Posted in: Contributors, Editor, Film Festivals

Siffing It: Parallax View’s SIFF 2010 Guide

SIFF-web-stuffThe 36th Annual Seattle International Film Festival ran for 25 days, from Thursday, May 20 through Sunday, June 13. Here is Parallax View’s coverage and guide to  SIFF resources .

Official sites:
SIFF homepage

SIFF Week by Week:
SIFF 2010 Awards, Attendance and Return Engagements (Sean Axmaker)
PV Dispatch 5 – Get Low, Get Hip, Get a Room (in Rome) (Sean Axmaker)
SIFFtings IV (Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy)
SIFF Week 4: 15 New Picks & Pans (Seattle Weekly)
PV Dispatch 4 – A Centurion in Scotland and an Angel at Sea (Week Three) (Sean Axmaker)
SIFF Week 3: 30 New Picks & Pans (Seattle Weekly)
SIFFtings III (Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy)
PV Dispatch 3 – Midnight in the Garden of SIFF (Week Two) (Sean Axmaker)
SIFF Week 2: Picks & Pans (Seattle Weekly)
SIFFtings II (Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy)
Old Gold (Richard Jameson)
SIFF 2010: Like You Know It All (Jay Kuehner)
PV Dispatch 2 – A Tale of Two Rock Bio-pics, plus quick notes (Sean Axmaker)
An (Inauspicious) Evening at the Neptune (Sean Axmaker)
PV Dispatch 1 – Cooking in the Soul Kitchen and an Opening Night Extra (Sean Axmaker)
SIFF Week 1: Picks and Pans (Seattle Weekly)
Truly Golden Oldies (Richard T. Jameson)
SIFFtings I (Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy)

Spotlight Features:
SIFF Emerging Master No. 3: Valery Todorovsky rocks on in ‘Hipsters’ (Richard T. Jameson)
No longer Down Under: Emerging Master Ana Kokkinos (Kathleen Murphy)
Mohamed Al Daradji has arrived (Kathleen Murphy)
Northwest Newbies at SIFF: Hollywood Is Not the Goal (Brian Miller at Seattle Weekly)

Reviews and capsules from other sites:
The Stranger’s SIFF Notes (from Lindy West and the Stranger staff)
Behind the Screens with Tom Tangney at MyNorthwest.com and the MyNorthwest SIFF page
Seattle PostGlobe SIFF page (Bill White)

Previews:
Parallax View SIFF Preview (Sean Axmaker)
SIFF 2010: Something For Everyone! (Kathleen Murphy)
Face the Music profiled at The KEXP Blog

and other resources:
The official Twitter Feed of the Seattle International Film Festival
The unofficial SIFF 2010 Twitter Feed
Video highlights from SIFF 2010 on YouTube
Moira Macdonald lists SIFF films already scheduled for theatrical release in Seattle

Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: Valery Todorovsky rocks on in ‘Hipsters’

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, June 9, 2010]

When it comes to cinema, for some of us (not naming names here), the terms “Russian” and “lugubrious” tend to be interchangeable. So encountering a movie like Hipsters is either liberating or deeply unsettling to one’s core values. This rollicking musical comedy, or comedy with lotsa music, is a hoot.

It’s 1955, and Moscow—or at least a portion of its teens verging on 20somethings—does not believe in tears. On the other hand, quite a few party-line Communist youths do, and some of them are marshaling to conduct a night raid: a group of self-styled “hipsters” their age have gathered in a remote outbuilding to play jazz and dance. When the celebrants twig to the raid and try to escape, scissors-wielding apparatchiks lay hold of them and set about shearing their hair, which is done up in decadent fashion perceived to be Western. One gorgeous blonde (Elena Glikman) breaks free and runs into the adjacent park, with fervent reformer Mels (Anton Shagin) in pursuit. Even though the dance has been broken up, rambunctious jazz music continues on the soundtrack and scores their chase through the trees, tracked by a rushing camera in CinemaScope ecstasy.

Actually, Mels isn’t necessarily all that fervent in his commitment to repression. It’s more a matter of his having been browbeaten into it by his party supervisor and sorta-girlfriend Katya (Evgeniya Khirivskaya), a dark-haired zealot who gives every indication of being a stunner if only someone were to melt her severity a little. He catches up with the fleeing blonde, who identifies herself as Polza, which a second later isotopically transmutes into “Polly.” Even nicknames are vehicles for decadent Western influence, and it’s not long before Mels has become (say it isn’t so, comrade!) “Mel.”

