Some things from SIFF that I feel like mentioning, in alphabetical order:
* Banana Split. The new girlfriend and the old girlfriend become friends and try not to let the boyfriend know about it. Teen girl friendships are my kryptonite, guys. It’s unfortunate it hit at the same time as Booksmart. We need both movies (and obviously we need movies where the girls aren’t white). A festival note about this: the director, Benjamin Kasulke, is better known (to me) as a cinematographer, & this film’s cinematographer, Darin Moran, came with the film as well, which meant a lot more lighting discussion than we usually get. It was a nice change.
* A Family Tour. This was the best film I saw at SIFF this year, a heartbreaking story of a filmmaker who has been banned from mainland China. The family syncs a trip for a film festival with her mainland-residing mother’s bus tour in Taipei, but in order to avoid drawing attention they stage accidental meetups and pretend to not be related. The fraught reunions are made all the more tense by being set against the backdrop of holiday-making.
The story is based in experiences of the filmmaker, but gender-swapped, which means we get that rarer depiction of the female filmmaker, as well as to see her husband in the role of family project management and provider of emotional labor. Lovely and layered.
* Fly Rocket Fly. Look. I hated this documentary. It’s about a bunch of jackass Germans going to Zaire to blast off rockets, & the movie thinks it’s some sort of badass rebel tale, but instead it’s a super racist documentary about a herd of jerks. There were something like 40 Germans and 200 Zaire people involved in creating a self-sustaining village and building and launching the rocket, but not a single Black person is interviewed in the entire documentary.
The film undermines itself a little – often white interview subjects will go on about the hard work they did all alone, only to have the picture cut to archival footage of Black people doing the actual labor. But with the lack of Black interview subjects I believe this undermining is accidental. You cannot tell me that no one in Zaire had an opinion on how the project impacted them and their country. For some it might even have been a positive impact, but we’ll never know because the film does not value those people or their labor.
* I Do Not Care if We Go Down In History As Barbarians. The second-to-last film I saw at festival and it knocked my goddamn socks off. A Romanian film, it’s an often-comic picture shot in the tone of a documentary as a theater director puts together a public theater event recreating the 1941 Odessa massacre. Apparently an inability to grapple with one’s own history is not a purely American problem, who knew. Vital and timely.
* Little Tickles. Based on Andréa Bescond’s autobiographical one-woman stage show, this film uses stage elements, dance, and terrific editing to tell a hard story of surviving childhood sexual abuse and remembering one’s own story.
* Maiden. Thrilling (and moving) documentary about the first all-female crew to enter (and, spoiler, finish) the Whitbread Round the World Race. I challenge you to watch it and not fall in love with every one of these badass women.
* Retrospekt. A fragmented tale as a domestic violence support worker attempts to fit her own story back together after a traumatic brain injury, one of my favorite things about the film was actually the soundtrack – a borderline operatic English score commenting on and against the action.
* Top End Wedding. A crowd-pleaser of a romcom from Australia, a pure delight, and much better than it needed to be.
* Vai. A similar concept to last year’s Waru, this is a film comprised of eight short films, all about a Pacific Islander woman named Vai, from girlhood to elder. They’re different women in different indigenous cultures, but spiritually the same woman, with the same characters moving in and out of her life. Beautifully done.
* The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. A documentary about giraffe researcher Anne Innis Dagg, one of the first Westerners to study animal behavior in the wild, it’s fascinating but also infuriating, as she returns from South Africa to be thwarted at every turn by male-dominated academia. You watch something like this and you just want to scream at all the knowledge we’re missing because white guys gonna white guy.
ALSO WE SHARE A BIRTHDAY. Well, I was excited about it.