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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

SIFF Dispatch: It’s a Wrap!

It’s hard to believe, after nearly six week’s immersion in the Seattle International Film Festival, that we’re already at closing weekend. At most longer fests like Sundance and Toronto, the time flies, sure. But SIFF lasts so long, it always takes me a few days to realign my brain around not checking the SIFF schedule to see what’s coming up next. And that’s with having to balance my SIFF immersion around busy end-of-school-year schedules for a pack of kids. Someday when my kids are grown, perhaps I’ll be like some of the Fools Serious passholders, able to boast that I saw over a hundred films during the fest.

This has been one of the strongest programming years SIFF has had in a while. It’s always a strongly programmed fest that knows its city and its role in Seattle’s arts community. SIFF doesn’t tend to attract a ton of out-of-towners (and thank goodness for that, because our traffic is bad enough already), and the guests who come in for it skew toward interesting and engaging rather than glitzy and glamorous. The programming, also, tends to be smart, often challenging fare, because Seattle audiences have a fairly high tolerance for the artsier fare.

I saw more of the family programming than I normally would this year, because my son Jaxon was on the Families4Films Youth Jury. This is the second year the fest has had a jury of 8-12 year olds, and it’s a great way to get kids engaged in and thinking about film from an early age. The programming team for this section, headed up by Educational Programs Manager Dustin Kaspar, gave the seven young jurors a slate of seven diverse and interesting films to watch, ponder, discuss and adjudicate.

Consequently Jaxon, age 11, has seen more challenging films in the past three weeks than in his whole life up to this point, and in talking to him about the films I can see that the experience has opened his eyes beyond the realm of kiddie fare (As an aside, I feel ridiculously proud that one of his favorite films was a subtitled Swedish female empowerment flick, and that he was disappointed that A Cat in Paris was dubbed and not subbed. Good to see all those anime conventions are paying off…) He’s even made a new friend of one of his fellow jurors, once they discovered they both adore playing the same video games on XBox Live.

I actually enjoyed many of the family films this year, particularly Being Elmo, A Thousand Times Stronger, and Circus Dreams. I’ve written about the first two already, so I wanted to say a few words about Circus Dreams, which is a nice doc about Circus Smirkus, a traveling circus in which the cast is all kids aged 10-18. The film captures the circus as it’s on the brink of having to permanently shutter due to economic hard times, with the weight of decades of history on the slim shoulders of 24 jugglers, clowns and acrobatic artists to keep their beloved circus afloat.

Director Signe Taylor has a good eye for focusing on some compelling characters and the dramatic arc of these kids with something they really care about at stake lends the film a different sort of emotional tenor than, say, Nanette Burstein’s American Teen, which tended to arc more like a reality show set in the Midwest. You start to really root for these kids and their adult mentors, and watching the faces of the kids in the audience, including my own, it was evident that the story held them in sway. The film won the Films4Families jury award, which will hopefully give it a boost to bring it to a festival near you.

Also on the education front, one of the most interesting screenings I attended this year was for a little film called The Darkest Matter, a student filmmaking camp production that reimagined Lord of the Flies aboard an escape pod and deserted space station. What interested me most about this film was the way in which it was made. The film came into being as the result of a partnership between San Francisco’s Starting Arts and Dawnrunner Productions, and the cast and crew were middle school and high school students. Start to finish, the project lasted five weeks, on a budget of around $25K, and most of it was shot against a green screen.

Quality-wise, the end result is about what you might expect of a sci-fi film largely developed by students: the acting is uneven, though the young lead actress, isn’t bad. The green screen effects aren’t spectacular. It’s kind of what you might expect to get if you gave Sid and Marty Kroft a green screen and a pack of kids to work with for a few weeks (and I say that as a former member of the Land of the Lost Fan Club), roughly the level of a Goosebumps adaptation (which is actually not bad for what it is). But if ever there was a film where the process is more important than the perfection of the end result, this student-driven effort is it, and I respected the reach of the adults involved, including energetic, exuberant director James Fox, in aiming high with a challenging idea.

This kind of partnership gets that while making great films now is important, it’s also important to teach and nurture young people interested in filmmaking in all aspects of the craft. How many of today’s great filmmakers were once kids running around with Super 8 cameras? How many of tomorrow’s artists are shooting movies on Flipcams or iPhone video now? Technology makes it easier than ever for a kid to discover an interest in making movies. Great, so let’s nurture that seed and make sure, especially, that less-privileged kids have access and opportunity to explore those dreams too.

