Should you utter the title The Babadook out loud, you may be in danger of summoning an Australian bogeyman from its hiding place—and woe betide those who doubt its existence. Film Comment calls this first-time effort from director Jennifer Kent “the real deal” in horror, so expect to lose some sleep. (Egyptian: 11:55 p.m. Fri., June 6. SIFF Cinema Uptown: 9:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.)
In Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, a young woman (Babel Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi) becomes convinced that Fargo is real, and journeys to the movie’s setting to find money buried in the snow. Well, Fargo did claim to be based on a true story, even if that turned out to be a Coen brothers jape. This film is from another set of filmmaking siblings, David and Nathan Zellner, and comes with warm notices from other festivals. (Egyptian: 7 p.m. Sun., June 1 & 4 p.m. Mon., June 2.)
In going from Wendy & Lucy to Meek’s Cutoff, Portland’s Kelly Reichardt blithely established the kind of range that most indie filmmakers can only dream about. Therefore her new one, Night Moves, automatically becomes a must-see. It’s about a group of Oregon environmental activists; Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning lead the cast. (Lincoln Square: 7 p.m. Fri., May 23. SIFF Cinema Uptown: noon Mon., May 26.)
“My films are a little weird,” says Taylor Guterson. It’s a weird statement to make about his two easygoing features. His debut Old Goats (SIFF ’11) and his new Burkholder both concern a group of of elderly, sometimes cantankerous codgers facing their retirement years on Bainbridge Island, where the director grew up. The films gently meander through their doings and conversations, which have a habit of detouring into blind alleys. Those detours are intentional, says Guterson, the son of bestselling novelist David Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars): “There are people out there who think that that’s not how you tell a story, that you never bring up something that . . . doesn’t have a point. And to me it has a point. They go off on these tangents because that’s what they do.”
Today based on the Eastside, Guterson is a self-made filmmaker with his own video production company. Chatting in a Mercer Island coffee shop, he’s like an earnest, relaxed grad student. So why, I ask, has he created a stock company of senior citizens? Reflecting on Old Goats, he says, “I was 27 and thinking, ‘If I don’t just figure out a way to do it now, I’ll never make a feature.’ ”
The press release has been unleashed, the complete schedule has been announced, and at 9am on Thursday, May 1, the schedule will go up on the SIFF website and tickets will go on sale online and at the SIFF Cinema Uptown box office (the Pacific Place SIFF box-office with open later). The 40th Seattle International Film Festival season is officially underway.
Of course, you can’t wait to find out what the highlights are (well, my highlights, as far as that goes) so here’s a sketch of what’s big, what’s interesting, what’s arriving with big buzz, and what you might want to look out for when the schedule goes live. (The full press release is copied below.)
Opening Night, as was previously announced, is Jimi: All is By My Side, John Ridley’s film of Jimi Hendrix in the year before he broke in America at the Monterey Pop music festival. It debuted at Toronto last year and made its American debut at SXSW in March; Seattle marks its second American appearance. As you may know, the Hendrix estate would not license any of Hendrix’s compositions to the film, which leads to some storytelling gymnastics and one killer cover that I will not spoil for you. The film opens the festival at McCaw Hall (which, to be honest, is not the most sonic-friendly space for film soundtracks) on Thursday, May 15, and director / writer John Ridley (fresh off winning an Oscar for his screenplay to 12 Years a Slave) is set to attend.
The Seattle International Film Festival announced this week that it will kick off the 40th Seattle International Film Festival with a screening of Jimi: All is By My Side, John Ridley’s film about the early years of Jimi Hendrix in England before his breakthrough, on the Thursday, May 15 opening night gala at McCaw Hall. Director / writer Ridley, an Oscar winner for his screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, is expected to attend.
The film, which debuted at Toronto last fall and made its American debut at SXSW in March, stars Andre Benjamin as Hendrix, who was born in Seattle and rests at Greenwood Cemetery in Renton, and co-stars Hayley Atwell and Imogen Poots as the women in his life as he played his way through the London club scene in the 1960s.
SIFF also released its 2014 promo. The theme is “Cinescape.”
Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, shot in 12 days between the principle photography and the post-production of The Avengers with a cast of friends and colleagues old and new in Whedon’s own home, was the opening night film at the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival. It was a testament to the commitment of the cast to Whedon that four of the film’s stars came with Whedon for the opening gala and sat for interviews with the local and national press.
I was lucky enough to get a few minutes with Nathan Fillion (Dogberry) and Clark Gregg (Deonato), better known to Whedon fans as Captain Mal Reynolds of Firefly and Agent Phil Coulson of The Avengers. No more preamble necessary, but just allow me to point out that the transcript cannot accurately capture the joking byplay and easy laughs shared between these two actors. They had not worked together before Much Ado yet come across as old friends, or at least newfound best buddies bonding over shared love of comic books, affection for Whedon, and mutual respect for their respective talents. I was honored to be welcomed into this little club even for just a few minutes.
Much Ado About Nothing opens in multiple theaters in the Seattle area on Friday, June 21.
I know that the roots of this production come from Joss Whedon’s Shakespeare readings, where he invited members of his TV show casts for brunch at his house and read through a play. Clark, were you a part of that group?
Clark Gregg: (deadpan) Sore subject.
Nathan Fillion: (laughs) I did two of those and Clark… We didn’t know Clark then. Had we known, we probably still wouldn’t have invited him. Because he’s a little too good, he would have raised the bar.
CG: Joss would ask me to drop by some bagels but not come in. No, I didn’t meet Joss until The Avengers. Actually, I met him during Comic Con after Thor, a year before The Avengers, and he came up to me and said, “I want to introduce as part of the cast of The Avengers. I want to use Agent Coulson in The Avengers, is that okay with you?” It was the quickest head nod anybody has ever done. And then after The Avengers I was just kind of brought in, I think, because several people got jobs or passed away and suddenly I was in this movie. But I wasn’t in the brunches though they sound fantastic and I hope we do one in the future sometime.
Much Ado About Nothing was like a 12-day-long brunch, wasn’t it?
CG: It was a brunch, a dinner, and a hell of a cocktail party all rolled into one.
It looked like a hell of a cocktail party. Was there a scene where nobody had a drink in their hand?
CG: Boy, there was a lot of cocktails. Yes, when things get a little testy with all the scandal and the libeling of my daughter, I don’t think there’s a lot of drinking there.
I just want to go on record and say how that was very mean of them.
CG: I’ve never been a fan of people libeling my daughter on her wedding day.
NF: Isn’t libel in print?
CG: Is it like dictation?
(both start laughing)
NF: I remember in Spider-Man where J. Jonah Jameson says, “No, print is libel.”
And that’s where you get your legal expertise, from Spider-Man movies?
The thirty ninth annual Seattle International Film Festival came to a close on Sunday, June 9, day twenty five of the marathon event, with the closing night film The Bling Ring, fresh from its debut at Cannes. Its two young stars, Katie Chang and Israel Broussard, were on hand to introduce the film and send the festival off to its gala closing night party.
Sofia Coppola has done marvelous work in ethereal studies of disconnection and emotional confusion, of people lost in their worlds or blinded by celebrity and affluence.
The Bling Ring fits in very nicely thematically to her growing body of work, but these kids don’t actually yearn for anything beyond fashion accessories and the thrill of robbing the rich and famous and lack any capacity for self-reflection. The dispassionate observation, intercut with social media alerts and pop culture snaps and stories, makes them a reflection of that world without offering us a character underneath worth caring about, or at least fascinated with enough to follow through.
Like Toronto’s, SIFF’s top awards—the Golden Space Needles, this year designed by local artist and sculptor Piper O’Neill—are voted on by the audiences. This year, with plenty of high-profile American indies and international imports on display, the surprise Best Picture winner was the warm-hearted Fanie Fourie’s Lobola, a South African romantic comedy that explores racial and social tensions through laughs (I sadly missed this one; the final show conflicted with my own rare appearance on a festival panel). Director Henk Pretorius, accepting the award via phone, said he would change the title because nobody gets it right. First runner: The Rocket, an uplifting Australian drama shot in Laos.
