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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

SIFF 2012 Dispatch: ShortsFest Weekend

Here we are, already at the halfway mark of this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, and the days have gone by in a blur. I’ve been covering this year’s fest in “more of a trickle than a flood,” as one friend observed, and that’s certainly true. My short film, Bunker, is in the fest this year, and so my time has been divided between filmmaker stuff and press stuff; it’s definitely been a different sort of fest experience for me, wearing both hats.

Memorial Day weekend was designated ShortsFest at SIFF, with all the shorts screening in blocks at the SIFF Uptown. Can I just pause a moment here to say how exceedingly happy it makes me that SIFF is all settled in now into their cozy SIFF Film Center on the Seattle Center campus, with one screen and an education center there and three more screens walking distance away at the Uptown? This has become my absolute favorite thing about SIFF this year: being able to park (almost always in one of the two free validated lots for the Uptown) and then spend the whole day at one location, bouncing from screening to screening.

The queue card system for passholders is great, because you can reserve your spot in line and then go grab a coffee (memo to Sundance: Why can you guys not do this for the P&I screenings? I’ve been saying that for years now). And they will let you bring your coffee into the theater, too — not once have I seen any SIFF staff or volunteer complain about people carrying in their cups. It’s great also that there are so many restaurants and bars and coffee shops in this neighborhood where you can grab a bite — tacos, Indian, Greek, pizza, burgers, greasy late-night diner fare, upscale dining, karaoke bars — the hardest thing some days has been just getting everyone in our group to just agree on one place. `

So, the shorts. There were some amazingly good shorts at SIFF this year; they had over 2,500 shorts submissions to choose from, and they curated a really impressive array of work. I wanted to catch as many shorts as I could this year, since my film was in competition with them. The conundrum was that I couldn’t really write about them, for the same reason. Now that the jury awards for the shorts have been announced, and we’ve already screened so there’s no way to influence audience voting, I feel I can at least touch on a few highlights among the shorts packages, with the caveat that I didn’t catch all 180-something shorts and there are almost certainly films I didn’t get to see that I wish I had caught in the theater (I will still try to catch some on screener if I have a chance).

The standouts of the diversely curated ShortsFest Opening Night for me were Solipsist and Fishing Without Nets. Solipsist has this synopsis on the SIFF website: An orgasm of craft and color by way of experimental fantasy. Yup, I’d say that’s about right. It’s imaginative and fun, and very pretty to look at, and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Also, it should get some kind of award for best use of crafting materials in a short film. Fishing Without Nets gently interweaves several threads into a tale about Somalian pirates shortly before a mission. This was one of two films I’ve seen so far at SIFF about Somalian pirates; the other, Asad, which I caught on Saturday as part of the Around the World package, was one of that block’s stronger entries, although I agreed with the friend I caught it with that it would have been even better with a bit less dialogue. It definitely had the best use of a cat in a sailor hat in the fest.

Also in the Around the World block, I very much enjoyed Danish entry Brainy, about a boy coping with the loss of his beloved grandfather through rituals involving dead animals. Brainy was beautifully conceived and acted, and the ending payoff is lovely and moving. I was also intrigued by the Icelandic entry Revolution Reykjavik, which explores the downturn in Iceland’s economy through the eyes of an older woman who’s had a successful career in banking, as she copes to deal with being laid off and unable to find work.

In the Over the Edge block we had short documentary prize winner Paradise, about a group of Mexican window washers who risk their lives rappelling down the sides of Chicago’s high-rises to clean the windows. Really amazing cinematography in this film, but they also did a great job of telling a story; if they could sustain the storytelling and visuals of this short into a feature-length film, they’d have an awards season contender for Best Documentary (not that it won’t already be in contention for short doc, and yes, it’s that good).

