SIFF 2017: One Year Later

I surprised myself the other day when I discovered that I had not, in fact, written about my screenings at the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). I can really only attribute it to laziness. Maybe I thought, “no one actually reads these, anyway, so why bother?” I’ll tell you why. Even if no one else reads them, I have referred to past write-ups on several occasions, especially when recommending a film to someone for which I cannot remember its title. And so, on the eve of the next festival season, I shall endeavor to recall last year. At the very least, I shall make a list.

The Wedding Party
Screening : 5/20/2017 5:30 PM
Venue : SIFF Cinema Uptown
We started off with a Nigerian rom-com about two families clashing on, well, the day of a wedding. It’s kind of a classic old money vs. new money send up with lots of side stories to keep the action going throughout the film. According to the IMDb trivia, it is either the highest or second-highest grossing film in Nigeria. Its sequel takes the other spot.

Brigsby Bear
Screening : 5/20/2017 8:30 PM
Venue : SIFF Cinema Uptown
I really liked this one. It’s weird and quirky, but heartwarming, too. It’s probably available on one of the streaming services.

The Trip to Spain
Screening : 5/21/2017 11:00 AM
Venue : SIFF Cinema Uptown
Having seen the first two “Trip” films and the series, I couldn’t not see this one as well. The UK series and the first Trip to Italy were really the best of this group, but who can resist those landscapes and Rob Brydon? Ouch! What about Steve Coogan? Gotta love the Coog, but his character here has taken a nasty turn, and he makes it a little difficult to watch.

Screening : 5/27/2017 4:15 PM
Venue : AMC Pacific Place 11
I had to look this one up to remember what it was about. It’s a coming-of-age road movie set in mid-1970s Nova Scotia, which is mostly OK. However, I was really annoyed at Molly Parker’s “crazy mom” character. (The first listing under Plot Keywords on IMDb is “mentally unstable woman”.) I’m no psychologist, of course, but she didn’t seem to have a specific malady, except that generic “crazy” act. At first she just seemed like a flighty artist type. She had a couple mood swings before becoming a bit paranoid, then just shut herself up sobbing. Anyway, it was a year ago, so I don’t remember details, but it felt to me like the director told Ms. Parker, “act crazy” rather than, say, “act Borderline Personality Disorder” or whatever. (“your character has cancer.” “oh, is it skin cancer? leukemia? pancreatic? lung?” “just cancer. play cancer, and make it real tragic.”)

The Little Hours
Screening : 5/28/2017 12:30 PM
Venue : SIFF Cinema Uptown
This didn’t seem to get the attention I thought it would. Hilarious sexcapades set in a Middle Ages convent. What’s not to love? Writer/Director Jeff Baena and actor Aubrey Plaza were on hand for a Q&A after (I think they’re, like, together).

Angry Inuk
Screening : 5/29/2017 11:30 AM
Venue : SIFF Cinema Uptown
Documentary centered on seal hunting by the Inuit and how that way of life is being threatened by legislation and popular attitudes in North America and the European Union.

7 Minutes
Screening : 6/3/2017 12:00 PM
Venue : SIFF Cinema Uptown
A tense Italian film set mostly in an employee breakroom of a textile factory where the union reps are discussing whether they should give up seven minutes of their break times. Seems like such a simple question with a simple answer, but if you start thinking about the implications, or watch these women do so, you’ll see it’s really not simple at all.

Kati Kati
Screening : 6/4/2017 6:00 PM
Venue : Ark Lodge Cinemas
My first time at the Ark Lodge Cinemas. If I weren’t so stuck in my two-mile radius (inertia), I would go to this theater more often. It’s the type of neighborhood establishment we should be preserving and patronizing. The film was good, too. Made and set in Kenya, it is about a group of people who are transitioning from living to the dead. That is to say, they are dead, but they are not quite ready to let go for one reason or another.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
Screening : 6/10/2017 3:45 PM
Venue : SIFF Cinema Egyptian
If you need a good cry, or would like to step outside your bubble of privilege, check this one out. Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender activist in the Stonewall era of New York who died under suspicious circumstances in the early 1990s. While she’s the focus of the film, it is just as much about the people who survived her and live in the aftermath, sometimes good, and a heck of a lot bad. We all want to be loved and understood and accepted, but it alludes some people, or comes at a really steep price. And in some cases, justice may never be served.

