SIFF 2011 Day 07: The Deep End

Sunday I got up early for the Complete Amateur Filmmaking Workshop. In 420 minutes, myself and four strangers “wrote”, storyboarded, filmed, and edited a short film we called “The Bench.” We had two mentors who were invaluable in giving pointers on all aspects of our project and instructing us on editing methods. All groups were tasked with making a film showcasing Seattle Center, and all groups came up with original and interesting projects. It was an awesome and inspiring experience.Later that evening I drove myself to Capitol Hill to see Finisterrae at the Harvard Exit. The film consists of two ghosts wandering the countryside with a windsock and a horse, which sometimes was an actual horse and other times was not, on a quest to the end of the earth in hopes of rejoining the living. From what I’ve read, the film was shot without a script and the dialogue was added later. Sometimes this is evident by the incoherence of one shot to the next, but at the same time it seems the filmmaker may have had an underlying vision from the start. The visuals are brilliant, and if one can open one’s mind and accept that this film may not make sense shot-by-shot, I think the overall experience can be a good one. Well, I liked it anyway. Finisterrae is definitely an “art film.”

Aside: I parked north of the Harvard Exit in an area that I haven’t been in since last year’s film festival, and I’d just like to say that if I ever lived in Capitol Hill, this is the part I’d want to live in. It would require a good deal of money though, so don’t expect me to be living there anytime soon.

SIFF 2011 Day 06: Other Demons

The Clink of Ice (Le bruit de glaçons) is a delicious tale of a broken man forced to share his domicile with his own cancer. Set in the French countryside, all the action takes place in a labyrinthine house and the surrounding grounds. The setting lends itself well to the stage-play like deliveries and Marx Brothers’ physicality amongst the actors. Man is chased by cancer is chased by housemaid is chased by man, and back around the other way. The title refers to the man’s constant companion – an ice bucket holding a bottle of wine. The man is a sad sack, played by favorite French spy Jean Dujardin, a writer with nothing to write, an estranged father, and an ex-husband. When the embodiment of his consumption comes calling – literally ringing his doorbell – he is set in a motion of action and discovery, joined by his love struck maid and her own meddlesome cancer. Delightfully dark, and yet pleasantly light.
The French farce was followed up by the American Terri. Another coming of age story of an outcast at an Anytown, USA high school, this one starred Jacob Wysocki as an overweight orphan living with a near-senile uncle (Creed Bratton), and John C. Reilly as his vice principal and mentor. It was a bit slow and a lot quiet, but it had enough stuff going on to keep one’s interest. The main performances were held up well by Olivia Crocicchia (Tommy’s younger daughter on “Rescue Me”) and Bridger Zadina as fellow outcasts. It was nothing earth shattering, but it was an entertaining film. Terri opens in the U.S. July 1, but you can probably wait for the DVD.

SIFF 2011 Day 05: Animal Attraction

Friday I left work early to get started on a SIFF-full weekend which started at Pacific Place for Gromozeka. A bleak, Russian film, Gromozeka weaves together the sort-of midlife crises of three school chums who sing together about the “bird of happiness” who is coming for them, but not today. One is a philandering surgeon, another is an impotent policeman, and the last is a widowed cab driver with a wayward daughter. Part funny, part sad, Gromozeka may be worth checking out on DVD in the near future.
Afterwards, I made a mad dash to SIFF Cinema for the documentary Project Nim. While the previous film was a fictional portrayal of human misery, this film is a factual account of how miserably awful humans can be. Nim was a chimp born in 1972 and taken from his mother at two weeks old to live with a human family to study whether chimpanzees can be taught to communicate like humans. The film is put together with archival footage, photographs, and contemporary interviews with some of the humans involved in Nim’s livelihood over the course of his life. These people were not evil or anything, but some of them acted with such arrogance and disregard for consequence, that it can be a bit sickening to witness at times. And some of them acted with compassion that maybe compensated for the others. That’s a question that probably can’t be answered. Project Nim is coming to a theatre near you.

SIFF 2011 Day 04: Everett or Bust!

