[SIFF Week One]

…part one.

* The Punk Singer is easily the most important film I’ve seen at festival so far. A documentary about Bikini Kill & Le Tigre lead singer Kathleen Hanna, it tackles feminism (obviously), music, writing, health, women’s voices, the importance of riot grrl to other artists (especially Nirvana & the Beastie Boys), the media’s desire to force marginalized voices into a narrative, and more. Really fantastic stuff, and I hope it gets distribution. I saw it with a press screening crowd (“It’s not my kind of music, but that was really great!”) & I bet it kills with an audience of fans. Also, this is a weird thing to mention — but the correct aspect ratio in archival footage was such a relief.

* What Maisie Knew is excellent & intense, but I would really love to know why the filmmakers chose to make a quite significant change from the source material. It makes me think they didn’t get the point of the book at all, in the end. Based on the James novel, but updated to current day New York, it follows six year old Maisie who is treated not as a person, but as a pawn in the breakup of her parents (Julianne Moore & Steve Coogan). Onata Aprile is stunning in the title role. (And in case you worry excessively about this sort of thing, Maisie never comes to *physical* harm. At least in the film. Her ACE score is whole other story.)

It comes out in Seattle this weekend, so I’d love for more people to see it so we can discuss it. It inspired me to read the book, because I had so many feelings about the ending.

* After Winter Spring is a documentary shot over three years, following family farms in France as they struggle to adjust to a world increasingly hostile to family farming. It’s a good story, and the families are great (they range from idealistic newcomers to folks who have worked the land for generations), but I was turned off a bit by the unnecessary Eat Pray Love-esque narration. I would have preferred title cards or less self-asserting narration.

* Inequality for All is basically Robert Reich’s An Inconvenient Truth, a 101 course on wealth distribution in America. Told through lecture, graphics, and interviews, it’s information we all have (at least, if we’ve been paying a tiny bit of attention), but presented in a concise & clear format. So now what are we going to do about it? Screens this Sunday & Monday at SIFF.

[SIFF Weekend One]

Let’s do this thing! Capsule reviews of SIFF 2013, weekend one, minus anything that will be going up on Manga Bookshelf, and…GO:

* Much Ado About Nothing is exactly what it looks like: a fun Rolodex movie. Standouts include Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, and the Nathan Fillion/Tom Lenk double team of ridiculousness who’ve seen one too many cop movies. It’s in a modern setting, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, and Alexis Denisof is a bit of a ham (but then, so is Benedick), and in the end it’s just dang charming. More low-budget Whedon surprises like this, please!

* Five Dances follows a young gay man as he begins working on a performance with a group of dancers in New York. The dialogue is lacking (as is sometimes the delivery), which is fine because the dialogue is not the point. The gorgeous (and beautifully shot) dancing is, and it was right of director Alan Brown to trust these dancers to tell the story of their work together and the complexities of the changing relationships between them.

* Concussion stars Robin Weigert, best known to me as Calamity Jane from Deadwood, but also virtually unrecognizable if you only know her from there. Inspired in part by the elite call girl portion of The Vagina Monologues, it’s a body-positive, sex-positive, sex-work positive film that is also a portrait of a midlife crisis in the context of an upper class lesbian marriage. Halfway through SIFF, it’s still my favorite feature. Easily best actress, too.

* Secret #1 is a secret, obviously, but here’s a Mad Lib style review: it was interesting, but afterwards we thought perhaps we would have liked it better if it had been a _____ of _____ narrated by _____, especially if it focused on the internal life of _____. I’m pretty sure I didn’t give anything away with that.

* Middleton is an affable, opposites attract film about two parents (Andy Garcia & Vera Farmiga) who meet as they’re touring a small college with their children. It doesn’t break any new ground, except insofar as it’s about an older couple, which of course, is groundbreaking in its own way. Perfect ending, shot like a sun-dappled college recruitment pamphlet, and (to our surprise) featuring Vera’s sister Taissa as her daughter.

* Inspired by true events, as the kids say, The Deep portrays an incident from 1984 where an Icelandic fishing boat capsized and a single fisherman managed the considered-impossible task of swimming many hours to safety. Iceland’s submission to the Academy Awards, it was naturalistic & engaging (especially once I adjusted my personal pacing expectations from the incident to the incident plus the aftermath, both personal and public.)

So, clearly my favorite of the lot was Concussion, with no duds in the first weekend. What did you love?

[SIFF 2013 Sneak Peek]

Okay kids! It’s that time again, that glorious time of the year in Seattle when the sun is just starting to prove it still exists, and all right-thinking citizens gear up to spend many hours of the day indoors watching films.

Here are some highlights from press launch & my first speedy trek through the lineup.

* If you have tickets to the sold-out opening night presentation of Much Ado About Nothing, well done! The movie is a lot of fun. If you don’t, I have no actual information except that on Twitter, SIFF said to stay tuned for an update on May 2nd. So, good luck!

* Closing night is Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, screening at Cinerama. I am ridiculously excited about this, and you should be too.

* We already knew about the evening with Kyle MacLachlan, a q&a with a screening of the pilot of Twin Peaks (my socks are on fire!), but SIFF is also bringing acclaimed director Peter Greenaway to town to talk about the death of cinema, which should definitely be interesting.

* Last month, SIFF announced their African Pictures program, which looks great. The two films I’m most excited about in that are both from South Africa: Fanie Fourie’s Lobola (and that was even before I knew there would be a party following the screening!) & The African Cypher.

* Other films-with-parties that are probably worth a look-in: the new film from Lynn Shelton, Touchy Feely, is Renton’s opening night & Twenty Feet From Stardom (about backup singers!) is the Centerpiece Gala.

* From the Face the Music program, Patterson & David Hood perform a Muscle Shoals tribute. Also, The Maldives are doing another live score, this time for The Wind. Basically, any time you have the opportunity to see a silent with a live score, you should take it.

* Shorts Fest is Memorial Day weekend. This year, in addition to Animated & Live Action, SIFF is a qualifying festival for Documentary Shorts, which is excellent! I usually utterly fail at shorts, and only see the Best of package the weekend following festival. I will try to be better at shorts this year.

* Titles that will be out in Seattle later, but I am dang excited to see regardless: Frances Ha (the new Noah Baumbach, starring Greta Gerwig), Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley’s new documentary), and The East (Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij of Another Earth and Sound of My Voice). The Seattle Times usually puts together a nice listing of SIFF films with upcoming Seattle release dates, which I’ll definitely share as soon as it’s up.

* Other titles I’m intrigued by: Her Aim Is True (about rock photographer Jini Dellaccio), Coming Forth By Day (debut from an Egyptian lady filmmaker), literally everything from South Korea & Taiwan, the six films in the Catalyst program, The Otherside (a doc on Seattle’s hip-hop scene), and finally Fateful Findings (which will probably be the next The Room).

…and that’s just a taste! Full schedule available in the free guides at the member preview on May 1st, and at Starbucks plus the box offices at the Uptown & Pacific Place starting on May 2nd. Tickets go on sale May 2nd.

If you’re on Twitter, follow me (letterboxed) and the official SIFF hashtag (#SIFF2013) for on-the-fly updates, recommendations, and more.

See you at the movies!