tarnished thanks to allegations of child abuse by Allen against the children of Mia Farrow. The controversy isn’t new but was effectively swept under the rug by a willing media until Ronan Farrow turned the spotlight back on his biological father and called out the media for letting the accusations slide as the film opened at Cannes. Nicole Brodeur writes about it at The Seattle Times, and I recommend Matt Zoller Seitz’s personal essay on his struggle to grapple with the art of Allen versus the actions of the artists. As for Seattle, neither Allen nor any of the stars will be attending the film.
What does any of this have to do with the film? Maybe nothing, maybe everything, depending on how you separate your engagement with popular art from the artists who create it. But by putting the film in the opening night spot, SIFF has made a statement of sorts whether it meant to or not. It was announced weeks before the embers of the controversy were fanned back to life, but those embers were always there, even if we (and I include myself) were willing to conveniently forget about it.
The festival really begins on Friday, May 20 as movies play in eight venues radiating out from Seattle Center to Capitol Hill, Ballard, and Bellevue. On Thursday it adds Renton and Friday it leaves Ballard for Shoreline, with Kirkland and Columbia City taking part later. But for now, let’s take a look at some of the highlight in this first week.
The Seattle International Film Festival long ago embraced its role as a kind of floating civic carnival. For 25 days—25 days—the fest spreads itself out over multiple venues, luring people indoors during what I have been told is a beautiful time of year. There’s a kind of madness at loose here, from the sheer number of films (something in the neighborhood of 250 features this year, from 85 different countries) to the variety of events involved: visiting filmmakers, tributes, panel discussions, live music events, sing-alongs, and many parties. People spend their vacation time to attend the nation’s largest film festival, bagging as many movies as they can according to some staggering mathematical algorithms (most movies are screened two or three times). Inevitably, the films range from good to bad to indifferent, and given a festival this size, there are a discomfiting number of indifferents. Can we make some generalizations about the behemoth that is SIFF 2016?
Woody Allen’s Café Society makes its North American premiere as the opening night film of the 42nd Seattle International Film Festival on Thursday, May 19—a mere eight days after making its world premiere as the Cannes opening night.
24 days later, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker takes the closing night gala spot at Cinerama on Sunday, June 12.
In between, 268 features (including 75 documentaries) and 153 short films from 85 countries will screen across 12 venues in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, Kirkland, and Shoreline.
That’s about the size of it at SIFF 2016, still the biggest and the longest film festival in the United States.
[Originally published in The Weekly, October 13, 1982]
The distance from Denver had been grievously underestimated by the travel agency, so we made the last part of the long day’s journey to Telluride in moonlight. Around and above the blind valley in which the Old West ghost town nestles, the Colorado Rockies bulked darkly, only their horizon clearly traceable. In the morning we would wake to find them slashed by strata of Technicolor-red rock and bisected, a mile beyond the end of Main Street, by a thread of waterfall called Bridal Veil. For now, ahead of us where the town must be, there appeared a mountain several thousand feet higher than the Rockies’ local average altitude of 13,000 feet—a Lovecraftian mass glowing with a light of its own, and no less well-defined and solid-seeming for being a cloud. Any cinephile could have read the sign: Werner Herzog and Fitzcarraldo had to be waiting under that celestial special-effect. And as it turned out, this vision was also our first testimony that the experience of the Telluride Film Festival is much bigger than the sum of films available on its four separate screens.
By design and thoroughly persuasive execution, the Telluride Film Festival is like no other. For the past nine years, from Friday evening of Labor Day weekend through the following Monday, movie buffs from all over the globe have made their way to this isolated resort area in the southwest corner of Colorado. Here they catch the most provocative films of the coming season, make belated acquaintance with recently unearthed treasures of the past, and press the cinematic flesh of distinguished directors and stars. (The reconstructed Napoléon was first projected in the festival’s Open Air Cinema in 1980, with the 90-year-old Abel Gance in attendance. Last year, MyDinnerwithAndre, Wally, and Andre were all on hand.)
SIFF more than doubled its archival programming this year, bring a record 19 archival films and programs to the festival this year. The backbone of the archivals this year is a program celebrating the 25th anniversary of Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation. Eight films restored by The Film Foundation play SIFF, and another four will screen at The Paramount Theatre’s Silent Movie Mondays through June.
The Film Foundation screenings, all from 35mm film prints, are almost all done. Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes, which was scheduled for the first weekend of SIFF, had to be cancelled after the screening had begun due to projection problems. Word is that the festival programmers are working to get a new screening scheduled. Meanwhile there is one Film Foundation restoration still on the schedule: Alyam, Alyam (1978), from Morocco, is set to play on June 7 at 4:30pm at SIFF Film Center.
Unconnected with The Film Foundation anniversary was The Son of the Sheik (1926), one of the first genuine movie sequels. It was also the last film that Rudolph Valentino made—he died shortly before its premier. He plays two roles in the tongue-in-cheek Arabian swashbuckler, both father (under a distinguished beard and a stern, serious expression) and son, the former now a responsible leader of his people and the latter a wild young man—just like his father was at his age. The double-exposure camera effects that put father and son together, fighting side-by-side in the climactic swordfight, are seamless, a reminder that the art and craft of Hollywood filmmaking in the silent era was top notch. The Alloy Orchestra played a lively live score, with bongos and congas setting the scene and a bit of accordion and clarinet added to the synthesizer melodies, which in Alloy fashion stand in for flutes, bass, and pretty much the rest of the orchestral colors.