Monday, a holiday, found me taking mass transit to a whole different county for film festival screenings. I would have loved to take the Sounder train, but alas it does not run on holidays, and instead took a bus. It is actually a coach, and it only took 45 minutes from downtown Seattle. (I may one day write about my experience getting to downtown Seattle that morning, as that was an adventure all to itself.)
The first film (of three) was A Cat in Paris (Une vie de chat). The biggest disappointment of this film is that it was not in French. They’re in Paris, no? However, it seems that it is deemed a children’s film, and obviously children cannot read subtitles. The English dubbing wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t used such ridiculous accents. Each character was from somewhere else. I heard a few American accents, German, English, possibly Russian, etc. Why couldn’t they speak English with French accents? The animation is nice – no Pixar smoothness here. I dig the fluidity of the cat burglar’s movements as he makes impossible leaps and dodges in the night. There’s a nifty scene in the dark, rendered as white on black line drawings. The story resolved itself a bit too quickly for my taste, and some of the dialogue felt a wee bit contrived (perhaps the fault of the English translation). I really think you should see this in French, but if you just can’t wait (or don’t care) A Cat in Paris is playing again in Kirkland on 5 June and at the Egyptian on 11 June.
The second film was Page One: Inside the New York Times. Documentarian Andrew Rossi filmed a year inside the offices of the Times and gave us a glimpse of life on a newspaper. Interspersed between snippets of men at work (and it was mostly men) are interviews of members of other media outlets with their take on the State of Things at the paper and in media in general. It showed some interesting perspectives from inside the industry and gives the audience some things to chew on, should they choose to do so. In fact, one aspect of the commentary is that the American audience really doesn’t want to chew on things anymore. I hope this film can get people to stop and think about the future of journalism and what our relationship as a society will be, and what we want it to be. A lot of times we, collectively, don’t consider the ramifications of our actions or inaction, and then lament later the loss of things we had the power to retain. Times reporter Brian Stelter was on hand for a healthy Q&A following the screening. Page One is scheduled to be released in late June.
The third film was Simple Simon (I Rymden Finns Inga Känslor) from Sweden, a tale of a young man with Asperger’s syndrome figuring out love in the process of finding a new girlfriend for his brother. The Swedish title I believe means “in space there are no feelings” or something to that effect. It is a sentiment the title character expresses in the film, which is why he can often be found in a metal drum which he pretends is a spacecraft orbiting Earth. He doesn’t like change, so when his brother’s girlfriend leaves, he needs to find a new one to maintain the status quo. This proves to be quite awkward for all involved, with sometimes hilarious results. I actually chuckled out loud a couple times, this movie was that funny (I maintain virtual silence during almost all films in theatres). Simple Simon plays again at SIFF Cinema on 1 June.

SIFF 2011 Day 03: Death Becomes Her

I saw two films on the third day of my film odyssey, both involving a death in some way, as well as new love.
The first film was Über uns das All (Above Us Only Sky). Schoolteacher Martha is ready to leave Köln for Marseilles to begin a new life in the sunshine. Her plans get derailed when she discovers her husband has been living a secret life. (Funnily enough, I came home last night and watched an episode of Waking the Dead with a similar situation, but with very different results.) The remainder of the film is Martha dealing with the repercussions in the best way she knows how, which is, of course, not necessarily how most people would. Luckily, she stumbles upon someone who is in the right place at the right time, and they are able to work through it together. He just doesn’t know it right away. I wouldn’t say it is a love story so much as a portrait of acceptance and choice, and beautifully done. There are no more screenings this festival, but look out for the film later this year.
The second film was Late Autumn, a South Korean film made mostly in Seattle and entirely in the Pacific Northwest. It is a story of a young Chinese woman returning home for her mother’s funeral, yet feeling unwelcome and apart from her family and her past. At the same, she is courted by a carefree Korean man who has troubles of his own. She reluctantly accepts his attentions, which eventually allow her to process some of the baggage she’s been holding onto. Hyun Bin is delightful as the incorrigible escort, and Wei Tang has her moments, too.  A mixed bag for Seattlites, I think, for there are improbable leaps in locale (maybe that’s just me being too literal), but also nice views of the actual city. Hey folks, this is not Vancouver playing the part of Seattle! Great timing of shooting in the last days of the Fun Forest rides, the setting very much adds to the overall melancholy. Late Autumn plays again at the Egyptian on May 31.

SIFF 2011 Day 02: Curry With a Twist

I discovered late last night that I titled yesterday’s entry as SIFF 2012, and I got a little freaked out looking through my archives thinking that I totally forgot to write about last year’s festival only to realize a moment later that it is NOT 2012. I’ve corrected that now. It’s one of the pitfalls of working in the apparel industry, where you are always working in the future.

My second film was the documentary film The Bengali Detective. It follows a few months in the life of Rajesh, a private detective in Kolkata. He and his team of investigators track down shopkeepers selling counterfeit hair oils, run surveillance on cheating husbands, and, in this film, take on their first murder case. The workload is exhausting, so to unwind the detectives dance. Boss man Rajesh even goes so far as to enter them to audition for a dance contest show, with hilarious results. There are poignant moments as well, as we get to know the woman with the cheating husband, the fate of the shopkeeper, and as we watch the decline of Rajesh’s ill wife. The Bengali Detective plays again in Everett on May 28, and in Kirkland on June 3. See it! I think it will make you chuckle, which is a good thing.