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SIFF 2015: Reviews, awards, and final thoughts

SIFF 2015:  Reviews, awards, and final thoughts

With my first SIFF now in the books, I can say that I’ve learned some valuable lessons. The first being what a remarkable festival and diverse program the organizers came up with for the 41st edition. From the venues to the volunteers, everything was top notch. Like most festivals, it was a bit front-loaded with premieres, but there were also notable premieres later in the program, including Max Landis’ Me Him Her on the closing weekend. From top to bottom, this was a great line-up with very few thin spots.

The other major lesson I learned is that it’s impossible to adequately cover a film festival in the city in which you live. Family, friends, and full-time jobs don’t simply disappear just because you want to have some fun. I come away feeling disappointed that time constraints kept me from seeing a lot of great films, as well as talking to some gifted filmmakers.

Still, I managed to see some wonderful stuff that will probably find a place on my Best of 2015 List come December. Personal highlights included the psychological-thriller, Circle, the French crime-drama, The Connection, and the truly disturbing Alleluia. The capsule reviews for Alleluia and several other films are included below.

A few films emerged from the pack to claim awards, including yet another honor for festival darling, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon claimed the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Director). The quirky indie comedy Chatty Catties claimed the Grand Jury Prize in the New American Cinema program, while The Great Alone claimed top honors on the documentary side. Acting awards went to Cliff Curtis (The Dark Horse) for his portrayal of New Zealand chess legend, Genesis Potini, while Nina Hoss won for her role in the Holocaust drama Phoenix.

Again, I can’t stress enough the sheer size and magnitude of the Seattle International Film Festival. For a festival that’s over three weeks long, the depth and quality of the program is astonishing. If you get the chance, it’s definitely worth paying a visit to “South Alaska” next May to check it out!

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AlleluiaAlleluia

Directed by Fabrice Du Welz

Love may be fleeting, but obsession lasts forever. For Michel and Gloria, two middle-aged scam artists with a flair for the theatrical, their eternal bond is forged in blood. Inspired by the real-life ‘Lonely Hearts Killers,’ De Welz’ film is a quiet meditation on psychopathy, interspersed with terrifying images of startling brutality. Graphic, disturbing, and hopelessly romantic, Alleluia will haunt you like a jilted lover.

 

RisingTide_KeyArtA Rising Tide

Written & Directed by Ben Hickernell

When Hurricane Sandy rocked the East Coast back in 2012, it left more than shattered buildings in its wake. Painfully heartfelt, this tribute to perseverance and hope in Sandy’s aftermath can’t quite escape a lackluster script. Though Hickernell gives each character a meaningful storyline, the plot still feels thin and diluted. The end result is an uneven film with a few emotional highs and a lot of well-intentioned clichés.

 

Guidance_Still01Guidance

Written & Directed by Pat Mills

Not only is Mills’ directorial debut about a ne’er-do-well guidance counselor hilarious, it might be the best movie ever made about borderline personality disorder. Prickly and uncouth, this movie is the reprobate uncle that nobody wants to bail out of jail. Yet, despite its unabashed rudeness, this is a hopeful film that doesn’t rely on insults or ugliness for laughs. Our misguided hero just wants to help people, no matter how much it hurts them.

 

ValleyOfTheSasquatchValley of the Sasquatch

Written & Directed by John Portanova

The first 45 minutes of this film is an endurance test comprised of unlikeable characters, padded action, and limp-wristed melodrama. The last 45 minutes are nearly perfect. Boasting some thrillingly-cheesy action, our characters must battle some very pissed off Sasquatch critters. Rising above made-for-television fare, Portanova’s love letter to Northwestern folklore will never be mistaken for a classic monster film, but it makes for a fun midnight diversion.

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boogalooElectric Boogaloo – The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films

Written & Directed by Mark Hartley

As heads of Cannon Films, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus created some of the craziest cinema to escape the ‘80s. “They used to sell their films by the kilo!” an associate muses about their prolific output. For people of a certain age, Mark Hartley’s documentary will feel like a warm, testosterone-infused blanket. Bountiful movie clips take us on a nostalgic journey full of guilty pleasures and Chuck Norris’ chest hair.

 

AutomaticHate_KeyArtThe Automatic Hate

Directed by Justin Lerner

The problem with blood being thicker than water is that the stains never wash out. Lerner’s rumination on family secrets and forbidden love builds an almost unbearable amount of tension. Sins are re-visited, re-interpreted, and, ultimately, re-created. All the sordid details are painfully real, proving that some black sheep are better left alone. Powerfully dark, this is a refreshing indie spin on the traditional family drama.

 

LizaLiza, the Fox-Fairy

Directed by Károly Ujj Mészáros

Amélie from Hell. Perhaps that’s the best description for Mészáros’ festival darling, which deservedly took the Grand Jury Prize in the New Directors Competition. What starts as a quirky exercise in genre-bending, gradually builds into a surprisingly involving romance. By the end, you’re holding your breath for a happy ending. This irresistible blend of saccharine romance and jet black comedy could be an indie sleeper if given the chance.