Hipsters is one of two films representing SIFF 2010 Emerging Master Valery Todorovsky. The other, the 1998 Land of the Deaf, was not available for preview.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: Mohamed Al Daradji has arrived

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, May 26, 2010]

What are film festivals and film critics good for? Well, for one thing, discovering and boosting new or under-appreciated talent. And don’t discount the power of such visual and verbal exposure: that’s precisely how a little film called The Hurt Locker stole the Oscar out from under the nose of James Cameron’s massively promoted blockbuster Avatar! So by introducing fledgling artists from all around the world to mainstream American audiences, SIFF’s Emerging Masters program can do some real good for cinema while striking a blow in the ongoing battle against this country’s cultural parochialism.

This year’s slate of Emerging Masters includes Mohamed Al Daradji (Iraq-Netherlands), Ana Kokkinos (Australia) and Valery Todorovsky (Russia). In the coming week, two films by Al Daradji will be screened: Ahlaam and Son of Babylon, both powerful testaments to the suffering of ordinary Iraqis, caught between dictators and invaders.

After studying theater direction in Baghdad, in 1995 Al Daradji moved to the Netherlands where he worked as a cameraman. Later he earned a degree in cinematography in England, going on to make many short films and commercials before returning to Iraq in 2003. While the war dragged on, Al Daradji filmed Ahlaam under incredibly difficult circumstances. Lack of equipment and electricity, the near-impossibility of finding a Muslim actress to play a victim of rape, kidnapping by Iraqi insurgents, detention by the American military — everything conspired to block the completion of the shoot. (Al Daradji chronicles the making of Ahlaam in his documentary, War, Love, God and Madness.)

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: Emerging from Down Under: Ana Kokkinos

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, June 2, 2010]

Among the trio of directors crowned as Emerging Masters by the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival, Australian Ana Kokkinos seems a mite premature. On the evidence of the three Kokkinos films I’ve seen—Head On, Blessed and The Book of Revelation (not in SIFF but available at Scarecrow)—this onetime lawyer turned filmmaker is a long way off from joining the masterly company of fellow Aussie directors Jane Campion and Gillian Armstrong.

Kokkinos’ strong suit lies in dramatizing the flesh-and-blood bonds—sustaining or smothering—that tie parents and offspring, and in finding the dynamics of emotion in dance. Drawn to the power of color to code emotional states, she likes to saturate key scenes in hot shades of gold, red and blue. Notably, her command of storytelling falters; narratives feel overlong and aimless, adrift in Melbourne’s mean streets, as though the lady at the helm doesn’t quite know where she’s going or how to stop.

In Head On, her 1998 feature debut, homosexuality works as a metaphor for the unbreachable divide between old-fashioned Greek-Australian immigrants and their feckless kids. Pointlessly interspersing black-and-white archival footage of the older generation’s battles for assimilation, Kokkinos follows Ari, a handsome, halfway closeted 19-year-old, through a long dark night of the soul fueled by sex, drugs, dancing. We watch Ari ping-pong gracelessly between straight and gay worlds, flirting with rough trade, an old girlfriend as lost as he is, a handsome Aussie offering something besides another degrading hook-up.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: Old Gold

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, May 26, 2010]

Some authentic rarities this week in this week’s SIFF archival programs. Saturday, May 29, 1 p.m. at Harvard Exit brings Senso, a 1954 film by Luchino Visconti that’s come to the screen in several versions — including one with English dialogue by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles! Alida Valli stars as an Italian countess who, in the midst of widespread war and nationalist protest in 1866, enters upon a doomed love affair with Austrian officer Farley Granger. (The director originally hoped to cast Ingrid Bergman and Marlon Brando in the roles — the first of many changes forced on him.) For all but the most devout of Visconti fans, the film is legendary mostly for its Technicolor, which should fully validate the title in this Film Foundation restoration.

Nothing rare about On the Waterfront (Sunday, May 30, 1:30 p.m., Harvard Exit), but if you’ve somehow managed to miss Elia Kazan’s Oscar-sweeping Christ allegory of betrayal and redemption on the New Jersey docks, here’s your chance to atone. This was the 1954 engagement that kept Marlon Brando occupied, giving the performance many have hailed as the finest in American cinema; certainly it’s among the most definitive and memorable. The whole cast is extraordinary (three supporting-actor nominees: Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger), and Leonard Bernstein contributes his sole original score for a dramatic motion picture.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: SIFFtings III

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, June 2, 2010]

Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy light up the third week of the festival

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (Jessica Oreck, USA, 2009; 91 mins.)

