Steve SIFF 2009

five SIFF features to finish the film festival

My parents visited briefly today, between the first and second films of the day. It was nice to see them, as always.

As often happens toward the end of the film festival, "J" was too tired to watch all five of the films; she skipped the third and fifth. I dozed through parts of the fifth one myself, due to exhaustion rather than lack of interest.

Father (Otac) is a Serbian film about a man whose children are taken into foster care, essentially because he's poor. He goes on a quest to try to recover them. Excellent, but very Eastern European.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is a delightful documentary about how Sesame Street was brought into existence, and some history about its early days. Very good.
"T" watched this, and then was inspired to binge watch Sesame Street until he was too tired for anything more than a few pages of the second Harry Potter book.

Love Type D is a British comedy about a woman who discovers that she has a gene that makes her the one who is dumped in all of her relationships. She and fellow "Type D" people go on a quest for a cure. It was entertaining, but pretty much candy. Almost good.

Rosa's Wedding (La boda de Rosa) is a Spanish comedy drama about a middle-aged woman who decides to throw a wedding to herself. It's also the official closing night film. The rapid-fire vocabulary is clever, but the overall story is hit-and-miss. I rate it almost good.

My Missing Valentine (消失的情人節 ; Xiāoshī de qíngrén jié) is a Taiwanese romantic comedy about a man and a woman who experience time somewhat differently. For the woman, the rest of world moves just a little slower than she does, leaving her with occasions when time stops for her while the rest of the world catches up. For the man (and at least one other person), it's just the opposite. I rate the first half of the film very good, but I can't rate the whole film because I was too exhausted to watch the second half without occasional sleep gaps.

It will be nice to regain some of the time the film festival took up, but I'll miss the fun of binging on cool movies.

Quarantine report: home all day; two visitors (masked and outdoors).

Steve SIFF 2009

only one SIFF feature and one short

This morning, instead of another SIFF movie – since we're running short of films suitable for kids – "T" got a special treat: watching television unsupervised. The show was "Tutankhamun's Treasures", a National Geographic documentary. I joined him for the last of it, and it looked pretty good, as one might expect with a National Geographic show.

Then I started watching a SIFF package: the dramatic short film "Maradona's Legs" and the documentary feature Captains of Zaatari, also with T. But the weather was beautiful, and "J" was outside gardening, and T decided to join her. I paused the short, and when they returned the three of us watched the rest of "Maradona's Legs". It's very good, particularly given the temptation that the film-makers may have had to stretch the story to feature length.

After the short, we all started the documentary feature, Captains of Zaatari. It's about two boys who go from a refugee camp to a professional soccer camp. The story about the boys is good, but I would have liked to know at least a little about the organization that ran the soccer camp too, to get an idea of how big a deal it was for the boys (young men by the end of the story) to be accepted there.

I also watched most of the question-and-answer session between the SIFF programmer who presented the film, the film's director, and a translator. The sound quality was kind of shaky, and the translator slowed the conversation to the point that it was kind of hard to follow. J watched some too, but gave up before I did.

Quarantine report: home all day.

Steve SIFF 2009

gardening and two films

This morning, "J" had an appointment in our garden with "G", a gardener who helps with a lot of the heavy duty work J and I can't handle ourselves. B is impressively productive.

Meanwhile, I watched a film with "T": The Unknown Saint, a crime comedy about a thief who buries his loot just before he's captured, and disguises it as a grave to discourage people from digging it up. When he gets out of prison, the grave has been turned into a desert shrine: the Mausoleum of the Unknown Saint, and an industry has grown up to cater to pilgrims. We both enjoyed it, even though I was sometimes confused by the large cast of characters. Good.

I started another film, Too Far Away, with T. J joined us about a third of the way in. It's a film about two "tween" boys who are both homesick: one is a German boy whose home town has been evacuated to make way for strip mining and the other is a Syrian refugee. They bond over the common experience of being the new kids in school, and joint enthusiasm for soccer. Although it could have been just an "Afterschool Special",* it managed to tell a story that was engaging for all three of us. I rate it good for adults, very good for kids.

Besides the films, I wrote some more reviews, because we're running out of grown-up films and T always shows up if the television is on while he's around.

* To be fair to the Afterschool Special series, I think some were actually pretty respectable storytelling, not just hour-long modern fables. But I wasn't a particularly discriminating viewer back in the day.

Quarantine report: home all day; one visitor (masked, outside).

Steve SIFF 2009

one film, reviews written

I only got around to watching one SIFF film today: The Perfect Candidate, a Saudi film about a woman doctor who runs for municipal council so she can get a muddy road in front of her clinic fixed. It's a good story, well made, but may be too slow for some viewers.

