SIFF 2018 Guide

Picks for our most anticipated films at this year’s festival.

The People’s Republic of Desire

Dive headfirst into China’s live-streaming celebrity culture. The SXSW Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary details the modern oddity of young Internet stars that get showered with adulation and hate while living in relative isolation in front of their computer screens. It’s a world where fans pay to have virtual connections with people in desperate need for more irl connections. SS. May 19 at Uptown | May 20 at Lincoln Square

Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day

No filmmaker burned brighter in the 1970s than Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the West German wunderkind who cranked out a lifetime’s worth of movies in the decade. He was so prolific he created this 1972 TV miniseries—all about the joys and sorrows of a group of factory workers—the same year he made four other feature films. Eight Hours has been virtually unseen in the U.S., but here’s all 472 minutes of it, which you can see either as separate Wednesday-night sections or in one long go (with breaks) on May 19. The latter might not be the best way to absorb it, but speaking as someone who got through eight hours of Our Hitler in a single SIFF marathon in 1980, you’ll probably never forget it. RH. May 19 at SIFF Film Center (marathon) | May 23, May 30, June 6 at SIFF Film Center (sequential)

The Greenaway Alphabet

It’s hard to believe this documentary portrait of Peter Greenaway (a past SIFF honoree) is only 68 minutes long; the British filmmaker is known for his ability to hold forth at length on cinematic topics. But maybe the director of The Greenaway Alphabet, the artist Saskia Bodekke, knows how corral her subject—she’s married to him. Bodekke organizes this film according to alphabetical subjects from Greenaway’s life. RH. May 19 & 20 at Uptown | June 1 at SIFF Film Center

Sansho the Bailiff

From SIFF’s archival section, a restored print of Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1954 masterpiece, a transcendent drama about hardship and redemption. If you walk out of the theater convinced you’ve just seen one of the greatest movies ever made, I won’t argue with you. RH. May 20 at Uptown

I Am Not a Witch

A little girl is accused of witchcraft after a minor accident, a situation that takes on shades of magical realism along with social commentary. This Zambian drama garnered strong reviews on the festival circuit, with first-time feature director Rungano Nyoni acclaimed as an important new voice in African cinema. RH. May 21 at Egyptian | May 22 at Uptown

Edward II

Derek Jarman’s moody, theatrically stylized version of Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play about the English king (1284–1327) and his companion Piers Gaveston is explicit about their affair—not only in ways Marlowe, obviously, could never be, but in ways scarcely anyone else dared to be even in 1991. Jarman’s anger over the AIDS crisis and Thatcher’s Britain makes for an intense and unmistakable subtext. GB. May 22 & 25 at Uptown


Romania has been one of the hotspots of international filmmaking in the 21st century, so it should be interesting to see this title, which takes a common subject for Romanian cinema—the crushing weight of history and bureaucracy—and brings it to the U.S. It’s about a Romanian health-care worker trying to get her green card after she marries an American, a process that gradually becomes nightmarish. RH. May 22 at Lincoln Square / June 1 at Uptown / June 2 at Pacific Place


Few musicians can match the exhilarating energy that M.I.A. brings to everything she does. This documentary pulls from over 700 hours of footage to capture her rise from Sri Lankan Tamil refugee to London electronic hip-hop standout to provocateur superstar in a non-chronological fashion befitting her norm-breaking life. Whether capturing the electricity of her live performance or dealing with the thorniness of her terrorist imagery, Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. has the potential to be a musical thrill ride. SS. May 23 at Uptown | May 24 at Ark Lodge Cinemas

The Third Murder

A courtroom saga that begins with murder but spirals into larger philosophical ideas—sounds like a departure for Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda (Our Little Sister), whose output in recent years has been consistently top-drawer. The killer is played by Koji Yakusho, a fricking awesome actor. RH. May 25 at Egyptian | May 29 at Uptown

Won’t You Be My Neigbor

Here’s an experiment. Play the trailer for this documentary about Fred Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and see how many seconds it takes before you burst into tears. Prediction: probably fewer than it took to read that sentence. In this film about the beloved TV pioneer, directed by 20 Feet from Stardom Oscar-winner Morgan Neville (slated to attend SIFF), old clips and new interviews (Rogers died in 2003) chronicle how such a decent man could have become a TV success. Expect sales of cardigan sweaters to skyrocket. RH. May 26 & 27 at Uptown