Screening : 6/11/2017 4:15 PM
Venue : AMC Pacific Place 11
This Turkish film explores adoption and family dynamics. A couple decides to expand their family by having a child, for seemingly no other reason than it is expected of married people. In order to do so, they must adopt, but they are not willing to admit this fact and go to all sorts of extremes to hide it. This is a very dry, black comedy. I think that some films are better understood in their own country, and perhaps one could say that about this film. Apparently the woman who plays the wife is pretty famous in Turkey, so I feel like this movie would have a relatively universal appeal there. Here it is pretty uncomfortable.

So there you have it, folks. (or, just me) I have summarized my 2017 SIFF intake. I have made pains to make it easier for me to post on this blog, so I do plan on staying on task for this year’s festival. My first film is less than four days away!

SIFF 2016: Day One, Here We Go Again

Yes, folks, the Seattle International Film Festival is upon us once again. I have eleven films to see this year, and I am keeping the world up to date on my viewings. We’ve got selections from Australia, Belgium, France, New Zealand, Turkey, and the UK, as well as five from the US. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, one of these years I’ll get a Full Series pass and take off work for the duration of the festival. There are just too many to choose from, and obligations just get in the way.

For the first time, a week of screenings is being held at the Majestic Bay in Ballard. We start our adventure here with Microbe and Gasoline (Microbe et Gasoil), from Michel Gondry. Introduced to us a kid’s movie, I wouldn’t pigeonhole it as such. It is a road movie involving two outcast middle school boys who decide to take their summer break, and their destinies, into their own hands and out into the French countryside. It is whimsical and endearing, with a touch of fantasy. Fun for all ages, but be aware that there are some nude (lewd) drawings shown.

This film fails the Bechdel Test, but it would have been weird if it had passed, considering its titular subject matter. There is another screening on 5/23 at 7pm at the Egyptian, and it will have a week-long run at SIFF Uptown in June or July.

Will Raising the Minimum Wage Solve Our Problems?

Today Seattle approved a hike in the minimum wage for the city. I’m really torn on whether this is a good idea. My feeling is that there are other ways to help the economic gap, such as rent control/stabilization and improving public transportation. If we can make life more affordable, we don’t necessarily have to pay everyone more. Some may say that is a case of “six of one” but I really feel psychology will play a heavy role in whether a higher minimum wage will be a help or a hindrance.

Also, I see statements like the one below, and I think to myself, “this is an issue between you and your boss, not an issue for legislation.”

Crystal Thompson, 33, told The Seattle Times she has been working at a local Domino’s Pizza for five years and still makes minimum wage. She says her responsibilities have grown, and she sometimes is responsible for opening and closing the store.

“I think I deserve a raise,” she told the Times.

If you’ve worked some place for five years with no raise and accepted increased responsibilities to boot, that, my friend, is your problem. Sure, this is an isolated case, but if it is any indication of the “problem” as a whole, there are better solutions than just forcing employers to arbitrarily raise wages. Market forces, and the individual employees, should help dictate wage increases.

Raising the minimum wage is a mere bandage. Here in Seattle, at least, there are many factors in play that make wages seem inadequate, factors we are not addressing. Developers build apartments unfettered, raising property values to unreasonable levels. Lower wage earners cannot afford to live in the city where they are employed, making their lives even more expensive as they have to consider transportation into their daily costs. It’s great that computer programmers can walk to work, but do they care that their janitors and baristas have to commute an hour each way on an unreliable bus or spend hundreds maintaining a jalopy just so they can serve their pasty selves? (yes, yes, I know not all programmers are pasty)

Anyway, my point is that the issue is way too complex to be remedied by an across-the-board wage increase.

Yes, I Know Exactly What You’re Talking About

A few weeks ago, I took a class called Writing Effective Paragraphs. It may seem obvious, but there are some things that you just don’t think about when writing, but when someone says it out loud it brings them to the forefront of your mind. It can be quite helpful, even if you think you know how to write, for someone to tell you how. I wrote the below paragraph for the class. I don’t make a claim to its effectiveness, but I felt compelled to share it. Though our instructor made suggestions for improvement, the paragraph is virtually unaltered from what was presented in class.

