[SIFF week four]

…which was really just four days.

* Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red [Tennis] Shoes. The thing about this documentary is that, though I enjoyed it, I still don’t feel as though I know anything about Mr. Keillor. Which I’m not particularly surprised by. I had added it to my schedule precisely because I find him pretty enigmatic. I guess I got what I deserved. It was really more illuminating regarding the other members of the PHC cast and the process of putting that show together than it is about Keillor.

* Cherry Blossoms: Hanami was the Golden Space Needle Audience Award winner, and deservedly so. It’s a wonderfully paced story of aging and the challenges of family, tender and moving, and difficult to talk about without giving too much away. One thing I can say is that I found it interesting to get a non-American outsider view of Japan for a change.

* The screening of Sunrise was one of those special SIFF experiences I get every few years. They showed it at the Triple Door, with a live score written and performed by The Album Leaf. So cool! It’s a fantastic movie anyway, one of the last silents, and ranked on the AFI 100. It’s utterly gorgeous, with dreamy cinematography, limited (but beautifully executed) title cards, and in-camera created effects of superimposed images that are just mindblowing when you consider the technology of the time. And the story’s great too — a fable of a couple losing each other and finding each other again.

* I’m not sure that I can say I liked Faces, but I can see objectively what is good about it. I just found it personally exhausting. I think this is okay.

* Jeremy Podeswa was one of the Emerging Masters at the festival this year. Fugitive Pieces is his new film, and my second Stephen Dillane movie of the festival. It’s based on the book by Anne Michaels, which I have not read, and is utterly gorgeous. It hit all my buttons of history and memory and storytelling, all wonderfully acted and beautifully shot. (Oh my goodness. Rachel Lefevre, who has a minor role in this film, is Annie in the American remake of “Life on Mars”. A show, by the way, which will definitely be terrible. Seek out the original — it’s worth the effort.)

* My last film of the festival, Triangle, is a basically-insane exquisite corpse Hong Kong action flick, told in three acts by three different directors. Johnnie To takes the final third, and though it is stretching it to suggest he makes sense of it, he certainly provides us with an entertaining ending.

[SIFF week three]

* Man on Wire is just crazy amounts of fun. It’s a documentary, with a wee bit of recreation, of Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. It’s structured, appropriately enough, like a heist film, and Petite is the master teller of his own story. It’s marvelous filmmaking too, in that there’s great tension even though we know exactly how it ends.

* Be Like Others was my second documentary of the day, and utterly heartbreaking. It takes us to Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, but gender reassignment surgery is legal, even encouraged. It is painfully clear throughout that the vast majority of these people would never make this choice if they lived anywhere else. They’re undergoing this brutal procedure (brutal in that it is gender reassignment in *Iran*, that is, I don’t mean this to be a commentary on truly transgendered people or Western methodology) so that they can fit into the rigid societal/religious definitions of gender. Not so they can fulfill who they really are. The only thing I wish is that there had been further inclusion of women. There is one lesbian at the start of the film, and we never encounter her again. It seems like a huge gap to me. Painful & unforgettable.

* I added Becky Sharp for the form rather than the content, and was pleasantly surprised by both. It’s a Vanity Fair adaptation (obviously), and the first film done in three strip Technicolor. The color is gorgeous and the dialogue is hilarious & snappy. Good times all round. Ignore the IMDb reviewers. They’re idiots.

* Somehow I had got it into my head that XXY was a Canadian film. I blame it on mid-festival pudding-brain. It’s from Argentina, and is the story of a 15 year old hermaphrodite under increasing pressure to choose a gender. It’s just beautiful, and Inés Efron is luminous as Alex. I never remember to vote for the other Golden Space Needle categories, but I’ll try to put in a ballot for her.

* Finally, last night I had scheduled a 9:45 movie, Sukiyaki Western Django. Perhaps because I am insane. I gave serious thought to selling my ticket to someone in the rush line, and I’m glad I didn’t, because it was on copious amounts of crack. More, even, than I had anticipated. I knew it was a Japanese Western, and that Miike is kind of a nutcase director, but I did not know that it had a cameo by Quentin Tarantino, or that it was in English… phonetic English, which sounds a lot like the red room Twin Peaks scenes. It’s an excellent terrible movie, and great fun to see with a packed house.