Seattle director Megan Griffiths (SIFF prizewinner for Eden in 2012) returns with a study of an adolescent girl who plots an unorthodox solution to the long absences of her military father and the wavering fidelity of her mother (played by the great Melanie Lynskey, who’ll be in town as the recipient of a festival tribute this year). RH. May 27 & June 6 at Egyptian

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

This modern Western by way of Indonesia—with a female focus—begins with the threat of sexual assault, but our calmly resourceful heroine begins her counter-attack immediately. This frontier-justice yarn is deliberately paced but beautifully shot, and from the opening moments you can tell that director Mouly Surya just flat-out knows how to make a movie. RH. May 28 & June 1 at Pacific Place

The Long Dumb Road

A road-trip buddy comedy in which Jason Mantzoukas gets to go full manic Mantzoukas opposite an uptight straight man (Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori) for 90 minutes? Book the ticket. Revolori plays a college photography student on the road searching for his idealized “real” America before a car mishap leads to Mantzoukas’ eccentric mechanic joining the journey through the Southwest. SS. May 30 at Egyptian | June 1 at Uptown

Every Act of Life

The world of theater has always been gay, but it hasn’t always been out, and one playwright who helped make it so was Terrence McNally. The rise of his career, now in its second half-century, paralleled the struggle for gay rights and visibility, just as the roller-coaster of his emotional life has replicated the vicissitudes of critical response to his work—both acclaim (two Tonys) and opprobrium. A delectable array of Broadway-icon talking heads helps trace all these interweaving narratives in this documentary. GB. May 31 at Uptown | June 2 at Pacific Place

Leave No Trace

Debra Granik’s terrific Winter’s Bone (2010) burrowed deep into the Ozarks backwoods and made a star of Jennifer Lawrence. Not sure why it’s taken so long for Granik to return with another fictional feature, but this one sounds promising, and close to home: In the forests outside Portland, a troubled vet (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Mackenzie) avoid the civilized world as much as they can. It intrudes anyway. Producer Anne Rosellini, a Seattle native, will attend. RH. June 1 at Egyptian | June 2 at Pacific Place

Being There

In Hal Ashby’s 1979 satire, Peter Sellers (in arguably his greatest performance) plays an isolated man whose only knowledge of the world comes through television and whose oblique utterances are misread as profound wisdom. Through a series of comic happenstances, he winds up President. Needless to say this could never happen in real life. (Hal, a documentary about Ashby, also screens at the festival.) GB. June 2 at Uptown

Sorry to Bother You

The buzz out of Sundance on this indie comedy was giddy, which suggests an ideal piece of non-blockbuster summer programming. Lakeith Stanfield (indelible as a dazed zombie in Get Out) stars as a telemarketer who learns that putting on his “white voice” opens up a whole new world. Director Boots Riley (another scheduled SIFF guest) takes a slightly surreal approach to something that might have been a one-joke comedy—not a bad tactic, given the success of Get Out. Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer co-star. RH. June 2 at Egyptian

Wild Nights With Emily

Molly Shannon plays the poet, both hilariously and movingly, in this fanciful yet (more or less) fact-based film about Emily Dickinson. She did struggle to get published; her poems did perplex her well-meaning but clueless editor/mentor Thomas Higginson; and she was close to her brother Austin’s wife Susan. But this close? Maybe. Writer/director Madeleine Olnek extrapolates from this, subverting her film’s cozy period setting with absurdist humor. GB. June 7 & 9 at Egyptian

Eighth Grade

Bo Burnham’s form-defying stand-up comedy specials what. and Make Happy displayed a genius potential with cutting humor, an eye for detail, and a sharp sense of cynical modern heart. Now Burnham’s first feature film as a writer/director looks poised for breakout success. The story follows a middle-school girl (Elsie Fisher) sorting through crushingly awkward burdens of puberty in an always-connected social-media age. SS. June 9 at Egyptian | June 10 at Uptown

Tags: ,