I also wrote a number of reviews for films I've seen so far.

"J" did a lot of gardening today, because the weather was particularly nice.

My parents visited briefly today.

Quarantine report: home all day, two outside visitors: my parents, fully vaccinated.

Steve SIFF 2009

The Perfect Candidate

SIFF link and summary: The Perfect Candidate
Saudi Arabia, 2019; 105 minutes; director Haifaa Al-Mansour
Dr Maryam is an overworked medic at an underserved Saudi clinic. In order to improve safety measures and working conditions, she decides to run for a seat on the municipal council despite the rampant misogyny within her community.

7 Good Dr Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) is in charge of a small town emergency room, and is frustrated that the flooded dirt road in front of the clinic interferes with access to it. In an attempt to resolve a paperwork problem that interferes with a business trip to Dubai, she ends up signing up as a political candidate for municipal council. Her musician father Abdulaziz (Khalid Abdulraheem) goes away on tour, leaving her wedding coordinator sister Selma (Dhay Al Hilali) to help, very reluctantly, with the campaign. Selma's daughter Sara (Nora Al Awad) is even less enthusiastic. But clinic visitor Omar (Tareq Ahmed Al-Khaldi) is more helpful, after Maryam successfully diagnoses his father.

The directing, by rising star Haifaa Al-Mansour, was good, but the pacing was a bit slow for some viewers. There were quite a few moments of comic relief, which worked in spite of the language and cultural barriers, which is an impressive accomplishment. The writing, by the director and Brad Niemann, was good too. Production values were excellent. The music, by Volker Bertelmann, was also excellent, and did a lot to make the musician father aspect of the story work. Acting by Mila Al Zahrani was excellent, Dhay Al Hilali was very good, and others were good.

Overall, I rate the film good.

Languages: Arabic with English subtitles. (Although the film is in Arabic, the English-language title is the original.)

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating, but I'd guess it would rate a "PG", possibly even "G". There's nothing inappropriate for children, but most children would likely be bored.

Screening: streaming at home.
Audience: two.

Snacks: caffeinated drinks.

Ads and announcements:

Native lands.
Thanks to members and sponsors.
Tito's Vodka.
Brotherton Cadillac.
The Unknown Saint – Looks like a Arabic language comedy.
Justine Barda presents the film, and thanks sponsor KNKX radio.
"It's Happening" – SIFF's 2021 slogan is appropriate after a 2020 SIFF that didn't happen.

Steve SIFF 2009

running up the "score" – almost 20 SIFF films

Today was a big day for watching SIFF films. "J" and I watched four selections, which amounted to almost twenty films because two selections were short film series.

Before the films, my father dropped by. It was nice to see him, even if he wasn't around all that long.

The first selection was Ancestors, a six-film short series. Although I generally watch a lot of shorts when they don't clash with other films (not an issue in the on-line festival), I don't think I would have chosen this one first. But there's a lot of good stuff here. I give J full credit for a good selection.

Our second selection, the ten-film short series Animation for Adults, on both our lists for today. It was another winner, and I'm glad we chose it.

Our first feature of the day, Under the Open Sky (Subarashiki Sekai すばらしき世界), is something we found while looking for Asian action movies, which are typically abundant and good at SIFF. But although there are some action scenes, Under the Open Sky is primarily a personal drama. A yakuza who has spent most of his adult life in prison has been released, and he resolves to stay clean this time. And he has a personal quest: to find his long-lost mother. J and I are both glad we selected it; it's excellent, and a strong candidate for best film in the festival.

Our final selection was a feature preceded by a short. The feature was Strawberry Mansion. It's a weird science-fantasy comedy-drama with an element of romance. It's reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or perhaps Cold Souls, but it's not as polished or coherent. Instead, it revels in its weirdness. Still, I rate it good.

The short before Strawberry Mansion, "The Other Morgan", was not nearly as ambitious, but it achieved its goals more completely; I rate it very good.

It's not often that we see 19 films in one day, even counting shorts.

Quarantine report: one outside visitor (masked and fully vaccinated).

Steve SIFF 2009

Strawberry Mansion (with short film "The Other Morgan")

Main feature (which screened after the short film):

SIFF link and summary: Strawberry Mansion
US, 2021; 90 minutes; directors Albert Birney, Kentucker Audley
In this sweet and colorful bit of surrealistic speculative fiction set in the near future, a "dream auditor" on assignment becomes obsessed with an aging eccentric and, while investigating the VHS archive of her subconscious, happens upon a chance at love.

