Saturday Night at the Movies
2013 SIFF Preview
by Dennis Hartley
In case this has been keeping you up nights, I have been accredited for the Seattle International Film Festival. The festival kicks off May 16th and runs through June 9th. Navigating such an event is no easy task, even for a dedicated film buff. SIFF is showing 272 feature films over a 26 day period. That must be great for independently wealthy slackers, but for those of us who work for a living (*cough*), it’s not easy to find the time and energy to catch 11 films a day (I did the math). The trick is developing a sixth sense for films "in your wheelhouse" (in my case, embracing my OCD and channeling it like a cinematic dowser.) That in mind, here are a few titles on my “to-do” list for 2013:
Of particular interest to Hullabaloo readers, there are a fair number of intriguing documentary offerings with a political bent. The film I am most eager to see in this category is We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks from Alex Gibney (who won an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side). Government accountability also seems likely to take center stage in Richard Rowley's Dirty Wars. Rowley follows investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill on his quest to collate a history of the Joint Special Operations Command ("Are you an assassin, Willard?"). Speaking of shameful chapters in U.S. history, Our Nixon promises a unique retrospective on the Tricky One's reign. Director Penny Lane mixes up snippets of the infamous secret Oval Office recordings, archival interviews with H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin and privately shot Super8 footage taken by those three Nixon aides during their White House tenure (the trailer is a hoot). I can't wait to see Jacob Kornbluth's Inequality for All, featuring the ever-erudite ex-Labor Secretary Robert Reich and being billed as "An Inconvenient Truth...for the economy".
Examinations of gender politics and culture wars abound in this year's documentary offerings. After Tiller is director Martha Shane's portrait of the four (not a typo) remaining physicians in America willing to perform third-trimester abortions in the wake of Dr. George Tiller's assassination in 2009. In Anita, filmmaker Frieda Mock serves up a "then and now" perspective on the socio-political ramifications of (now) law professor Anita Hill's watershed testimony at the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. And in Forbidden Voices, Swiss director Barbara Miller profiles three "cyber feminists" from Cuba, China and Iran who continue speaking truth to power (via blogosphere) despite the looming threat from their respective governments.
For his documentary The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer set off to Indonesia, initially to track down surviving victims of the government-sanctioned genocide that resulted in the deaths of over 1 million alleged "communists" during the 1960s. The only witnesses willing to appear on camera turned out to be some of the perpetrators-former "death squad" leaders, who even helpfully volunteered to re-enact some of their atrocities, B-movie style. The film has been called "powerful, surreal and frightening," by Werner Herzog. And in what sounds like another example of life imitating art imitating life, there is Closed Curtain, the latest from Iranian director Jafar Panahi (This is Not a Film). In this "fictional" film (partially shot in his own home, where he is currently living under house arrest for "making anti-government propaganda" and “banned” from filmmaking until 2030) Panahi casts co-director Kambuzia Partovi…as a writer in hiding.
And now for something completely different. I always look forward to SIFF’s “Face the Music” showcase. Several music docs in this year’s series have caught my eye. Pussy Riot-A Punk Prayer focuses on three members of Russian president Vladimir Putin's least favorite “feminist punk-rock collective”...specifically the young women who are currently facing 40 years in prison for performing a 40-second theater piece called "Punk Prayer". Her Aim is True recounts the fascinating career of prolific Seattle-based rock music photographer Jini Dellaccio. A Band Called Death explores the unexpected revival of a Detroit-based trio who recorded a self-produced proto-"Afro-punk" album circa 1974 (yielding a single that became highly coveted by collectors) then sunk into obscurity. I'm quite excited about Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, which profiles the seminal 70s Memphis-based power pop band led by the late great Alex Chilton (I did a tribute here).
OK, enough Reality, already. The primary reason we go to the movies is to escape from it, nu? And nothing screams "escape" like a totally blown midnight movie. The synopsis for Argentine director Dario Nardi's Sadourni's Butterflies contains at least three key phrases that immediately pique my interest: "circus dwarf", "crime of passion" and "he finds work dubbing fetish films" (actually, they had me at "circus dwarf"). From the UK, there's Cockneys vs. Zombies...one of those high concept titles that I assume leaves little to the imagination as to what ensues. Matthias Hoene's film is billed as a "riotous splatter comedy" ('nuff said). Goltzius and the Pelican Co. is the latest bit of weirdness from veteran UK director Peter Greenaway. It is a 16th-century tale based on the life of a "notorious Dutch engraver" who is commissioned to "stage erotic dramatizations of the Old Testament". And Die Wand ("The Wall"), from Austrian director Julian Roman Polsler, centers on a woman (Maria Gedeck) who returns from a pleasant summer nature walk with her dog to find herself blocked from leaving the forest by an invisible "wall".