Buried in this all-over-the-map meditation on Japan’s fascination with insects are lovely, nearly mystical moments. Did you know that there’s actually a country where little boys beg their daddies to buy them a handsome horned beetle, and families travel out into the country to enjoy the nocturnal beauty of fireflies? A place where festivals celebrate and aficionados enjoy the “crying” music of crickets and cicadas? The Japanese love their bugs (not just Mothra), which show up all over the place in pop culture, art and philosophy. An animal keeper and docent at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Jessica Oreck is no filmmaker, but she gives us an often stunning snapshot of a national psyche that’s capable of embracing the poetry of insects, whose brief lives reflect our own transience. —KAM

Ondine (Neil Jordan, Ireland/U.S.A., 2009; 111 mins.)

It would be silly, of course, to build a movie around the question of whether a beautiful woman pulled from the sea in a West Cork fisherman’s net might be a mermaid. But a selkie, now—a creature with the capability of transforming from seal to woman and back again—that’s another matter entirely, and a fine vehicle for writer-director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, The Miracle) to once more travel the border where fantasy and scuffed-up reality trade valences.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: SIFFtings IV

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, June 9, 2010]

Notes on the final week by Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy

Protektor
(Marek Najbrt, Czech Republic/Germany, 2009; 98 mins.)

The World War II years remain an inexhaustible source of dramatic material, and as our culture grows ever more amnesiac, it’s probably salutary that filmmakers keep trying to find ways into the period. Set in the Prague of 1938-42—from Hitler’s bloodless occupation of Czechoslovakia to the assassination of Reichsprotektor Heydrich and the ensuing Nazi reprisals—Protektor eschews the conventional big-picture approach to focus on a married couple whose lives are being transformed. Hana (Jana Plodková), a glamorous movie actress primed for stardom, sees her career aborted because she’s Jewish; the non-Jewish Emil (Marek Daniel), one among a staff of announcers for the state radio station, becomes a star after his chief rival is sidelined for political outspokenness. Effectively under house arrest, Hana contrives ways to recast her life as her own imaginative movie—posing in grab photos flouting the many anti-Semitic prohibitions posted everywhere, and getting back into the cinema literally, by sneaking into the moviehouse next door. Emil, freer to roam, keeps getting seduced personally and professionally, each seduction becoming another kind of trap.

Oh look, I just recast life as imaginative movie, making Protektor seem a more provocative film than it is. In fact of point, the narrative and the chronology hop around to little coherent purpose, and the way the images are optically magicked at every turn is more masturbatory than illuminating. The film’s closest brush with distinction is its suggestion how accidental history and becoming a part of history can be. (Better you should rent the chilling 1943 Lang-Brecht movie Hangmen Also Die!) —RTJ

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: Awards, Attendance and Return Engagements

Seattle International Film Festival audiences bestowed top Golden Space Needle Awards on The Hedgehog, Winter’s Bone and Cell 211 (among others) while juried awards singled out The Reverse and Marwencol at the awards brunch of the Seattle International Film Festival this morning.

But before we get into the lists of winners, here’s a few SIFF 2010 statistics:

Every year, SIFF programmers open the press launch with the usual proclamation: this year is the biggest and best SIFF ever. Whether or not you agree with the latter, it was certainly big: 408 features and shorts in 25 days, according to the press release, with 73 premieres and more than 600 screenings and evens (I’m trusting their numbers here, so if you have a different count, take it up with SIFF).

According to SIFF’s press release, it’s also their most successful in terms of ticket sales and attendance. To quote the press release, this year’s festival “broke box office records with a nearly 20% increase in box office, making it SIFF’s most triumphant year to date.” They also cite more than 125 sold-out events.

It’s hard to argue with numbers like that—Seattle audiences love their festival and SIFF has what I believe to be the best and most loyal local turnout of any major film festival—and it was certainly the year to make such a leap, with the multiplex box office in the doldrums and the dreariest late spring weather Seattle weather of recent memory. The two lonely sunny days amidst the rain and clouds and cold only served to drive us back into the theaters once the sun went back into hibernation.

