“True art transcends time” is the motto of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which opens its twenty-third edition at the historic Castro Theatre on Wednesday, May 30. What began as a one-day event over two decades ago has grown into the largest and most impressive silent film festival in the country. The twenty-three programs presented over the five-day event include twenty features (from forty-five minutes to three and a half hours in length) from nine countries, ranging from the avant-garde, to the experimental, and even 3D shorts. And all are matched with live music from some of the best silent movie accompanists from around the world.
There was a time when I threw myself into SIFF, seeing 50, 60, sometimes over 70 films between the first days of press screenings and the closing night gala (that’s still far short of some passholders who watch over 100 films over the course of the fest). Those days are over for many reasons, not the least of which is that San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which now plays out smack dab in the middle of SIFF and pulls me out of town for nearly a week. This year I expect to see something between 10 and 15 films scheduled between my day job and writing deadlines, and while that means I miss a lot of interesting films, the upside is that I treasure those films I do get to see and I have more time to ruminate over them. Here are thoughts on some of the films I saw the first. No press screenings for me this year. These were all seen with festival audiences.
Audiences split on First Reformed (US) but critics are raving and I think it’s Paul Schrader’s finest and richest film since Affliction. It also defies expectations of an American psychological drama by following a style more similar to his most beloved filmmakers: Carl Dreyer, Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovsky among them.
[Updated June 7, 2018]
The 44th Annual Seattle International Film Festival opens on Thursday, May 17, with the opening night gala presentation of Goya-winning feature The Bookshop with Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and Bill Nighy from Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet, and closes 24 days later on Sunday, June 10 with Portland-based filmmaker Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. In between there are (at last count) 168 feature films, 66 documentary features, 10 archival films, and 164 short films among the multimedia presentations. All told: 433 films representing 90 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.
SIFF Week by Week, Day by Day:
SIFF 2018: The best of the fest’s final weekend (staff, Seattle Times) NEW
SIFF 2018 Picks: Final Week (Keiko DeLuca, Seth Sommerfeld, and Gavin Borchert, Seattle Weekly) NEW
The 29 Best Movies To See at SIFF This Week: June 4-10 (Staff, The Stranger) NEW
SIFF 2018: week three highlights (Michael Bracy, Three Imaginary Girls) NEW
SIFF 2018: Picks for Week Three (staff, The Sunbreak) NEW
The Golden Space Needle Audience Awards were handed out for SIFF 2017 on Sunday, June 11, and soon after the Best of SIFF 2017 line-up was announced.
Parallax View has both covered for you here.
(You can also peruse reviews, interviews, and other features collected and curated in Parallax View’s SIFF 20187 Guide here.)
Rodrigo Grande’s Argentine crime thriller At the End of the Tunnel won the Golden Space Needle Audience Awards for Best Film and Best Director and Peter Bratt’s Dolores, a portrait of racial and labor activist Dolores Huerta, won for Best Documentary. Seattle audiences also awarded Sami Blood star Lene Cecilia Sparrok the Best Actress award and David Johns of I, Daniel Blake the Best Actor award.
The 43rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival opens on Thursday, May 18, with the opening night gala presentation of The Big Sick, from director Michael Showalter and writer/star Kumail Nanjiani, and closes 24 days later on Sunday, June 11 with the North American premiere of Raoul Peck’s The Young Karl Marx. In between there are (at last count) 161 feature films, 58 documentary features, 14 archival films, and 163 short films. All told: 400 films representing 80 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.
SIFF Week by Week, Day by Day:
SIFF 2017: It’s a wrap! (Parallax View) NEW
The 13 Best Movies to See at SIFF This Weekend: June 9-11, 2017 (staff, The Stranger) NEW
Highlights of the film festival’s final weekend (staff, Seattle Times) NEW
Closing Weekend Picks (staff, The SunBreak) NEW
Homestretch Roundtable (The SunBreak) NEW
SIFF 2017: Week Four Preview (Sean Gilman, Seattle Screen Scene) NEW
At some point the numbers are overwhelming. This is the 43rd annual Seattle International Film Festival, a marathon that lasts 25 days across 15 venues (Bellevue, Kirkland, and Shoreline included), with around 400 feature-length and short films from 80 countries. There are gobs of panels and festivities and visiting filmmakers.
It seems churlish to be a movie lover and complain that SIFF is too big, especially when the city seems to love it so much. It is, undeniably, a vast and glittery party, and every year it brings necessary gems and some lovely out-of-left-field experiences. Still, I can’t help thinking there’s a splendid 10-day festival to be carved out of this unfocused sprawl.
The 43rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival opens on Thursday, May 18, with the opening night gala presentation of Sundance and SXSW hit The Big Sick from director Michael Showalter and writer/star Kumail Nanjiani.
24 days later, the North American premiere of Raoul Peck’s The Young Karl Marx takes the closing night spot at Cinerama on Sunday, June 11.
In between, 233 features films (including 58 documentaries) and 163 short films from 80 countries will screen across 12 venues in Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, and Shoreline.
Welcome to SIFF 2017, still the biggest and longest film festival in the United States. It’s got something for everyone, from world premieres to restorations of classic movies, from movies for families to gonzo midnight movies that are definitely not for kids. There are comedies and dramas and thrillers, true stories and fantasies and stranger-than-fiction documentaries.
Alongside the woven objects and 16th-century painted tiles in the Seattle Art Museum’s Islamic Collection hang a series of entirely modern artifacts. Iraqi artist Qasim Sabti’s “Book Cover Collage” pieces are rendered from the remains of books retrieved from Baghdad libraries in the wake of the 2003 bombings. They stand as proof of the ability of art to travel: These pieces have come all the way from a Baghdad street to a well-manicured Seattle art museum to testify. Before that, the books themselves came from all over the world to bring beauty, history, or subversive ideas to Iraq. The isolated word “Gulliver” peeks out from one collage, indicating the presence of literature’s most famous traveler.
Movies are also great travelers, and the global reach of cinematic art gets a boost in May through a national project organized partly by the Northwest Film Forum and the New York distributor Abramorama. The Seventh Art Stand is an initiative, hosted by dozens of U.S. independent theaters and film societies, to make “an act of cinematic solidarity against Islamophobia.”
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.
Thursday, February 16
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.