I’m always a sucker for a good noir/crime/mystery thriller, and several selections are on my radar. From Hong Kong, co-directors Longman Leung and Sunny Luk weave a complex tale of "police corruption, criminal conspiracies and political infighting" in Cold War. The French thriller Flight of the Storks is making its North American premiere at SIFF. Jan Kounen's film begins with the mysterious death of an amateur ornithologist, which leads a Swiss detective on a globe-trotting trail of carnage that seems to be following the migratory path of storks (I must say, that is a pretty original hook). From “Nollywood” director Obi Emelonye comes Last Flight to Abuja, a “multi-character potboiler filled with romance, blackmail and murder” that all takes place on a commercial plane flight (sounds like it could be the Nigerian answer to Airport). Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring (this year’s Closing Night selection) is based on the true story of five celebrity-obsessed L.A. teens who committed a series of Hollywood mansion burglaries.
You want drama? There’s plenty of that. French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s UK production Just Like a Woman is a Thelma and Louise style road movie about two Chicago women, (each with their own urgent reason to blow town) who end up travelling together to Santa Fe to compete in a belly dancing competition. A competitive event also provides the backdrop for an Australian import called The Rocket. Kim Mordaunt’s film tells the story of a 10 year-old Laotian boy who is believed to be a “bad luck charm” for his village. Determined to redeem his standing in the community, he sets about building what he hopes to be the winning entry at the local Rocket Festival. The director was apparently given access to ancient Laotian festivals and rituals rarely granted to outsiders. Unifinished Song is a promising dramedy from UK director Paul Andrews Williams, mainly due to the presence of Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave. When Redgrave’s character is forced to drop out of the local senior’s choir due to illness, her cranky but loving hubby (Stamp), who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, reluctantly steps in as her fill.
And lest we forget to laugh, I’ve earmarked several selections in a lighter vein. Fanie Fourie’s Lobola looks to be a modern South African take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Directed by Henk Pretorius, it’s a romantic culture-clash comedy of manners concerning an impending marriage between an Afrikaans man named Fanie and a Zulu woman named Dinky, complicated by Fanie’s obligation to first negotiate “Lobola” (a South African dowry) with Dinky’s family. A Lady in Paris stars the great Jeanne Moreau (lovely to see she’s still working) as a crotchety patrician who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a provincial middle-aged Estonian woman who has been hired to help take care of her. I’m 99.9% sure that Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistaan is a first…a comedy featuring Pakistani terrorists. An aspiring Indian actor named Sunny tries to get a foot in the biz by taking a gig with an American crew filming a commercial near the Pakistan border. Mistaken for an American, he is kidnapped by terrorists, who don’t realize the gaffe until they’ve already schlepped him into Pakistan. They decide to hold him anyway, where Sunny uses his love of everything Bollywood to ingratiate himself with the locals.
SIFF also offers a number of selections in the “family-friendly” department. Wolf Children, which looks to be a kinder, gentler than usual take on the “werewolf” motif, is the latest effort from one of my favorite anime directors, Mamoru Hosada (I really dug his last film Summer Wars, which I reviewed here). From Germany, there’s another promising animated feature called Moon Man. Described as a “warm, fuzzy blanket the whole family can share”, it concerns a trip to Earth by a bored and lonely (wait for it) “moon man” who is initially perceived as a harbinger of an “alien invasion”, but soon proves quite to be quite the opposite (shades of The Day the Earth Stood Still). And finally, no SIFF would be complete without a classic revival, and this year they have a doozey-a spanking new 35mm print of Harold Lloyd’s 1923 silent comedy, Safety Last!
I can’t guarantee that I will catch every film that I’d like to, gentle reader- but you will be the first to receive a full report, beginning with my Saturday, May 18th post. And obviously, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the catalog tonight. So in the meantime, visit the SIFF website for more info about the 2013 films, events and the festival guests.
Dennis Hartley 5/11/2013 05:30:00 PM