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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

SIFF 2012: Opening Weekend Preview

It’s that time of year again when one of the best things about Seattle, the Seattle International Film Festival, is about to get underway. Press screenings have already been churning along here for the past couple weeks (unfortunately my daytime schedule has made it impossible for me to make a single press screening so far) and the fest kicks off tonight with a festive Opening Night Gala at McCaw Hall featuring Lynn Shelton’s film, Your Sister’s Sister, followed by what’s sure to be a loud, crowded party chock full of Seattle film folks networking and noshing on that holy triad of film festival parties: hors d’oeuvres, desserts and free booze.

Because Seattle’s fest is so sprawling — we’re talking 25 days of movies here, folks — I’ve decided to try something a little different this year and do weekend previews of what’s coming up at the fest and my picks each week. I’m hoping that this will allow me to focus a little more on talking up films I’m excited about seeing and what you might want to check out at the fest as it rolls along. Since Seattle’s fest is also kind of spread out geographically, one of the things I like to do myself (and highly recommend to others) is to pick a film I’m interested in seeing, and then also catch whatever’s showing before and after it at the same venue. This is a great way to discover something new at SIFF, and it saves you having to try to park your car multiple times or navigate the bus system to the various venues.

Or you can always try using the SIFFter to find something new and unexpected.

Here’s what’s in store this weekend, once we get past tonight’s Gala start:

Friday, May 18

Friday, the first full day of the fest, gets things off to a solid start. The day kicks off with an 11AM screening at Pacific Place of Russian film Elena, which won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at Cannes in 2011. You could hang at Pacific Place all day and catch back-to-back screenings leading up to the excellent doc Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry at 6:30PM, with director Alison Klayman in attendance.

Over at The Egyptian in Capitol Hill, they’re showing The Intouchables, France’s second-highest grosser of all time, also at 6:30PM, while SIFF Cinema Uptown has the Duplass Brothers’ The Do-Deca-Pentathalon (pictured above) at 7PM; director Jay Duplass and actor Steve Zissis should be on hand for that one. If you live in Renton (or just enjoy schlepping out there) the Renton opening night film at the IKEA Performing Arts Center is Fat Kid Rules the World, with director Matthew Lillard in attendance (it also screens on Saturday in Seattle). Friday night has more compelling offerings, including Valley of Saints, Polisse, and LUV.

If I had to choose one, I’d probably pick LUV, if only because director Sheldon Candis should be there and he is just the nicest, most genuine guy you could ever hope to meet. I think I met his entire extended family on various shuttles at Sundance this year, and they were all every bit as nice as he is. He’s also got a good movie in LUV, so check it out. I’ve also heard good things about Polisse, which I intend to catch during the fest, and I loved Valley of Saints when I caught it at Sundance, so you really can’t go wrong no matter which way you go. Friday’s midnight offering back at the Egyptian is Irish horror-thriller Citadel. If the words “Irish” and “horror-thriller” in the same sentence don’t motivate you to check that out, I don’t know what will.

Saturday, May 19

Saturday is going to be a busy day of back-to-back screenings for me as I rush around trying to make up for feeling behind on the second official day of the fest. I’m going to have to flip a coin to decide between Dreams of a Life, a doc about Joyce Carol Vincent, who died alone in her London housing project flat and wasn’t discovered for three years, and Four Suns, a Czech black comedy by Bohdan Slama that I missed catching at Sundance. After that, depending on which film wins the coin toss, I’ll either be catching Chilean entry Bonsai, which looks interesting, or perhaps revisiting Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, which I loved when I saw it at Toronto.