The Seattle International Film Festival is, as its organizers are proud to trumpet, the biggest and the longest film festival in the United States. It is also the most well attended in the country. Some of that is due to its size, of course, but SIFF is also a festival pitched to the hometown audience rather than attracting visiting film critics.
The thirty ninth edition of SIFF kicked off on Thursday, May 16, with a screening of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and complete its twenty five-day run on Sunday, June 9 with Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring as the Closing Night Film. Over 270 feature films (fiction and documentary) and 175 short films will play over twenty five days and more than 600 screening events.
SIFF doesn’t have an identifying specialty—it is by design trying to please everyone with a little bit of everything—but it does commit itself to a few worthy sidebars, notably documentary, and specifically the Face the Music programming.
Her Aim Is True is technically not a part of the latter but spiritually it fits right in. The documentary portrait of Jini Dellaccio received its world premiere at SIFF, and fittingly so. In the early 1960s, at age forty, self-taught fashion photographer Ms. Dellaccio snapped her first rock photo (of Seattle garage rockers The Wailers) and began a new career. She took bands out of the studio and into the distinctive northwest light of Washington State’s great outdoors, anticipating the mod style of A Hard Day’s Night with a distinctly American character and energy. I wish director Helen Whitehead offered a wider array of shots (the same iconic photos repeat throughout) and more context on how her work influenced the character of rock photography in the industry, but the film is nonetheless a vital tour through a most unusual, creative and fulfilling life, and Ms. Dellaccio’s voice guides the portrait. She’s still alive and taking photos at the age of ninety six.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed in Neil Jordan’s second coming to the vampire myth, Byzantium. Even seen solely as a vampire film Byzantium far surpasses Jordan’s 1994 Interview with the Vampire—and pretty much everything else in the genre. But while Jordan’s and scenarist Moira Buffini’s expansion of Buffini’s stage play A Vampire Story can be enjoyed as a straightforward—albeit narratively complex—vampire tale, it is much more. The familiar tropes of vampire lore (to which Irish folklore has contributed at least as much as middle-European) become, under Jordan’s skilled hand and eye, haunting visual metaphors for the tyranny of the body, the marginalization of the outsider, the economic suppression of Ireland, the subjection of women, and, most importantly, the means of rebellion against all of these. Vampires and whores, predators and victims—how can we tell the dancer from the dance?
In Byzantium, Jordan works wonders setting his outsiders apart from the environment they only half inhabit, while out-of-focus light sources dance in the background like leukocytes under a microscope. And when he isn’t creating conflicting layers with long lenses, he is choreographing motion on two or three planes of deep-focus activity. Background action cuts the vectors of foreground characters, which are themselves cut by the moving camera, keeping the viewing eye constantly alive, the viewing mind constantly questioning which movements are real and which are only suggested. One amazing shot, a lateral track of a beach conversation between two characters with a line of fishing boats moored behind them moves along the line of boats, gradually seeming to forget the characters altogether (and enabling us to do so as well), arriving at one boat boldly named “Our Lady,” then suddenly reverses its movement, as if the camera, Jordan’s eye, our eye, has gone too far, done too much, forgotten what it is about, and returns to the characters as if little or nothing had happened. It’s a delicious detail in an endlessly delicious movie, a celebration of color and light, a matrix of Irish anger and Irish love, with a satisfying, thrilling rightness about every move, gesture, and event. And if you remember that Bram Stoker was Irish, and that a guy named Yeats wrote poems about Irish rebellion and about a place called Byzantium—well, so much the better.
The 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival opens on Thursday, May 16, with a screening of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and complete its 25-day run on Sunday, June 9 with Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring as the Closing Night Film. Here is Parallax View’s coverage and guide to SIFF resources for all 25 days.
Leah Warshawski didn’t set out for a movie career. “I got into it because I worked on a boat in college,” recalls the co-director of Finding Hillywood, speaking by phone from a shoot in Idaho. She was studying Japanese at the University of Hawaii when the marine coordinator of the 2003 TV movie Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding hired her for his crew. “I actually didn’t know anything about it at all, but he hired me as his assistant for a couple of pretty big movies, and I learned a lot from him.” She decided she wanted to become a producer, so she continued working on TV shows like Survivor: Fiji and Lost and corporate videos. “My film school was working, and I’m still learning.”
