When it comes to international film festivals, there are sprinters and there are distance runners. Spanning 25 days across May and June, Seattle International Film Festival is the Pheidippides of American fests. Unlike its splashier cousins, Sundance and SXSW, SIFF doesn’t pander to big movie stars or flashy hipsters. Staying true to its Northwest sensibilities, SIFF quietly grinds out one terrific program after another. The 41st edition boasts a whopping 193 feature films, 164 short films, and 70 documentaries, many of which are either World or North American premieres. It’s enough to make even the most ambitious cinephile curl up in a corner with his festival guide and cry. Here, then, is a brief preview of some hotly anticipated films, as well as some obscure titles that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Strategically positioned in the middle of the calendar year, SIFF has the advantage of playing favorites. More specifically, they can bolster their premiere-laden lineup with popular standouts from the Sundance and SXSW dockets.
Leading the way are Sundance superstar Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, as well as SXSW Grand Jury winner KRISHA. With this critically-acclaimed film yet to secure distribution, it’s the perfect (and perhaps last) opportunity to check it out. The first feature by writer-director Trey Edward Shults bravely explores a fragile woman’s efforts to re-connect with her estranged family. It’s an emotional powerhouse that stole the show at SXSW.
Also making the journey from SXSW is the Albanian meditation on sexual identity, Sworn Virgin, and the wacked-out New Zealand bloodletting, Deathgasm. The ability to watch two diverse films like this, each existing on polar-opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum, is what makes film festivals so glorious. Not to be outdone, Sundance contributes several audience favorites, including the simmering western, Slow West, and the noir-thriller, Cop Car. It should be noted that a certain critic’s favorite film from Sundance, H., has also secured a place in SIFF’s vaunted lineup.
Made in the USA
The ‘New American Cinema’ program offers plenty of diversity amongst its 28 selections. Here are a few of the more anticipated titles.
Before We Go
Directed by Chris Evans
Leading the way is the United States premiere of Before We Go, the directorial debut of Avenger extraordinaire, Chris Evans. Sounding like a slightly more accessible version of Linklater’s Before Sunrise series, Evans and his co-star, Alice Eve, wind their way through a romantic Manhattan evening while searching for the punks who stole her purse. This material is a perfect fit for Evans, who seems eager to stretch his filmmaking muscles after last year’s terrific Snowpiercer.
Me Him Her
Directed by Max Landis
After his turn as screenwriter on the refreshing superhero origin picture, Chronicle, it was only a matter of time before Max Landis tested his directorial chops. Landis takes a shot at defining millennial angst in his World premiere feature, Me Him Her, as three twentysomething Los Angelinos navigate the complicate landscape of love, friendship, and self-identity. Landis’ knack for naturalistic dialogue should infuse plenty of insight into this comic affair.
Directed by Aaron Hann & Mario Miscione
If you want something darker, look no further than the World premiere of Circle. Directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione turn up the psychological warfare by throwing 50 strangers into a circle and killing one of them every two minutes. It becomes clear that the next victim is not random; the surviving players can determine who dies next. It’s a deliciously-wicked premise, sure to expose the good, the bad, and the ugly of human nature.
The World Comes To Seattle
It’s tough to highlight only three features from the ‘Contemporary World Cinema’ program, which fields a lineup of 120 strong entries from every corner of the globe. With that in mind, here are three worthwhile films that might get lost in the shuffle.
Directed by Syllas Tzoumerkas
From Greece comes the North American premiere of A Blast. Perhaps inspired by the back-and-forth chronology employed by the American television drama, Breaking Bad, director Syllas Tzoumerkas introduces his female protagonist tearing ass on a desolate highway, fire and destruction in her wake. He then brings us up to speed, recounting the events that led to her ruination. Early buzz is that Angeliki Papoulia (Dogtooth) gives a riveting performance as the troubled heroine.
The Invisible Boy
Directed by Gabriele Salvatores
Academy Award winning Italian filmmaker, Gabriele Salvatores, delivers an enticing coming-of-age tale with a modern twist. After donning a Halloween costume and making a wish to disappear, thirteen year-old outcast Michele (Ludovico Girardello) learns that he has become The Invisible Boy! How does a bullied, socially-awkward teen use his amazing new superpower? Given Salvatores’ track record with thoughtful dramas, it will likely involve more than sneaking into the girl’s locker room.