I’m generally impressed with the direction the fest is taking their Education and Outreach, and I’m curious to see what else they do with the newly completed SIFF space at Seattle Center, near the existing SIFF Cinema. I’ve heard they’re partnering (or maybe sharing space with?) The Film School, which offers ample opportunity to expand SIFF’s educational outreach, and I hope to see SIFF support this important aspect of of the film festival/community relationship even more over the next few years.

Seattle is a great film town, we have a lot of talented future filmmakers and film crew and actors here, and SIFF should be taking the lead among regional fests, creating the models, being the best at this. They have a passionate and boundlessly enthusiastic general in Dustin Kaspar, so here’s hoping he can lead the charge on keeping SIFF’s educational program growing and thriving.

Last night was the closing gala, and the Cinerama was packed for the screening of Life in a Day. I’d seen the film at Sundance, so I was able to spend some time surreptitiously watching the faces of the crowd as they laughed and cried watching the film. I particularly enjoyed eavesdropping on snippets of conversation about the film as the crowd trooped en masse a few blocks over to the Pan Pacific Hotel for the closing shindig. It was kind of cool to see which bits people responded to and which they did not (here in liberal Seattle, for instance, the bit with the cow in the slaughterhouse induced much covering of eyes and some squealing).

So another great year of the film festival has wrapped here, but with the SIFF year-round staff moving into their new digs in a few weeks and gearing up a program at SIFF Center starting in the fall, Seattle cinephiles still have much to look forward to, to carry us through to next year’s fest.

I’ll be posting a roundup of some of the films I saw here that I haven’t written up yet soon, so keep an eye out.

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Bing!

One of the great movies. Charles Bronson, great, Charles Bronson. Great movies. Today you can’t make that movie because it’s not politically correct, right? It’s not politically correct. But could you imagine with Trump? Somebody says, oh, all these big monsters aren’t around he’s easy pickings and then shoot.”
~ Donald Trump

“The scene opens the new movie. It was something Ridley Scott told me a long time ago, when I was on my eighth draft of Blade Runner. He thinks it’s my fault, which it probably is, but it’s also his fault, because he kept coming up with new ideas. This time, he said to me, “What did Deckard do before he was doing this?” I said, “He was doing what he was doing, but not on such a high level. He was retiring androids that weren’t quite like Nexus Sixes, like Nexus Fives, kind of dumb androids.” He said, “So, why don’t we start the movie like that?” He always had a new beginning he wanted to try. Let’s start it on a train, let’s start it on a plane. Let’s start in the snow. Let’s start in the desert. I was writing all that. He said, “What if Deckard is retiring an old version of Nexus?” Right away I was feeling him, like fate, and he said, “There’s a cabin, with soup bubbling on the stove …” When he said soup boiling on the stove, I said, “Don’t say any more! Let me get home.” I wrote a scene that night. Just three or four pages. Deckard retires this not-very-bright droid, and you feel sorry for him. It’s like Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men. It’s just those two guys, with Deckard as the George character and the droid as the Lennie, and Deckard doesn’t want to do it. But then the droid gets mad, and then Deckard has to do it. The audience thinks he killed someone—he reaches into the guy’s mouth and pulls off his whole jaw and we see it says made by tyrell industries or whatever. I wrote that scene and took it to Ridley. I was proud of it. I remember standing and watching him read the whole thing. He loved it, but no. There are a lot of scenes that didn’t get in, but I never forgot that one. I wrote it as the beginning to this new short story called “The Shape of the Final Dog.” I’d always wanted to have a dog that wasn’t real, so I wrote one into the scene at the cabin. After Deckard retires the droid, he’s getting ready to take off and he wants the dog to come with him. The dog rolls over and keeps barking with his mouth closed. The dog’s an android dog. I thought, If there’s ever a new Blade Runner, we’ll have to use this scene. Three weeks go by, and I’m working on the story and it’s ready to hand in. The phone rings. Someone with a posh English accent says, “Would you be available in ten minutes for a call with Ridley Scott?” These people are so important they don’t waste their time on voicemail. I said, “I’ll be here.” Ten minutes go by and Ridley calls. “Hampton! Did you know, I think we’ve got it together to do Blade Runner a second time?” I said, “You finally got so hard up you’re calling me.” I knew they’d been looking for a year. People had been telling me, “You’ve got to call Ridley,” but I was a little chagrined or embarrassed. I thought, He’ll call me if he wants. Ridley said, “We’re interested in whether you have any ideas.” I said, “Funny you should ask that question. Let me read you a paragraph.” I walk over there with the phone and I read him the opening paragraph. And he says, “Fuck me. Can you come to London tomorrow?”
~ Hampton Fancher