A project for Microsoft brought her to Seattle and then sent her to Rwanda, where she found Hillywood. No, it’s not Rwanda’s answer to Bollywood, but a traveling film festival that screens films made by, about, and for Rwandans. Free movies are projected on an inflatable screen in rural areas—often near mass graves from Rwanda’s 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis by the majority Hutus.
“We didn’t believe it,” recalls Warshawski. “People show up with no shoes, in all kinds of inclement weather. They walk for miles and stand together in this precarious situation where you don’t know who you’re standing next to”—meaning Hutu perpetrator or Tutsi survivor. “There’s a huge issue of trust there still, years after the genocide. And that’s a little different than going to Sundance.”
It’s back. The Seattle International Film Festival, the biggest, the longest, and the best attended film festival in America, opens on Thursday, May 16 with Joss Whendon’s Much Ado About Nothing. That was announced a few weeks and news that the director and much of his cast (drawn from various orbits of the Whedonverse) would appear with the film on opening night helped make this the fastest sell-out opening event SIFF has seen.
Announced today is the closing night film: The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s new feature with Emma Watson as the ringleader of a gang of teenagers who target celebrities to rob via social networking tools, simply for the kick of rubbing up against the famous while taking them for all they are worth. It’s based on a true story and seems ready made as a tale for our celebrity-obsessed times.
In between these films is 24 days of screenings with over 200 feature films (that includes the four Secret Festival screenings), 67 documentaries, and 175 shorts. (SIFF is an Academy qualifying festival for live-action, animated, and starting this year documentary shorts.) 18 features make their respective world premieres.
Gala showings include two films with Seattle connections: Touchy Feely from Seattle’s own Lynn Shelton (which kicks off six days of screenings in Renton) and Decoding Annie Parker, which dramatizes the true story of cancer research breakthrough guided by UW geneticist Mary-Claire King (played in the film by Helen Hunt).
Other galas and special event screenings include The Way, Way Back from writers / directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, “Gay-La” event G.B.F., Fanie Fourie’s Lobola from South Africa (the centerpiece of the African Pictures section), Populaire from France, Papadopoulos and Sons from the U.K., Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies with Anna Kendrick and Olivia Wilder, and the documentaries Twenty Feet from Stardom, Inequality for All, and Somm.
Thanks to a grant from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, SIFF will present a special section of 15 films from Africa, including the North American premiere of Last Flight to Abuja from Nigeria: the first Nollywood film to play SIFF.
Okay, so you missed one or two or so of the films that got the buzz or won the awards at SIFF this year? Then you want to know about The Best of SIFF, a collection of features, documentaries, and shorts from SIFF 2012 playing through the week at The Uptown. Among the films in the seven-day schedule are Any Day Now, which won the Golden Space Needle Awards for Best Film and Best Actor (Alan Cummings), reviewed on Videodrone here, and Megan Griffiths’ Eden, which won the Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision (presented by Women in Film/Seattle) and the Reel NW Award as well as the Golden Space Needle for Best Actress (Jamie Chung) (reviewed for Seattle Weekly here). The complete line-up is at the SIFF Cinema website here.
And speaking of the Best of SIFF, the opening night film Your Sister’s Sister opens in Seattle (and New York City, L.A., SF, Chicago, and D.C.) this weekend. Says Kat Murphy at MSN Movies: “Your Sister’s Sister warms the comedic cockles through sharp, largely improvised dialogue and quirky emotional connection among three not-quite-grown-up 30-somethings (Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt), friends, relations and lovers who accidentally come to share a cabin in the woods for a week or so.” More from Brian Miller at Seattle Weekly here.
The 2012 Golden Space Needle Award, voted on by audiences of the Seattle International Film Festival, goes to Travis Fine’s Any Day Now for Best Picture, with Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffith’s superb Eden taking the first runner up spot.
Audiences gave the Best Documentary award to Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War, Best Actor to Any Day Now‘s Alan Cumming, Best Actress to Jamie Chung for Eden, Best Director to Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Best Short Film to Catcam by Seth Keal.
Among the juried awards, Eden took the Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision (presented by Women in Film/Seattle) and the Reel NW Award.