But this kind of ambition comes with a cost. This year it was very apparent to me that the festival staff was spread pretty thin. Every festival faces problems with prints that arrive late, in a compromised condition (like missing or damaged reels) or not at all; with format issues (a major concern with the explosion in digital filmmaking and projection and the lack of a single digital playback standard); with focus and sound problems and the like. This year I attended fewer screenings than in past years and yet faced more problems (most of them minor, admittedly) than I can ever recall. In the case of missing prints and substitutions, the SIFF staff was invariably forthcoming and communicative about the issues and the solutions for the evening and they became more adept at alerting audiences even before they filed into their seats. But it all seemed to happen more often this year. At least for the events I attended.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: PV Dispatch 5 – Get Low, Get Hip, Get a Room (in Rome)

Hipsters (Russia, dir: Valery Todorovsky) – In 1955 Moscow, where the Soviet citizenry fills the streets in a palette of industrial blue, black and gray, a group of culture rebels parade about in rainbow colors that in America would be crimes against fashion—a cacophony of plaids and checks, greens and yellows and purples and other garishly clashing colors—and commit something much more daring: crimes against conformity. They are the self-defined “hipsters,” dancing to swing and small combo dance bands in fashions that defies the uniformity of the Soviet ideal. “I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t want to live like everyone else,” smiles the youth commissar of conformity, who proclaims that “Every hipster is a potential criminal.” Mels (Anton Shagin, who comes off as a wide-eyed Neil Patrick Harris) is part of the conformist army until he switches allegiances for the best of possible reasons: a girl, Polly (Oksana Akinshina). Mels dons the Soviet answer to a zoot suit, hits the Broadway scene and is rechristened Mel (in the Yankee-ization that all hipsters undergo), the newest member of the swing cat underground.

A musical (where they do indeed break into song and dance, evoking the mechanization of the industrial revolution when it’s the plebian citizens doing the honors but exploding in the plumage of mating birds when the dances erupt in the club setttings), a coming-of-age tale and an adventure in youthful rebellion, Hipsters (from Emerging Master Valery Todorovksy) is a bright blast of underground culture and expressions of individuality in a society where rebels are regularly jailed for much less. The eye-gouging color, flamboyant fashion, pompadours and curls and appropriated style is not just a fashion statement, it’s a cry of individualism and freedom in a country where “kowtowing to western ideology is punishable by up to ten years” and “a saxophone is considered a concealed weapon.” (And what about owning banned music, which here is copied and passed around on pirate discs cut into the remnants of old X-rays sheets?) It’s also a warped mirror reflection of what these soviet youths imagine American culture is like from the snatched glimpses and slivers of artifacts gleaned from between the cracks of the Iron Curtain, a recreation at least ten years out of date and exaggerated to hyperbolic extremes. Which, in a very real way, ultimately makes this a uniquely Soviet rebel culture. The drama itself is much more conventional, with kids forced to choose between their rebel identities and donning the costume of conformity for advancement, marriage, parenthood and responsibility, all of it essentially hurdled in a song to embrace the happy ending. But the story of Hipsters is less in the narrative than the evocation of this underground culture, in both the texture of realistic detail and expressionist song and dance sequences. And if you think you recognize Polly (“Good Time Polly to those who know”), it’s not just the American affection; she starred as Lilya in Lukas Moodyson’s Lilya 4-Ever.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: SIFFtings II

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, May 26, 2010]

Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy scope out the fest’s second week

The Hedgehog (Mona Achache, France, 2009; 98 mins.)

This quietly affecting French fairy tale features one of the most adorable children ever, a grave-faced prodigy whose thick, curly blond hair always gets in her eyes, complicating the removal of her spectacles. Like the hero of Harold and Maude, young Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic, excellent) plans suicide, which she’s scheduled for her upcoming birthday. Her metaphor for life, based on the behavior of her wealthy, empty-headed family, is a fishbowl in which hypocrites and neurotics bang uselessly against the glass until they die. A prepubescent Sartre armed with deadpan wit, this kid films everything and everyone, adding to the documentary that will be her legacy.

Then Paloma comes to know Mme. Michel, her apartment building’s apparently lumpen concierge, and an exotic new tenant named Ozu (Togo Igawa), parental stand-ins who don’t fit her “fishbowl” philosophy. (As Mme. Michel, Josiane Balasko deserves special praise for the way she lets light slowly leak from her character’s armor, and the rictus of her homely face relax into expressiveness.) The tender connection that grows between the prickly yet internally elegant “hedgehog” and the namesake of a director who famously immortalized familial relations is wonderful in and of itself — but it also becomes an unexpected exemplum for our youthful nihilist. A Gallic fable about seizing the day, The Hedgehog weaves gentle magic, but pulls no punches when it comes to life’s dead stops, as cruel and heartbreaking as the image of a bright child pulverizing pills in preparation for her final hour. —KAM

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