7 Good

Although "surreal" in a SIFF catalog often means "unwatchable", this film was quite entertaining. The production design is the true star of the film; it's visually interesting throughout. The acting standout is 80-year-old Penny Fuller, who is excellent.

It's about as weird as All Sorts (also playing this SIFF), but the story isn't as coherent. The comedy is enough to keep us laughing frequently, but not a wall of laughter.

Overall, I rate the film good.

Languages: English.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating (yet), but I'd guess it would rate a "PG-13", unless some language slipped past my notice.

Short film (which screened before the feature):

SIFF link and summary: "The Other Morgan"
US, 2020, 14 minutes, director Alison Rich
When a happy young exterminator discovers there's a better version of her out in the world, she begins to question the life she chose for herself.

8 Very Good Mini review:
This comedy had a surprise twist that I really enjoyed. Very good.

Languages: English.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG-13" if they were.

Screening: streaming at home.
Audience: two.

Snacks: chocolate.

Ads and more:

Native lands
SIFF thank-you sponsor montage
Tito's Vodka
Waikiki — film set in Hawaii looks good.
Megan Leonard — SIFF programmer presents the film, with sound quality that could have been better.
"It's Happening" — 2021 SIFF self-promotion clip.

Steve SIFF 2009

Under the Open Sky (Subarashiki Sekai すばらしき世界)

SIFF link and summary: Under the Open Sky
Japan, 2020; 126 minutes; director Miwa Nishikawa
Yakusho Kôji (The Third Murder) gives a riveting performance as a lifelong Yakuza, released from prison after 13 years, whose journey to find the mother who abandoned him as a child is hindered by his gangster past.
Restricted to audiences in WA state.

9 Excellent Masao Mikami (Kôji Yakusho) is out of prison for the first time in 13 years, and this time he has resolved that he's going to stay clean. Even with the assistance of his sponsors, a lawyer and his wife, and a welfare stipend, it's not going to be easy – particularly since he wants to earn a living instead of just getting by on welfare.

He wants to find his mother.

Excellent writing and outstanding adaptation
Excellent directing. Strange jumping back and forth between cinematic lighting and daytime television lighting.
Excellent acting.
Very good music.

Languages: Japanese, with English subtitles.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating yet, but I'd guess it would rate a "PG-13", for a few violent scenes.

Screening: streaming at home.
Audience: two.

Snacks: popcorn and chocolate.

Ad: East of the Mountains — A drama featuring Tom Skerritt
Presenter: Beth Barrett, with thanks to the UW Japan Studies Program

Steve SIFF 2009

Animation for Adults

SIFF link and summary for the series: Animation for Adults (styled "Animation4Adults")
70 minutes
The spirit remembers what it means to be in relationship to all beings, past, present and future, seen and unseen.

Screening: streaming at home.
Audience: two.

Snacks: bagels and leftovers (lunch).

Ad: The Bears' Famous Invasion – Italian animated film.
presenter: Stan Shields

SIFF link and summary: "We Have One Heart"
Poland, 2020; 12 minutes; director Katarzyna Warzecha
When Adam discovers letters his parents exchanged years ago, he takes the opportunity to find out more about his father, who he never knew, uncovering an extraordinary family secret. 9 Excellent

The story in the letters featured in the film is very interesting, and worth telling. And the execution of the storytelling is excellent, with animations of the original letters, imagery in the style of a slide show, and so forth.

Language: Polish, with English subtitles.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG-13" if they were.

SIFF link and summary: "Conversations with a Whale"
Germany, 2020; 9 minutes; director Anna Samo
In this love letter to artists, their art, and its audience, a filmmaker’s constant rejections surprisingly bear fruit. 7 Good

The animation in this film is mostly pencil drawings, repeatedly erased and redrawn, without completely erasing previous images, which gives a hint of a trail. It's a very good piece, but doesn't need to go the entire nine minutes. Overall, I rate it good.

Language: English.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG-13" if they were.

SIFF link and summary: "Charon"
USA, 2020; 12 minutes; director Cullen Parr
Myron, a California artist who has temporal lobe epilepsy, creates striking paintings, drawings, and sculptures inspired by the visions he has during his seizures. 7 Good

This mix of animation and live action really shows off the artist's work well, and the art itself is pretty impressive. The narrative of the film is pretty thin, but the art makes up for it. I rate it good.

Language: English.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG-13" if they were.