There is always something interesting happening on the block of Third Avenue between Pine and Pike Streets. As a bus stop for many of the routes passing through downtown, and as a sort of geographical center of the Ride Free Area, this block brings many different people to it, and at all hours of the day. Recently, I witnessed a game of Catch between two young men in the middle of the street. It was a Sunday night so there was very little vehicular traffic. On a previous occasion, I was waiting for a bus when a fight broke out, prompting a bus driver to call in a report which brought three sheriff cars and a police car to the block. A week ago, I read a newspaper article about a disgruntled man who went home to get a gun to settle an argument, and he brought it back to where? That’s right, he returned to the Third and Pine bus stop. Many of the less fortunate among us gather on this block whether waiting for a bus or not. If you use this stop, you will start to see the same people again and again. It brings to me a sense of belonging and community which suburbanites may not appreciate. This block could be considered an institution in Seattle, on a similar level of the Starbucks building or the Fremont Troll. At the very least, it is a part of the rich tapestry which is the Emerald City.

SIFF 2011 Day 11: And So It Ends

My final day at SIFF was one of annoyance and melancholy.
After a morning of Vampire Diaries on DVD, I headed over to SIFF Cinema (conveniently located!) for Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians. I watched this film mainly because a friend of mine would be referenced in it. As it turns out, Benjamin had quite a bit more screen time than I had anticipated, and I was surprised and delighted to see his wife, also my friend, Megan on-screen as well. (It really should not be a surprise to see Megan on the silver screen, and if you have spent ten minutes with her, you’d know why.) It is really difficult for me to write objectively about this film for the very fact that it’s about self-proclaimed Christians. The film follows a team of blackjack players made up of primarily pastors and other “devout” Christians. I use the capital C to emphasize that the appellate is more name than description. The only player that seemed a true christian to me was Mark, the pastor who quit because he could no longer correlate his spiritual life with his casino life. The filmmaker of Holy Rollers was on hand for a Q&A but I felt my mind would burst if I had to listen to more of the claptrap. So I left during the credits and headed to Pacific Place for my final film.
The evening ended with a sorrowful Belgium film called Illégal. A single mother of one has made her way in Belgium as a cleaner for nearly ten years when she is randomly spotted by police and detained for lack of papers. Not wanting to be deported back to Russia, she hides her identity from authorities while waiting out her time at a detention center. She suffers while also bonding with fellow detainees. A guard at the center empathizes with the foreigners although she needs the job to support her own family. Events reach a cresendo at the center, bringing the guard to a turning point and bringing a sincere tear to my eye. Illégal is available on DVD and will be on Netflix Instant Watching in July.

SIFF 2011 Day 10: Crop circles, or Corpsicles?

Friday night found me again at the Harvard Exit for All Your Dead Ones (Todos Tus Muertos), a sort of social commentary out of Colombia. A farmer finds a pile of dead bodies in his corn field on election day. The tempo was a little off in my opinion (surprising, then, that action junkie Toni liked it), but there were some nice, comic moments. I expected more activity from the dead – I know, that’s a peculiar thing to say, but I think you’ll get what I’m saying if you read any reviews. One of the actors was in the house for the screening and was able to shed some light on the political landscape of Colombia which made the film, for me, much more understandable and enjoyable. (I was also impressed with myself for how much of his spoken Spanish I was able to understand.) I didn’t really understand the reason for bookending the film with scenes of the farmer having sex with his wife, but I suppose in retrospect it was a way of “grounding” the story in the reality of the day which was, in it’s own weird way, supernatural. I don’t expect All Your Dead Ones to have a US theatrical release, so look for it on DVD.

SIFF 2011 Day 09: Listen Up

One of the highlights of this festival for me was seeing Sound of Noise, a Swedish film about music appreciation, if you will. Written around a group of renegade musicians, it is a presentation of a work for “one city and six drummers” in four movements. The musicians’ comic foil is a tone-deaf policeman from a family of accomplished musicians. There was very little in the way of plot, but who cares when you can watch the masterpiece unfold in Malmö? Instruments were front-end loaders, jack hammers, electrical cables, respirators, and even a human body. For someone like me who responds to percussion, it is a sonic delight. Hopefully Sound of Noise will see at least a limited run in theatres outside the festival circuit. If not, look out for it on Netflix.