By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 12, 2018)
It’s nearly time for the 44th Seattle International Film Festival (May 17th to June 10th). SIFF is showing 433 shorts, features and docs from 90 countries. Navigating festivals takes skill; the trick is developing a sense for films in your wheelhouse (I embrace my OCD and channel it like a cinematic dowser). Here are some intriguing possibilities on my list after obsessively combing through the 2018 SIFF catalog (so you don’t have to).
Let’s dive in, shall we? SIFF is featuring a number of documentaries and feature films with a socio-political bent. After the War (France) is a drama about an Italian insurgent living in France with his teenaged daughter. When he loses his asylum status, his radicalized past comes back to haunt him and his family. The Swedish doc A Good Week for Democracy looks at an annual political free-for-all that gives thousands of lobbyists, politicians a chance and voters to get up close and personal. Crime + Punishment (USA) is a doc examining the NYPD’s quota-based practices, focusing on a group of minority police officers bravely willing to risk their careers by helping expose systemic corruption.
I’m always up for a music doc or biopic. Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records (USA) is about the eponymous Chicago record store-turned underground record label that spearheaded the 80s industrial music scene by nurturing acts like Ministry and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. I’m intrigued by The King (USA), in which director Eugene Jarecki gets behind the wheel of Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls-Royce and goes on a cross-country trek to paint an analogous portrait of both America and Presley’s rise and erm, fall. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (Japan) profiles the Oscar-winning composer and activist, who returns to the recording studio after a lengthy hiatus due to his health issues.
Docs and biopics about women we love: Nico, 1988 (Italy) dramatizes the final years of the Warhol Factory alum and Velvet Underground singer as she traverses Europe, finding her voice as a solo act and battling addiction. Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist (U.K.) takes a look at iconoclastic fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and her considerable influence on punk and alternative fashion couture. Love, Gilda (USA) uses newly discovered audio tapes and rare home movies to tell the story of SNL icon Gilda Radner.
A couple of intriguing movies about the movies are on this year’s schedule. I’m pretty jazzed to check out Godard Mon Amour (France) as it is the newest film from the always wonderful Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies). The film dramatizes the 1968 romance between director Jean-Luc Godard and his acting muse Anne Wiazemsky. One of my favorite directors is profiled in Hal (USA), a doc about the late great Hal Ashby (The Last Detail, Harold and Maude, Shampoo, etc.). SIFF is also serving up a special archival presentation of Ashby’s 1979 classic, Being There.
There are thrillers, mysteries and crime dramas aplenty to keep you on the edge of your seat. Bloody Milk (France) is a psychological thriller about a paranoid dairy farmer who buys into a YouTube conspiracy theory about a deadly bovine disease and “recklessly sacrifices one of his cows and then goes to extreme lengths to cover up his tracks”. From Denmark, The Guilty promises to be an “innovative, claustrophobic thriller” about an ex-street cop turned emergency center dispatcher who becomes a caller’s only hope for survival. The Third Murder (Japan) is a courtroom drama about a career defense lawyer having an existential crisis over what he does for a living (shades of And Justice for All).
In the drama department: This year’s Opening Night Gala film, The Bookshop (U.K) stars Emily Mortimer as a widow who opens a bookstore in a provincial village on the English coast in 1959 and finds herself at odds with the chary locals. From Canada, the Quebecois film Fake Tattoos digs into the relationship that develops between an introverted 18 year-old punk rocker with a troubled past and a free-spirited young woman after they meet at a concert. I’m very interested to see Let the Sunshine In (France) for two reasons: Juliet Binoche (one of the best actresses strolling the Earth) and director Claire Denis (Chocolat, Beau travail, White Material, etc.). Who cares what it’s “about”?
Funny stuff: Sorry to Bother You (USA) is this year’s Centerpiece Gala film; billed as “an off-the-wall, neon, drug-fueled black comedy” executed with “surrealist fanaticism”. Right in my proverbial wheelhouse. Don’t disappoint me, Centerpiece Gala selection. I’m getting an Amy Schumer vibe from Hot Mess (Australia), which follows the romantic travails of a young woman who is “a budding playwright, a college drop-out, and a complete screw-up” who likes to write “songs about toxic shock syndrome”. I’m there!
One of the most anticipated films this year is the Closing Night Gala pick, Gus van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. Joaquin Phoenix stars in this biopic about cartoonist John Callahan, who became a quadriplegic following an automobile accident.
Midnight movies! In Praise of Nothing (Serbia) is a “satirical story time parable for adults” based on Erasmus’ 1511 essay “In Praise of Folly”. A “personification” of a character named Nothing (voiced by Iggy Pop!) narrates in simple rhyme, with globe-trotting footage from 62 cinematographers (who were instructed by the director to “shoot nothing”). Wow. Sounds like The Blair Witch Project meets Koyannisqatsi.
If horror is your thing, The Field Guide to Evil (Austria) could be the ticket. It’s an anthology based on dark folk tales from around the world. And there’s already some “buzz” from Seattle’s over-the-counter culture regarding the Austrian film “ * ” (star symbol), a collage of starry footage, assembled from all of film history, in chronological order. Vape pen on standby!
Obviously, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll be plowing through the catalog and sharing reviews with you beginning next Saturday. In the meantime, visit the SIFF site for full details on the films, event screenings, special guests, panel discussions and more.