Let’s Talk About SIFF 2012
Since we’re now entering the home stretch of SIFF, it’s time for a montage. But will you settle for a roundtable?
Josh: I’ve been an out-of-town slacker and have only just started swimming toward the deep end of the SIFF movie pool. In general, I don’t recommend starting in the middle of week 2: none of the shiny baubles that make the beginning of the festival so exciting and none of the manic urgency of mad dash toward sticking the landing while crossing the finish line at the end.
My film card has been evenly split between documentaries and narratives. While none have been complete duds, I’ve pretty uniformly longed for each of them to be a little more disciplined. In the overstimulated world of film festivals, a movie should have a good excuse for running more than an hour and a half.
I was happiest to fall under the spell of Beasts of the Southern Wild with its dreamy Malicky shots populated by local untrained actors portraying scenes of poverty from beyond the edge of our world. As a wise scrappy wandering child narrator, Quvenzhané Wallis’s Hushpuppy deserves piles of awards for keeping the role out of painfully precocious territory.
Other mild successes include Italy Love It Or Leave It, in which Italy’s social, political, and economic troubles are made more digestible by a somewhat lighthearted staged drive around the country by a pair of co-directing boyfriends trying to decide whether to stay or go. And while I appreciated the concert film aspects of Welcome to Doe Bay, I wished that they would have spent more time pulling back the curtain to show more of the mechanics of the increasingly exclusive festival on Orcas Island. They spend a lot of time (rightfully) patting themselves on the back for creating a fan-scaled magical experience while (overdoing) the knocks on the big festival experience, all the while resisting the inclusion of key facts like just how many people attend every year.
Margaret: Speaking of documentaries, I walked out of Step Up to The Plate. There just wasn’t a movie there. Of the hour I saw, there was maybe 20-30 minutes of interesting, relevant footage. Even the food porn aspect was severely lacking–what’s milk curd? how do you make it? what’s that red crunchy-looking stuff he’s sprinkling on it? why are there no subtitles here?
My documentary experience was redeemed by The Standbys, a story of three Broadway standbys (the actors who are ready and able to go on at a moment’s notice if the stars are unable to go on) that was quite inspiring. It was well-paced and organized, and a fun peek inside the behind-the-scenes workings of Broadway. No one aspires to be a standby, but it’s an alright way to make a living!
Other capsule reviews:
Seth: The Other Dream Team (the story of the Lithuanian ’92 Olympics hoops team) was terrific–the story ended up not being so much about basketball as it was about the emotional grind of oppression, the danger of rebellion, and the joy of freedom. The four Lithuanian players who are the focus of the movie (including former Sonic Šarūnas Marčiulionis) are charismatic and candid. My girlfriend went in expecting to be bored stiff and instead is now keenly interested how Lithuania does in next month’s Olympic basketball qualifying tournaments. Supposedly it will be coming to Seattle later this year, so people who missed it can see it again.
Chelsea: Oslo, August 31st is a classic “people with problems” film that digs a little deeper than I expected, but which did it with plenty of merit. Following the notorious Scandinavian-films-are-depressing theme (this one Norwegian, obviously), Oslo, August 31st is carried by the elegant performance of Anders Danielsen Lie, who’s getting to be kind of a big deal in some parts of the world (I also recommend his few years earlier film Reprise). I’d watch this one again, if only to pick up a few more of the life bucket list items that Anders overhears in a coffee shop in the midst of his own upheaval–all while he rides a sadly drug-addled rollercoaster of relationships and suicidal thoughts. 4/5.
In The Intouchables, a Senegalese immigrant helping out an elderly French man? Really shouldn’t have wimped out on this ticket, but glad to see it’s coming to theatres soon. Oh, and somewhat oddly it stars François Cluzet, who played a lonely and single Parisian in… The Art of Love, a very French collection of love stories that jumps around until settling on the one that you were thinking about the whole time. While the others offered a few amusing moments, I just wanted to find out how the main story would end. In a romantic and very French way, of course. 3.5/5.
Josh Radnor is at it again with the mid-thirties smart dude angst set again the NYC backdrop in Liberal Arts–except a lot of the action in this film takes place in Ohio, where his character has been sucked back into life at his undergrad alma mater, thanks to a retiring professor and a sophomore who’s wooing him as much as he’s wooing her. Mostly predictable events ensue–of course you’ll meet a stoner kid with a weird hat on a college campus late at night, right?–until we’re back in NYC for good and everything is tied in a fairly neat bow. Considering Radnor wrote, directed, and starred, I’ll give him 4/5.
Once I got past my initial reaction to Parker Posey’s Parker Posey-ness (happens to me with a lot of her films), Price Check sucked me in, with good reason. What could have been a very cliché story about a bored corporate supermarket employee and his crazy boss dug a lot deeper into suburban and American dream malaise with great acting and an authentic script. Despite a few moments spent wondering “would a woman this crazy even have a job?” I’d highly recommend this one to most “indie film” fans, especially those who enjoy Parker Posey or Eric Mabius. 4.5/5.