Other entries in this category that I liked included Narcocorrido, about what happens when a border patrol officer decides to rob a drug cartel’s shipment (that one just won a Student Academy Award); Up the Valley and Beyond, a short about photographer Russ Meyer that’s a precursor to a feature of the same name — that one looked just great, with some terrific production design and gorgeous, vivid colors that gave it a vintage feel; and Bobby Ellis is Gonna Kick Your Ass, a comedic take on bullying interwoven with the stages of grief.

The Long Night’s Journey Into Hell
block includes some of the more bizarre entries in ShortsFest. I found the Italian entry, Muta, a dialogue-free piece about women who look like vintage models entombed on a yacht who awaken and flutter about, completing some kind of metamorphosis, to be visually enchanting and just weird and abstract enough to be really compelling. I also dug Perished, an Australian zombie flick with a twist at the end; Plush, about a woman’s overly protective teddy bear, and My Bow Breathing, which I don’t want to say much about in case you have the opportunity to see it, other than it’s a very feminist revenge drama and I liked it very much.

Bunker screened in the Seatown Shorts block, which sold out the largest theater in the Uptown, and there were some terrific films in this group of shorts. Typecast Dragon, the only doc in the block, focuses on Seattle public-access television icon Goddess Kring, who was doing with public-access video years ago essentially what people do with blogs today: putting herself, her stream-of-consciouness of the moment, out there. Senior Showcase imagined a girl with a love for math whose mom is the drama teacher, finding a way to be herself rather than who her mother wants her to be; and Coffee & Pie featured an cutesy-nerdy Amy Seimetz, who looks so adorable as an awkward hipster nerd I would have watched a whole feature just about the character she’s created here.

I was so impressed by the level of talent in Seattle, and the emphasis on collaboration and community that’s really blossomed here. Seattle has a reputation for being chilly and insular, and that’s not entirely without cause, but there’s been a palpable shift over the past five, six years. Seattle film folks like Lynn Shelton, Megan Griffiths, Sue Corcoran, Ben Kasulke — they’ve helped create this sense of community, of desire to pull together and get things DONE, that permeates the Seattle film scene. It’s an amazing time to be a filmmaker in this city. Coming up from the younger ranks, West Seattle duo Alder Sherwood and Lisa Coronado, whose Corwood Productions had a short, All My Presidents, in the fest, impressed me as being among the next generation of Seattle movers-and-shakers. They are a dynamic duo, with the whole package of talent, charm, smarts and vivacity, and I look for them to do great things as directors and producers over the next several years. Watch out for their names.

Also over the weekend, I managed to make it to the one midnight entry I absolutely had to catch in the theater, John Dies at the End, directed by Don Coscarelli (he of Phantasm fame). I have a full write-up on this film on my to-do list, but for now suffice it to say that I enjoyed the heck out of this film, and Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes, two relative newcomers who play the leads, do a fine job holding their own against Paul Giamatti, who’s hilarious as the skeptical reporter.

I’ll be getting caught up on SIFF reviews and also catching as much of SIFF as I can the rest of this week around end-of-year kid school concerts and talent shows and such, and then I’m heading off to Oklahoma City for a few days next week to support Bunker‘s first screening at the deadCENTER Film Festival on June 7. Then I’ll be back to wrap up SIFF’s closing weekend and the always-spectacular Golden Space Needle Awards Brunch. In the meantime, if you’re in Seattle there are lots and lots of amazing films to catch during the second half of the fest, so get out there and see some movies, won’t you?

P.S. Update: I almost forgot, I did this panel last week during ShortsFest on “How to Make the Most of Your Fest Experience” or something like that. My co-panelists, producer Cassidy Dimon and writer/director Douglas Horn (who, in addition to directing Coffee & Pie, wrote the script for Ira Finkelstein’s Christmas, another fest entry), are both super smart people and had a lot of fantastic things to say on the topic, and I did my best to keep up with them. The audience was great and participatory, and it was a lot of fun overall. Chris Hammersley did a great job keeping us in line. Thanks to the fest for inviting me to participate with such talented folks.

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook