Guests for week 3 and other SIFF notes:
by Sean Axmaker. posted Monday, 5/24/99
Friday, May 21
Last Night: director/actor Don McKellar
Dead Letter Office: actor George Del Hoyo
I Want You: director Michael Winterbottom
Saturday, May 22
The Little Girl Who Fell From a Tree: director Michael Bartlett
Speedway Junkie: director Nickolas Perry
Earth: director Deepa Mehta
The Red Violin: director Francois Girard and cowriter/actor Don McKellar
Bishonen Beauty: director Manshih Yofan
Welcome to Sarajevo: director Michael Winterbottom
Sunday, May 23
Lucys Revenge: director Janusz Mrozowki
Getting to Know You: Lisanne Skyler
Earth: director Deepa Mehta
Monday, May 24
The Lifestyle: director David Schisgail
Tuesday , May 25
Last Night: director/star Don McKellar
Genghis Blues: director Roko Belic
Wednesday, May 26
Hit and Run Away: director/writer Chris Livingston
Chutney Popcorn: director/actress Nisha Ganatra and actress Jill Hennessy
Thursday, May 27
Twin Falls Idaho: director/actor Mark Polish and actor Michael Polish
Of Freaks and Men: director Alexei Balabanov
"An Evening With Johns Sayles," featuring an onstage interview followed by a showing of Limbo and a Q&A. Advance tickets for this event have sold out, but a few (very few) have been set aside for sales on that day.
Some Like it Hot, Billy Wilders cross-dressing classic of 1959, has bullets, broads, Marilyn Monroe as a booty-shaking singer in an all girl band, Jack Lemmon in a dress, and Tony Curtis inflecting the funniest Cary Grant impression put to film.
Catch up on SIFF history at these "Flashback Films," hits from past festivals. This weekend: the Oscar winning The Assault (which received its American premiere at SIFF in 1986) and Curt McDowells underground classic Thundercrack (1975). In case you havent heard yet, the scheduled screening of Kiss of the Spiderwoman on Wednesday, May 26 has been cancelled due to a rights lapse and replaced with a repeat screening of Insomnjo.
Emerging master of the week, Brit director Michael Winterbottom (Jude, Butterfly Kiss), will be on hand to answer questions about his acclaimed 1997 release Welcome to Sarajevo (Saturday, May 22, 3:30 Broadway Performance Hall) and introduce the Seattle debut of his 1998 I Want You (Friday, May 21, 7:15 Egyptian.)
How soon we forget: as you scribble your complicated movie hopping diagrams, remember that when guests show up films start to run late and the domino effect takes over. A 3:30 Q&A can knock the entire day behind schedule, putting the best laid plans of SIFFies to waste if they have a shuttle to catch or a 15 minute hike down the hill.
Dress for the fest! With balmy days on the horizon youre going to find a serious differential between theater climates. The Broadway Performance Hall always runs chilly and regulars know better than to take off their coats at the beginning of a show; inevitably they find themselves zipping up in the middle of a film. Across the street at the Egyptian, where air conditioning is merely a dream in filmgoers fantasies, things can warm up quickly in a full house and the brief breaks between screenings are not always enough to air out the stuffy hall. The Harvard and the Pacific Place are more temperate, but even the Harvard can fluctuate with audiences and climate changes. Thats why you see the SIFF regulars in T-shirts, sweatshirts, and pullover sweaters: dress in layers and youll be safe anywhere.
My completely biased picks for the weekend (based on a meager 30 viewings to date): number one highlight is Olivier Assayas Late August, Early September, a sublime story of Parisian adults (young and not so young) in and out of love, grappling with indecision and crises of confidence, and generally trying to strike a balance between self interest and sharing. Assayas, whose previous Seattle releases include Irma Vep and A New Life, has a camera that never seems to settle down, smoothly gliding around scenes in the most unobtrusive scenes to frame and reframe characters, as if to catch them off guard or break through their defenses for a brief moment. He succeeds admirably.
Shinobu Yaguchi, who delighted SIFF audiences last year with the wild (and wildly inconsistent) My Secret Cache, returns with a more subdued but no less original deadpan comedy Adrenaline Drive, the story of a suitcase of money, a yakuza massacre, and a meek rental car clerk and a timid nurse who unexpectedly team up to pocket the proceeds but then easy money is never that easy, is it?
Few films this festival match the visual beauty of Lovers on the Bridge, Leos Caraxs melding of romantic excess and street realism in a tale of love between a pair of street people who take up residence on the condemned Pont Neuf Bridge. Miramax has held onto the rights of this legendary film, the most expensive French production at the time it was made and a flop upon it initial release in France, which has surfaced as a cult film that seems to have more influence than people realize. More a visual experience that a narrative journey, this needs to be seen on the screen to have an effect. Its a slow start and meanders through a too long conclusion, but the opening scenes are a shock to the system, the middle is astounding and throughout Carax provides the equivalent of cinematic fireworks just to delight you (and only you).
The Little Girl Who Fell From a Tree is German but director Michael Bartlett is most definitely American and hell be on hand to explain how a former musician wound up directing a Hitchcockian thriller in Berlin. Bartlett deftly plays with and against expectations, pulling out surprises with humor as the film takes a constantly darker tone. Its ultimately less than it appears, but for a clever genre exercise that can often be more than enough.
Lucys Revenge is a wonderfully playful piece of historical dialectics, a study in sexual politics, colonialism, and power in Burkino Faso with a small cast playing their parts through a handful of epochs from the "Dawn of Man" to the present. Mysticism and Marxism collide in the funniest history lesson your apt to find this year.
I also enjoyed Bent Familia from Tunusia, a feminist study that plays its themes out pretty close to the surface and seems to toss in complications for the sake of argument, but comes together in the many scenes of female camaraderie in the apartment that becomes something of a clubhouse for women seeking to take control of their lives in a society determined to hold onto ancient traditions of patriarchy.
Also recommended is Francois Girards The Red Violin (aka "Five Short Films in a Blender About a Violin"), a densely interwoven look at the journey through the centuries of a legendary instrument. I liked it fine, finding it more clever than compelling, but other Weekly critics were completely enchanted.
Sight unseen, Ive marked my calendar for the Japanese comedy Ikinai, about a woman who unknowingly boards a bus full of people embarked on a suicide run, Hirokazu Kore-eda After Life, an acclaimed comedy of the recently dead who gather in a waiting room to choose their one life memory to take with them to death from the director of the sublime 1995 film Maborosi, and Eric Rohmers Autumn Tale, the final feature in his Four Season quartet.
Here are a few notes that didnt make it into the SIFF Diary:
Favorite credits: at the end of The Hole: "In the year 2000 we are happy that we still have Grace Changs songs to comfort us." First credit on Buttoners: A film by Peter Zelenka and his friends. The entire credits of Porgy and Bess, completely in German, were topped only by the three screens of introductory explanation, resulting in pockets of whispering translations by a German speakers scattered throughout the auditorium.
Favorite moments: Dwayne Hoover (Bruce Willis) walks into his car showroom and faces a roomfull of his own endlessly repeated face starring back at him in Breakfast of Champions. Yang Kuei-Mei steps out of character and into a sparkling red evening gown to lip synch and dance the Taiwanese song "Calypso" (by Grace Chang) in the gray elevator of her deserted apartment building. Meanwhile the incessant rain continues outside.
Have a great weekend!
SIFFs last night at the Cinerama, and other festival notes:
by Sean Axmaker. posted Wednesday, 5/19/99
Paul Allens newly refurbished state-of-the-art theater proved to be as much of a draw as the films it played. Packed to overflowing for every show Saturday and playing close to capacity every screening it didnt sell out, its endless lines proved that George Lucas didnt have a monopoly on dedicated ticket buyers. And if SIFF queues werent quite as colorful as the Phantom Menace campout around the corner (no stormtroopers or wookies clamoring for Lovers of the Arctic Circle or Lovers on the Bridge), they at least offered a wider range of film topics in conversation. Tuesday night (May 18) proved no exception, packing houses for The Passion of Ayn Rand and My Son The Fanatic, and practically selling out the brand new anniversary edition of Carol Reeds The Third Man, the classic Euro-noir of black marketeers operating in the ruins of post-war Vienna. The film will be out this summer in regular release, but it will never look as grand and glorious as this night, thrown high and wide on the Cineramas magnificent screen.
