Saturday Night at the Movies
2015 SIFF Preview
By Dennis Hartley
In case this has been keeping you up nights, I have been accredited for the Seattle International Film Festival (May 14th through June 7th). Navigating such an event is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. SIFF is showing 193 feature films, 70 documentaries and 164 shorts this year (ow, my ass). 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 16 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 some titles on my “to-do” list for 2015:
Of particular interest to Hullabaloo readers, SIFF is featuring a fair number of promising documentaries with a socio-political bent. Marc Silver’s 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets delves into the senseless 2012 murder of Jordan Davis, an African-American teenager shot by a middle-aged white man who became enraged by the loud rap music emanating from the victim’s SUV. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution looks to be a long-overdue retrospective on an impactful, yet curiously under-examined corollary of the American civil rights movement. Best of Enemies recounts the classic “point/counterpoint” political debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal that took place on live TV during the 1968 elections (sharpen your knives!). French director Stephanie Valloatto’s Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy profiles a dozen political cartoonists from around the world, who open up about their craft, and what it’s like to practice it under some of your more oppressive governments…who fail to see the humor.
Speaking of oppression, I’m really intrigued by the premise of The Forecaster, a documentary from Germany regarding Martin Armstrong, who invented the esoteric “Economic Confidence Model” in the early 80s, then proceeded to make gazillions of dollars predicting market crises and global conflicts with uncanny accuracy. This formula not only made the big bankers feel a funny tingle down there, but excited the FBI enough to get Armstrong put away for 12 years in the pen for what they called “a Ponzi scheme” (even though no judgement was passed on him). Now he’s out, making his “scariest prediction yet”. I want to see this one, because I need more things to worry about at night.
More politics: Bonifacio (from the Philippines) is a historical biopic about Filipino nationalist Andres Bonafacio, who led a revolution against his nation’s Spanish rulers in the late 1800s. Another biopic I’d like to check out is The Golden Era, a Hong Kong production that dramatizes a defining period in the life of author/essayist Xio Hang, an influential progressive political voice in China during the 1930s. And sexual politics are spotlighted in the film Challat of Tunis, a Tunisian “mockumentary” (based on actual events) that is described to be “an ironic feminist sendup” of sexism in the Arab World.
And now for something completely different. I always look forward to SIFF’s “Face the Music” showcase. From the UK, the documentary 808 remembers the 80s (is that necessary?) via a compendium of everything you ever wanted to know about the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer drum machine, which played a critical role during the genesis of hip-hop and electronica. Colin Hanks directed All Things Must Pass, a doc about the rise and (*sob*) fall of Tower Records (I anticipate getting all choked up…I used to fucking live in record stores). Beats of the Antonov looks to be a unique documentary from Sudan that profiles how the rich musical culture of that nation’s southern region flourishes, despite the travails of an endless civil war. And I have high expectations (no pun intended) for the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy, which utilizes some interesting stunt-casting: Paul Dano as the “I wonder if this much acid is bad for me?” 60s-era Brian, and John Cusack as the “Yep, ‘spose it was” Dr. Eugene Landy-era Brian.
This year, SIFF spotlights a number of “movies about the movies”. Three documentaries in particular are on my list, and the titles are self-explanatory: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films, Fassbinder: To Love without Demands and Tab Hunter Confidential. And a biopic: Eisenstein in Guanajuato (that’s “special interest”).
I’m always a sucker for a good noir/crime/mystery thriller. From Belgium, Alleluia is a true-crime thriller based on the Lonely Hearts Killers (the case was previously dramatized in Leonard Kastle’s no-budget 1969 cult favorite, The Honeymoon Killers). The Connection is a French crime thriller being billed as “the flipside” of William Friedkin’s The French Connection, and stars Jean Dujardin. Also from France: The Price of Fame, billed as “an upbeat comedy” is based on the true story of a pair of bungling grave robbers who exhume Charlie Chaplin’s remains in hopes of holding “him” for ransom. It wouldn’t be a proper SIFF without at least one worthwhile South Korean “cop on the edge” drama, and I’m placing my bets on A Hard Day, which centers on a homicide detective who tries to cover up his own “hit and run” crime. And Kevin Bacon stars as a rural sheriff in a “lean, mean thriller” called Cop Car, presented as part of a special SIFF “tribute” event celebrating the ubiquitous actor’s career (Bacon will attend).
I always try to leave enough room on my plate to squeeze in some sci-fi and fantasy. This year’s selections include 2045 Carnival Folklore, a Japanese post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller shot in B&W, set to a noise rock soundtrack and looking to be chock-a-block with much “destined for cult status” weirdness (so count me in). From Ethiopia, Beti and Amare is set in the mid-1930s against the backdrop of the Italo-Ethiopian War, and concerns a teenage girl who becomes immersed in a strange dream world while hiding out from Mussolini’s troops (strong echoes of Pan’s Labyrinth). Liza, the Fox Fairy is a Hungarian film (based on Japanese folklore) centering on a young woman who may (or may not) be a “demon who sucks the souls out of the men she meets” (Worst. Date. Ever.). I always get geeky with excitement when I hear about a new film from Japan’s Studio Ghibli: When Marnie Was There is the latest from the world’s top anime studio.
A few more odds and ends…I notice a proliferation of “foodie” documentaries on SIFF’s menu this year. Personally, eating is something I’d rather “do” than “watch”, but if I feel the urge to indulge in food porn, I’m considering The Birth of Sake as a cocktail, Steak (R)evolution as an entrée, with That Sugar Film for dessert. One film that’s sure to generate a lot of interest (for unfortunate reasons) is indie filmmaker Dino Montiel’s drama Boulevard, which features Robin Williams in one of his final performances as a closeted man who abandons his “marriage of convenience” to pursue a relationship with a younger man. Ending on a lighter note...Hedi Schneider is Stuck is a German comedy (is that an oxymoron?) that promises to milk laughs from “the ever-so-serious topics of clinical depression and emergency tranquilizers”. One could argue Woody Allen has already staked that claim, but I’m still intrigued. And even if the “darkly funny” Manson Family Vacation turns out to be a dud…at least the title made me fall out of my chair.
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 16th 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 2015 films, events and the festival guests.
Dennis Hartley 5/02/2015 05:30:00 PM