MvB: Cosign on the surprising authentic nature of Parker Posey in Price Check! All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace had three screenings at this year’s festival, all passed, but it’s worth mentioning because it illustrates how you can stick your thumb randomly into the SIFF pie and pull out a plum. This latest film from Adam Curtis (The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear) is actually a three-part, three-hour mini-series, produced for BBC2′s Current Affairs. It’s a wild, sprawling plunge into the ways hi-tech has been messing with our psyches, colonizing us and the way we perceive reality, illustrated with alternately hilarious (slo-mo of Monica Lewinsky batting eyelashes at President Clinton) and horrific (Rwanda) B-roll. Leaving no sacred cow ungored, Curtis traces links between Silicon Valley, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, and financial meltdowns, then moves on to ecosystem theory, selfish genes, and genocide. If you saw nothing else at SIFF this year, you’d know you got your money’s worth.
Audrey: The best thing about the film was Josh hated it.
Josh: Best part about the film: it was not a film. I didn’t exactly “hate” it. Just very befuddled by it in oh-so-many ways. (Apparently all of Adam Curtis’ stuff is findable on archive.org.)
MvB: Yes. It was not something that gained from watching it all in one three-hour go. It’s clearly three separate episodes.
Chelsea: After a few hours of will-call volunteerings, I can nearly surely say, from the volunteer side of things, that theatre operations (at least at the Uptown and the Harvard Exit) have reached a more manageable level of organized chaos. The general setup this year is two house managers and one house coordinator, whose job is to corral and manage the volunteers while the managers deal with the bigger issues. Oh, and thank goodness will call volunteers don’t have to deal with queue cards…
Margaret: For me, the biggest sticking point of the whole fest so far has been the technology (or lack thereof) side of things. The app, while being fairly functional at this point, took awhile to get to that point–and still crashes on me every 5th use or so. The mobile site is fairly useless, especially if you are trying to find information on parking at the various locations while you are en route. The website still confuses me to this day, and I have to spend a few seconds each time trying to find the actual SIFF Festival part of the site. Why not make that the home page during the Festival?
Josh: I suppose it’s very characteristic to whine about websites, particularly complicated ones that were likely created on donated time. AND I do remember when the SIFF website seemed like a total marvel of modern technology; so it’s kind of sad to see it aching for a refresh. Where’s my “like” button to share this film to Facebook? How can I instantly tweet about a screening? Even the “+” button has been banished from the individual calendar pages to save space for all of the theaters. The only way to share schedules remains the suddenly old-fashioned “e-mail to a friend.”
The app is very handy, though! It would just be better if it could help me to figure out what movies all of my SIFF pals were attending or liking or expressing interest in. Little tweaks like that could make the festival even more navigable and add an element of sociability. Just wait, someday our robot children will be able to browse the profiles of fellow filmgoers while in line.
MvB: Yeah, I feel like the app could do more to create a kind of Storify document of our fests. The films we saw, with our related tweets and FB posts, kind of like a scrapbook.
Audrey: PIN IT.
MvB: Ha. I tried to Like that.
Josh: But really. Have you *looked* at the user reviews section of the website? Only a few brave should use it and every review requires three clicks to read. It is some classic pre-commenting technology. Where’s my real-time in-app film rating? Or, like, even less sophisticated: ratings entered directly into the app? Or maybe a ranking of the most “MySIFFed” movies? Either to help find or avoid the crowds.
Audrey: When there’s already a feed from Twitter built into the app, why not exploit that? And the festival updates/standby list/announcements should come up first thing when the app loads, rather than being buried on the website. We have the technology!
Josh: Fun fact about Twitter in the app? Can’t click on links!
Seth: I agree with everything people are saying. I would just say, as a counterpoint to all this…it is INCREDIBLY difficult AND expensive AND time-consuming to keep up with all this mobile/tech stuff. There are many for-profit companies who can’t get this right..even thought the cost-benefits analysis is clear…it stands to reason that a non-profit festival like SIFF would fall short.
Audrey: Except that in a supposedly tech-savvy city, it’s kinda an embarrassment. Get some corporate tech sponsors to contribute in that way!
Margaret: And it’s been 38 years! At least build on some of this experience, SIFF! No need to recreate everything from the ground up each year, from a tech perspective.
Pro-tip: There is free parking (just show your pass or your ticket stub) at the Uptown venue, but rather than pick up a parking pass at the box office and then look for parking, they are now recommending that you find a parking spot in one of their lots, and then procure a parking pass. One lot is at the SE corner of Republican and 1st Ave. W, and the other is further South on 1st Ave. W, between Republican and Harrison.
I will say that operations at the theaters seem to be running pretty seamlessly, so kudos to the volunteers on that one. Lines are all clearly marked, there’s a system, and everyone has it figured out at this point. Sure, sometimes I get a queue card and sometimes I don’t, sometimes my pass gets scanned and sometimes it doesn’t, but whatever–the movie is the thing!
Chelsea: I give thanks for SIFF Cinema at the Uptown and Your Sister’s Sister and Moonrise Kingdom at Landmark Theatres soon.