SIFF link and summary: "Migrants"
France, 2020; 8 minutes; directors Hugo Caby, Antoine Dupriez, Aubin Kubiak, Lucas Lermytte, Zoé Devise
Two polar bears are driven into exile due to global warming. They will encounter brown bears along their journey, with whom they will try to cohabitate. 8 Very Good

This is an engagingly animated allegory about anti-immigrant hostility, but it also works as a story of cute animated bears. I rate it very good.

Language: no dialog.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG" if they were, possibly even "G".

SIFF link and summary: "Nuevo Rico"
USA, 2020; 16 minutes; director Kristian Mercado Figueroa
A brother and sister stumble upon a celestial secret that propels them into Reggaetón stardom, but at what price? 8 Very Good

In some respects, the story follows a fairly conventional arc of an artist whose talent is squandered due to a descent into addiction. But there's more going on – not all of which I understand. The imagery is stunning, and the music is good. I rate it very good overall.

Language: Spanish, with English subtitles, and English.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "R" if they were, on the basis of addictive behavior.

SIFF link and summary: "Ghost Dogs"
USA, 2020; 11 minutes; director Joe Cappa
A home-alone rescue pup is visited by a host of deceased pups in this mind-bending short. 6 Almost Good

This short about a dog who sees ghost dogs is fairly engaging, and the way it opens with a robot vacuum cleaner is particularly clever. But it seems to run a bit longer than it needs to, and I'm not sure I see an actual conclusion to the story. I rate it almost good.

Language: no dialog.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG-13" if they were.

SIFF link and summary: "Urban Sphinx"
Spain, 2020; 5 minutes; director María Lorenzo
Photos of stencilled and painted street art in Valencia, Spain are treated like animation cells, making movement where once there was none. 8 Very Good

It's not immediately obvious that the source of the imagery in this film is artistic graffiti, which is often reminiscent of Banksy, though I didn't see his name in the credits. But the animation transforms it from a photo album into a weird sequence of animated vignettes. Very good.

Language: no dialog.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG-13" if they were, because graffiti is generally illegal no matter how artistic.

SIFF link and summary: "Souvenir Souvenir"
France, 2020; 16 minutes; director Bastien Dubois
A man's decade-long quest to make a movie of his grandfather's war memories reveals unforseen truths about them both. 8 Very Good

My grandfather served in the Army Air Force in World War II, and earned a Bronze Star. I haven't seen the citation, so I don't know what he did to earn the medal. And other than complain about British food, praise Belgian civilians' hospitality, and other stories that one might call wartime tourism tales, he never spoke about the war. Similarly, the film-maker's grandfather never spoke about his experiences in the Algerian war for independence from France.

Because the film-maker's grandfather never spoke about the war, the film-maker obviously couldn't make a film about the war itself. Instead, he told a story of how he tried, and that journey is a very interesting narrative too. Although it's tied as the longest short in this collection, it doesn't overstay its welcome. I rate the film very good.

Language: French, with English subtitles.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "R" if they were, on the basis of depiction of war crimes the film-maker heard about from sources other than his grandfather.

SIFF link and summary: "Our Bed Is Green"
USA, 2021; 7 minutes; director Maggie Brennan
Realm, a virtual reality facility, is quite transparent about the erotic potential of its services: with its data-mining technology, customers can create virtual facsimiles of real-life places and people. This is what attracts clientele like Cecily . . . 6 Almost Good

I liked the premise of this film and its technique quite a bit. But the film-maker doesn't seem to be daring enough to take the erotic premise very far. I don't fault it for leaving out the details of the eroticism that the main character seeks; differences between the main character's, the film-maker's, and audience ideas of eroticism, portraying it directly in the film would be risky business. But the film doesn't offer much story to wrap around the implied eroticism. I rate the film almost good, on the basis of its premise and technique.

Language: English.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate an "R" if they were; the ratings people are pretty squeamish about even the mildest eroticism.

SIFF link and summary: "Try to Fly"
Canada, 2020; 8 minutes; directors The Affolter Brothers
Confronted by an unexpected rite of passage, a baby owl's life flashes before her eyes. 6 Almost Good

Although this starts out with a scared fledgling owl about to leave the nest and try to fly, the owl thinks through all sorts of insecurities of a young human woman. (They're mostly similar to a young human man's insecurities.) But the little owl doesn't really have a story other than the insecurities, or to the extent that there is a story it's pretty obvious: fly or fail to fly. I liked the animation imagery, but otherwise I can only rate this almost good.

Language: English.

Rating: Short films aren't awarded ratings in the US, but this film would probably rate a "PG-13" if they were.

"we have one heart" - Poland film, slide show
"conversations with a whale"
"nuevo rico"
"ghost dogs"
"urban sphinx"
"souvenir souvenir"
"our bed is green"
"try to fly"