Liza, the Fox-Fairy
Directed by Károly Ujj Mészáros
First time director Károly Ujj Mészáros delivers Liza, the Fox-Fairy; a dark fairy tale about loneliness and soul-sucking demons. Stylistically, this Hungarian feature owes much to the visual flourishes of Amélie, with a heaping dose of macabre Japanese folklore added for flavor. Imagine if Amélie murdered every man who tried to love her and you have some idea what awaits you with Liza. This is the North American premiere.
Coming Soon To A Theater Near You
Sometimes, amidst a sea of independent and foreign titles, you just want something that feels a little more familiar. SIFF has a few gems in their ‘Special Presentations’ program that add some commercial familiarity to complement your cinematic adventurism.
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Directed by Mark Burton & Richard Starzak
For the first time since Sundance, Aardman Animations brings Shaun the Sheep Movie to North American audiences. This adaptation of the zany television show (a spin-off from the beloved Wallace & Gromit) finds Shaun and his flock on a city adventure, trying desperately to reach greener pastures in one piece. Directors Mark Burton & Richard Starzak keep the laugh quotient high in this stop motion crowd pleaser that absolutely killed at Sundance.
Directed by Bill Condon
Is there a better actor to play Sherlock Holmes than Sir Ian McKellen? Now retired and living the quiet life in the Sussex countryside, Mr. Holmes is still haunted by the one case he couldn’t solve. Holmes must piece together his fading memories and spotty evidence to bring closure to the case, and his legacy. The thought of McKellen having a lash at this iconic detective should have cinephiles drooling with anticipation.
Directed by Pete Docter
Following his massive success with Up, director Pete Docter re-teams with Pixar to bring us Inside Out. Featuring a magnificent voice cast that includes Amy Poehler as Joy, Bill Hader as Fear, and Lewis Black as Anger (of course), Pixar takes us inside the mind of an 11 year-old girl named Riley. There, her emotions live in Headquarters, where they try to help Riley navigate her increasingly complicated world. Expect plenty of conflicting emotions in this one!
Keeping It Real
Film festivals are always a great place to check out new documentaries. SIFF’s lineup is fully stocked with docs tackling everything from controversial social and political issues, to contemplations on cinema, music, and cooking.
War of Lies
Directed by Matthias Bittner
Remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction? Anyone impacted by the Iraq War certainly does, and German filmmaker Matthias Bittner wants to document the intelligence gaffes that were used to justify the invasion. In War of Lies, Bittner speaks with Iraqi ex-chemical engineer, Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Better known as “Curveball,” Alwan’s fraudulent claims about WMD were the drumbeats that led to war. Now exiled in Germany, Alwan speaks for the first time in this United States premiere.
Directed by Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart, and Thomas Tode
Our relationship with technology has always been a complicated one. We love our “toys,” but we sometimes fear the unintended consequences. In their North American premiere documentary Dreams Rewired, directors Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart, and Thomas Tode present cleverly edited archival footage from nearly 200 films to track our reactions to new technology. From inventions of the 1880s to modern digital devices, the filmmakers revel in our love (and hate) for these pervasive gizmos.
Directed by Kathleen Gyllenhaal
On the surface, In Utero might seem like a dry scientific investigation of the pre-natal environmental factors that shape a baby’s development. Look closer, however, and you see a damning exposé on the health care issues facing women today. Filmmaker Kathleen Gyllenhaal uses testimonials from health care experts, as well as cutting edge research to remind everyone that a newborn baby is only as healthy as its mother. This is a World premiere.
The Local Scene
To top things off, take in a couple of films with local interests. After all, just because Northwesterners spend a lot of time indoors, doesn’t mean they’re dull.
The Hollow One
Directed by Nathan Hendrickson
In The Hollow One, Washington filmmaker Nathan Hendrickson takes two Big City girls (Rachel and Anna) back to their Small Town roots. The only problem is that the town is nearly empty, their father is missing, and Rachel is having horrific hallucinations. Atmospheric and disturbing, this World premiere thriller might have enough juice to attract distribution beyond the Northwest.
Valley of the Sasquatch
Directed by John Portanova
Finally, making its Seattle debut, a figure synonymous with the Northwest itself: Sasquatch! Valley of the Sasquatch follows a father and son, left homeless after a family tragedy, taking refuge in a cabin under attack from an angry Sasquatch. Director John Portanova wisely puts the strained father-son relationship in the foreground, while keeping his monster shrouded in mystery. Valley of the Sasquatch has some serious cult classic appeal.