The Cinerama screenings hardly ran as smoothly as hopedlate starts and interrupted film showings pushed schedules back as much as 45 minutes, and SIFF obviously never anticipated the capacity crowds. Just getting that many bodies in and out of the theater proved no small feat. Come Tuesday night, however, SIFF had no choice but to keep to the schedule because The Phantom Menace was scheduled to play to its first sell-out audience at 12:01am, whether or not My Son the Fanatic was finished. And even with an unscheduled (and damnably frustrating) ten-minute break before the climax of The Third Man, the Cinerama staff and SIFF volunteers kept to their schedule, clearing out one audience, shooing in the final SIFF filmgoers, and starting on time.. well, close enough to it. All problems considered, the Cinerama added a unique experience to SIFF. As one festival-goer remarked, they will never have a chance to see these films on a screen this large again. Until next year perhaps? Say, what happened to the shuttle Tuesday night? I know I wasnt the only person who found his schedule thrown into chaos when it never showed up after the first film. After waiting 25 minutes, I hoofed it to my car and gambled on parking downtown. The shuttles a great idea, but if we cant count on it to even show up on a given night whos going to risk waiting for it a second time? Hey, there are movies at stake here!
The Pirates of Silicon Valley makes its cable premiere on June 20, but you couldnt have picked a better town for the world premiere screening. This satirical dramatization of the clash of the cybertitans Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (an uncanny impersonation by Anthony Michael Hall) had the sold out Egyptian audience laughing and clapping at every well-placed jab at corporate America and at Jobs and Gates themselves; one audience member remarked during the screening: This could be a Rocky Horror for Seattle. Carl Spence almost topped the film in his introduction: Two of the companies profiled in this film are also big supporters of the festival. We thought about for a second, then put it out of our minds. We though about playing it at the Cinerama (owned by Microsoft partner Paul Allen), but we thought that would be too much. At the end of the screening one audience member asked director Martin Burke if he had plans for a sequel. His answer? Yes, were going to call it Pirates 98.
Recommendations for the first weekend of SIFF:
by Sean Axmaker. posted Friday, 5/14/99
The big event is Porgy and Bess, Otto Premingers big screen adaptation of the Gershwin musical (or a folk opera, as he called it) which has been unavailable for years because of the Gershwin estate. Its reputation is less than stellar, but its supposed to be gorgeous and SIFF has secured a newly struck 70mm print (it was also shot in 70mm). Sammy Davis Jr. claimed it was his best performance, but when he died the Gershwin estate would make no clips available. Ironically, due to contractual obligations, Davis is not even on the film soundtrack album, so this is the first time in decades well see and hear Davis strut his way through the role of Sportin Life.
The two best films I saw in advance of the weekend are Julio Medems Lovers of the Arctic Circle and Bernardo Bertoluccis Besieged, both of which have secured theatrical distribution. So if its a choice between seeing something good and seeing something good that you may not get a chance to see again, check out the deviously clever Buttoners, a Czechoslovakian comedy made up of six separate stories that constantly reference each other in the most inventive ways. And just wait until they explain the title to you!
Flashback highlights: Paul Verhoevens Cathy Tippel was a highlight of the first-ever SIFF, and Alan Rudolphs Choose Me made its American premiere at SIFF 1984. Director Alan Rudolph and Leslie Ann Warren will make an appearance with their film, a Seattle favorite and an elegant, charming romantic comedy by anybodys standards.
Between Your Legs: director Manuel Gomez Pereira
The Loss of Sexual Innocence: director Mike Figgis and star Saffron Burrows
Nothing: director Dorota Kedzierzawska
Better than Chocolate: Director Anne Wheeler
Breakfast of Champions: writer/director Alan Rudolph and actor Nick Nolte
Choose Me: writer/director Alan Rudolph and star Leslie Anne Warren
Pirates of Silicon Valley: director Martyn Burke and actor Anthony Michael Hall
Devils, Devils: director Dorota Kedzierzawska
Dill Scallion: director Jordan Brady and (local) actor Billy Burke
Better Living Through Circuitry: director Jon Reiss
Dill Scallion: (local) actor Billy Burke
Such a Long Journey: director Strula Gunnerson
The Little Girl Who Fell From a Tree: director Michael Bartlett
Lucy's Revenge: director Jan Mrozowski