[SIFF week two]

* Savage Grace was a late addition to my schedule, when I realized I had screwed up somewhere and needed something to fill out a 6 pack. What better than a Julianne Moore incest movie? Well. That’s how my brain works, anyway. It was disturbing, but not as much as it should have been. Which is weird. And it is, oddly, the first time I have *not* felt that Hugh Dancy was miscast. So apparently his other roles – even in Evening! – were Just Not Gay Enough. Good to know!

* Strangers, the love story of an Israeli man & Palestinian woman who meet during the 2006 World Cup, is flawed but endearing. The leads are wonderful & the politics are complex, but there is the occasional plot-wise suspension of disbelief that gave me pause. Still, one of the better romances I’ve seen in a while.

* Sparrow was the first of three Johnnie To movies I seem to have scheduled for myself. I am a sucker for Hong Kong action; I’m not gonna lie. This one is a lot of fun — it follows a team of four pickpockets as they all get involved in the life of a mysterious beautiful woman. Happens to the best of us. When the team works together, particularly in the final heist, as it were, it’s like a dance. Good times!

* It’s impossible to watch Mad Detective (my second Johnnie To flick) without wondering how long it’ll be before some American studio buys the rights to it for a crap remake. Because a remake will be crap. Mad Detective was much darker than Sparrow. It’s a dirty cop story with a twist — the detective of the title has a most unusual investigative method, as he can see people’s inner personalities. The ending was a little much for me, but the ride to get there was great.

* Finally, another local documentary, Good Food is about organic farming in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps not earthshattering — we can probably all agree that organic, local food is better for us and better for the planet — but beautiful and inspiring. And as it was the world premiere, it was pretty awesome to see a group of farmers taking the stage to a well-deserved round of applause.

[SIFF week one]

* The Red Awn still doesn’t exist on the IMDb, apparently. It’s written and directed by Cai Shangjun, the writer of Shower and Spicy Love Soup, both of which I also enjoyed, particularly Shower. This was a father-son reunion story of sorts, set among migrant harvesters in rural China, and a beautifully-shot trip into a world that I really don’t know anything about. Which is part of the point of film, yes?

* My first animated feature was Nocturna, part of the Films 4 Families portion of the festival. It’s a Spanish & French film that’s been described as a cross between Monsters, Inc & Miyazaki, which is a pretty fair assessment, actually. It’s an utterly charming story about an orphan who loses his star, and discovers the system that makes night as we know it happen. The version I saw was dubbed, but I thought it was well cast. And how can you not love a movie where one of the characters is a cat shepherd? I ask you.

* The only midnight movie on my schedule this year was Epitaph. It’s a little disjointed, but it had some really great scares, and is beautifully filmed. It’s a solid first film from the directors, who have scads of potential.

* Sita Sings the Blues is, hands down, my favorite film of the festival so far. I need it out *now*, so I can force everyone I know to see it. It’s the Indian epic of Ramayana as told from memory by friends of the director, animated, turned into a musical with tunes performed by Annette Hanshaw from 1929ish, with an autobiographical thread from the director. The interplay between all of the texts, the way the epic comments on the music, it makes my toes curl. Plus it uses several different styles of animation, and the most mindblowing thing? It was animated over the course of five years by the director alone. It is full-on amazingness. I need to own it, like, yesterday.

* There’s always a few revival features at the festival, and this year we have the 40th anniversary of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, which I hadn’t seen since I was in high school, and certainly never on the big screen. Obviously the amazing thing with this film is it does what you could never do in a theater — cast the leads crazy young. Editing and ADR enable the creation of a performance that could never exist on stage. And the effect is heartbreaking. (Also, oh man, Mercutio! I have so much love always for that role.)

* Finally, my first documentary was a local piece, A Wink and a Smile. It follows a group of students through a burlesque class in Seattle. Our screening was the world premiere, and though it was not *quite* as insane as last year’s Blood on the Flat Track premiere (for one thing, no one took photos of the screen), it was pretty amazing. The documentary itself was fabulous, blending history, the Seattle scene, and the development of the class as they worked their way towards their graduation performance. It almost made me want to try burlesque. Almost.