Eden was, to my mind, the finest film in the strongest collection of Seattle and Washington-born and -based filmmaking ever screened at SIFF, in a line-up that was framed by opening night film Your Sister’s Sister (from hometown hero Lynn Shelton, whose recent work put independent Seattle filmmaking on the map) and closing night film Grassroots, shot in Seattle and based on the book by former Stranger political reporter Phil Campbell.
Ira Finklestein’s Christmas, from Seattle filmmaker Sue Corcoran, and shot-in-Seattle productions Safety Not Guaranteed and Fat Kid Rules the World also placed high in audience voting for the Space Needle awards.
But I would also like to congratulate Travis Fine and his very fine picture Any Day Now. I saw the film on a whim because it was convenient (I had screenings before and after in the same theater) and I liked the cast. I did not have high expectations and yet I was moved by the depth of Fine’s portrait of a love between two people. It’s a period film, set in a pre-gay rights era of 1979 San Francisco, with two men who are very different (Alan Cumming plays a flamboyant drag performer and Garret Dillahunt is a buttoned-down professional just beginning to accept his identity but keeping it a secret from the rest of the world) and yet so committed to one another, and to the all-but-abandoned boy they take in, that those differences become their strength. And it’s awfully timely as well, as it turns on the effort two gay men to adopt a child in a culture that would prefer to see an otherwise unwanted boy with Down’s Syndrome dropped into the indifferent system of social services than raised by two gay men. It could easily have tipped into a preachy tearjerker but for the commitment of the film to be about people, not about issues, and not about scoring points. I had the good fortune to run into the director at the water pitcher stand at the Harvard Exit after the film and inarticulately gush over the film.
There was a time when gay cinema focused on sexual relationships but missed the everyday intimacy of a loving couple, the nonchalant physicality of people comfortable with each other, the easy intimacy of people who live together and make a life together. Any Day Now is a powerful drama of people in love that puts the love and commitment before the sexual orientation to show two men who live their love in every moment, not in displays for the camera. And that strength even tempers a tragedy with a sense of endurance and hope. It’s the most powerful, convincing, commited portrait of two people in love I have seen on screen all year.
When recently working on readying the 49th issue of the Seattle Film Society journal Movietone News for Parallax View re-posting, I reencountered this as part of the “You Only Live Once” column on local art and classic film programming. The big event on the horizon was the “first Seattle Festival of International Films.” How big an event? Let’s just say the bigness was real. Were there as many estimable films in that initial, 19-film, two-and-a-half-weeks event as in any recent season of SIFF? Discuss amongst yourselves. —RTJ
[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]
The Moore-Egyptian Theatre at 2nd and Virginia has been open under new management—and a new name, having subsumed the Moore Theatre of old—since late last year. Already the Moore-Egyptian has proved a valuable addition to the local repertory map. Festivals of familiar Bergman and Truffaut are scarcely innovative, but there’s always someone out there ripe to make a (re)discovery, and they shouldn’t be denied. It was good to have a reappraisal shot at The Seduction of Mimi and Love and Anarchy after the brouhaha over Swept Away and the longdistance celebration of Seven Beauties, which still hasn’t played here (I find I prefer the formative Wertmüller, warts and all, to the arrived “major artist”). And even though it turned out to be an epic of turgidity, I’m grateful to have seen and accounted for the long-deferred Kamouraska of Claude Jutra; when a director comes up with a My Uncle Antoine, you keep looking for a while.
The “new” theater hasn’t exactly been swamped with business, and some envisioned renovations around the house will have to wait a bit. But the managers—Jim Duncan, Dan Ireland, and Darryl Macdonald—aren’t stinting at all with programming. They’re about to loose the First Seattle Festival of International Films, easily the most important event in local exhibition in … well, I’d prefer not to think overmuch about how long it’s been since anything remotely this auspicious was hazarded by a local theater.
The 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival opened on Thursday, May 17, with a screening of Lynn Shelton’s locally-produced My Sister’s Sister, and completed its 25 day on Sunday, June 12 with the world premiere of the Seattle shot and set Grassroots. Here is Parallax View’s coverage and guide to SIFF resources.