Later Saturday evening, I have a triple-header at The Egyptian lined up: Fat Kid Rules the World, Megan Griffith’s Eden, and midnight entry God Bless America (pictured above), another film I loved at Toronto and want to catch again. Other Saturday options you might consider: Playing at roughly the same time as Eden we have two other films I can highly recommend. At the SIFF Cinema Uptown we have the controversial Sundance flick Compliance, which you will either really love or really hate. It screens at 9:30PM and is preceded by Superclasico. And over at the Harvard Exit we have Oslo, August 31, director by Reprise writer-director Joachim Trier, which I caught at Toronto. Not your most uplifting film, but it’s very good. That one’s preceded by Kill Me, a German film about a suicidal teenage girl who makes a pact with an escaped and injured murderer. I know nothing about that one, but it sounds intriguing. Whatever you do, though, make it back over to The Egyptian for God Bless America or you’ll be kicking yourself later when everyone’s talking about it.

Sunday, May 20

In all the years I’ve been covering SIFF I’ve never gone to the Secret Festival, where you have to sign waivers swearing you’ll sign your offspring over to indentured servitude at the festival if you tell what films you saw. This year is no exception, but if you have a Secret Festival Pass, you’ll no doubt have a great — Shhhhhh!

For the rest of you, Sunday kicks off at 11AM at Pacific Place with a family-friendly screening of Danish animated flick The Great Bear, so why not skip church and bring the kiddos out to the fest? Sunday at 1PM there’s also a FREE animation workshop for kids ages 8-14 at the SIFF Film Center, which is actually not as hard to find as you think it is (it’s in Seattle Center, right next door to Vera Project and across from the Intiman Theater). The 5000 Days Project Family Workshop happens at the same time, also at SIFF Center.

Also on Sunday, you could catch Polisse at 2:30 at The Harvard Exit (preceded by My Brother the Devil, followed by Camilla Dickinson), or you could catch The Intouchables at the Egyptian, which is preceded by Rose, which won both the jury and audience awards at the Warsaw Film Festival and followed by Under African Skies, which I highly recommend. Later Sunday you might catch My Sucky Teen Romance, written and directed by Emily Hagins, who made her first feature, zombie flick Pathogen, when she was just 12 (Ms. Hagins was also the subject of documentary Zombie Girl).

Looking forward to the week ahead, my picks include Queen of Versailles (Monday, May 21); Tatsumi and Starry Starry Night (Tuesday, May 22); Safety Not Guaranteed (Wednesday, May 23); and Opening Night of Shortsfest weekend on Thursday, May 24.

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“TIFF doesn’t make attendance numbers for its Lightbox screenings publicly available, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many filmgoers the Lightbox is attracting (or how much money it’s bringing in). But the King Street West venue hasn’t become a significant draw for film enthusiasts. The Lightbox’s attendance has plunged – 49,000 fewer visitors last year, a drop of 27 per cent, according to figures recently reported in the Toronto Star. Its gallery space – designed to showcase the visions of cinema’s most iconic filmmakers – saw most of its exhibitions staff quietly axed this past fall. And its marketing barely escapes the Lightbox’s walls. Unless you are a TIFF member or one of the city’s most avid filmgoers, you could walk by the Lightbox and remain blissfully unaware of a single thing that goes on inside. TIFF “still has a world-class brand,” said Barry Avrich, a filmmaker and former board member, “but it’s going to take some fresh vision from retail, consumer programming and marketing experts, given how the lines have become intensely blurred when it comes to how people watch film. They will have to experiment with programming to find the right blend of function and relevance.”
~ Globe & Mail Epic On State of Toronto Int’l (paywalled)

“I’m 87 years old… I only eat so I can smoke and stay alive… The only fear I have is how long consciousness is gonna hang on after my body goes. I just hope there’s nothing. Like there was before I was born. I’m not really into religion, they’re all macrocosms of the ego. When man began to think he was a separate person with a separate soul, it created a violent situation.

“The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness.

“Anybody else you’ve interviewed bring these things up? Hang on, I gotta take this call… Hey, brother. That’s great, man. Yeah, I’m being interviewed… We’re talking about nothing. I’ve got him well-steeped in nothing right now. He’s stopped asking questions.”
~ Harry Dean Stanton