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  •  FESTIVAL: SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

    Michael Pitt as a Kurt Cobain lookalike in Gus Van Sant's Last Days. in Seattle International Film Festival
    Michael Pitt as a Kurt Cobain lookalike in Gus Van Sant's "Last Days."

    Seattle Film Festival 2005

    Seen and heard at the Seattle Film Festival.

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    I thought I'd try covering the Seattle Film Festival a little more blog-style rather than write the usual overview attempting to find the common thread among dozens or hundreds of films from around the world in one paragraph. So here are some of the things I've seen and comments I've heard around the festival.


      
    SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
    Seattle, Washington. May 19-June 12, 2005.

    Related links: Official site
     RELATED ARTICLES
    Seattle Film Festival 2005
    • Overview

     • Official site

    Reviews:
    • 9 Songs
    • After the Day Before
    • Cape of Good Hope
    • Frozen
    • Junebug
     
    • Machuca
    • Max and Grace
    • The Real Dirt on Farmer John
    • The Syrian Bride
    • The World
    Day 6 (Festival Day 19)

    Tuesday, June 7

    Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" is being kept shrouded in mystery. Press were given a preview of the movie but SIFF members (who are treated like moviegoing gods and get to attend press screenings too, except this one) were kept out. We were asked not to write full reviews but encouraged to do capsule reviews. I think we're supposed to generate buzz. I haven't even collected my thoughts about the film enough to write about it, but here's an initial reaction, encapsulated.

    This is Gus Van Sant's pseudo-Kurt Cobain bio. (A disclaimer at the end mentions that it's "inspired by" KC but still a work of fiction.) It has the "Elephant"-style aimless handheld camera feeling, which I wasn't crazy about, and not as much of the filmmaking cleverness of "Elephant." (See my review for what I thought was cool about "Elephant.") We basically see this Cobain-type guy, known here as "Blake," wander around his mansion muttering to himself while eluding everyone who's trying to find him. There's no real sense of plot, but I did notice a theme — Kurt Cobain as Christ.

    Lavinia Wilson in the so depressing German film Alone. in Seattle International Film Festival
    Lavinia Wilson in the "so depressing" German film "Alone."

    It's possible that the "Elephant" people will love it, but I think a lot of people will find it uneventful, unilluminating and dull. If it were based on Joe Guitar Player instead of Cobain, nobody would have a reason to watch it at all. That's what I think.

    Speaking of the moviegoing gods, it didn't take long for me to cross paths with the "Fool Serious," the most fanatical followers of the Seattle Film Festival, so named when one of their young children tried to pronounce "full series" and that's how it came out. They compile everything SIFF in a Yahoo Group bulletin board and come up with their own elite awards at the end of the monthlong marathon. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer also discovered this crowd and wrote about them here:

    Fools for SIFF: Nothing gets between them and film festival

    (It's a fine article, but as a headline writer myself, I have to wonder why they didn't try to do something with "Revenge of the SIFF." Maybe they've already used that one at the P-I.)




    Day 5 (Festival Day 18)

    Monday, June 6

    I went out of town for the weekend, opting for kayaks, tall trees, orcas and bald eagles in the totally amazing San Juan Islands over darkened movie theaters and hastily scarfed slices of pizza. I'll try to fill in the remaining items from last week as soon as I can, but here's what I saw today.

    It was a day of noble failures.

    The first movie, I guess, was an ignoble failure. "Max and Grace" stars the brother and sister from "Slums of Beverly Hills" as two mental patients who fall instantly in love, break out of the asylum and proceed to cure themselves and live happily ever after. It is so ridiculous and yet so not smart, it doesn't work as a romance, a comedy or a realistic movie about the mentally ill. In fact, it is awfully glib about what's really a serious human problem, and not sharp enough to pull it off.

    The documentary "Wall" points a camera at the Israeli "security barrier" being constructed between Jewish and Palestinian populations. It's not a very cohesive documentary, but it does at least shine a light on what's basically a running scar being inflicted on the country by unimaginative leaders. Filmmaker Simone Bitton browses her subject pretty casually, rather than trying to create some kind of focused message. So it isn't a great film to watch, but it is a kind of record of what people were saying as the wall went in. Maybe future generations will refer to it when the wall's impact on history is more fully appreciated.

    Finally, the night ended with sex. "9 Songs" by Michael Winterbottom ("24 Hour Party People," "Code 46") is a compilation of concert appearances by nine same-sounding alt-rock bands in London. There's also some consideration of scientific research in Antarctica. And in case that doesn't hold your interest, the interludes between songs are filled with steamy hardcore fornication. But I watched it for, you know, the music.

    So the movie was utterly pointless — but was it at least good sex? Absolutely! "Matt" (British actor Kieran O'Brien) and "Lisa" (American ex-model Margo Stilley) perform with realism, passion and enjoyment. A friend said, with some sympathy, that she was glad she wasn't the one who had to sit through it, but I wouldn't say it was difficult to sit through. It was bold and exciting, for sure. It just wasn't much of a movie.




    Day 2 (Festival Day 11)

    Monday, May 30

    Today's highlight was a Seattle documentary called "Fishermen's Terminal." (I had hoped to make it Seattle Film Day by also catching a documentary on the band The Gits, but scheduling made that impossible.) It's about the struggle between the Port of Seattle, which decided to open the coast's only devoted fishing-boat moorage to yachts, and the fishermen, who see the decision as a step toward their elimination.

    It seems like the best movies I've seen this year have almost all been documentaries, and most of those have been about people's work. ("The Real Dirt on Farmer John" — see below — is one of those.) "Fishermen's Terminal" is a very worthwhile addition to the genre. It does make the error, perhaps, of not fully presenting the Port's point of view — they could undoubtedly explain that they're responding to economic changes that make fishing less and less viable over the years. Yet, what the film shows clearly is how the government — contrary to its own regulations, in some cases — has made conscious decisions to squeeze money out of the fishermen. They claim the Port Commission has a hidden agenda to push them out of business so they can redevelop the property as luxury real estate, and it's not an implausible accusation. The fact that a traditional, vital way of life — not to mention the availability of good, non-farm fish — could be a casualty of their financially motivated decisions.

    But the best thing I learned from "Fisherman's Terminal" is this little secret: it turns out the fishermen will sell you the catch of the day right off the boat. This is one of the battleground issues in the fishermen's war — the Port has sold exclusive rights to one store adjacent to the docks, so they've done everything they can to stop the boats from selling independently to you, the consumer, right down to surveillance cameras and videotapes. But it's still borderline legal — and if I'd had a kitchen to work in, I'd have run right down for some fresh salmon or halibut. Seattlites, start your ovens.

      Farmer John Peterson with Taggart Siegel, director of The Real Dirt on Farmer John. (If you're anywhere near San Francisco on June 4 or Brooklyn on June 8, see it.) in Seattle International Film Festival
      "Farmer John" Peterson with Taggart Siegel, director of "The Real Dirt on Farmer John." (If you're anywhere near San Francisco on June 4 or Brooklyn on June 8, see it.)
    On the way out of the quite-good German film "Alone," I heard two senior citizens moaning about what an ordeal they had been through. "So depressing!" they agreed. I suppose there are two kinds of people in this world — those who expect the world to surround them with sunshine and daffodils every day and those who don't. The first group of people probably shouldn't go to a lot of film festivals.




    Day 1 (Festival Day 10)

    Sunday, May 29

    Thanks to jet lag, I took a nap at 5:30 that lasted 12 hours instead of the intended 1 hour, and that made me miss the one screening I planned to see Sunday night. But I did squeeze in the one big thing I wanted to do for the day — an interview I had already arranged with Taggart Siegel and Farmer John Peterson of "The Real Dirt on Farmer John." I had already seen the film courtesy of the good folks at the Brooklyn Film Festival, which is showing it on June 8.

    Contrary to whatever I expected, this documentary with the tractor on the poster was by far the great hidden treasure of both the Brooklyn and Seattle festivals. It's not just about price declines and debt crises — it's actually about an individualist in farm country whose independent spirit leads to suspicion among his conservative neighbors that he's some kind of a homosexual, dope-peddling, negro-loving satanist. In fact, there's a surprise at the end of the movie — it's ultimately Farmer John's individuality and open mind that save his farm while others are failing. Having lost almost everything in the 1980s, John turns to a number of new ideas, including organic methods and something called community supported agriculture (CSA). His company can be found at AngelicOrganics.com.

    John and Taggart did Q&As with phenomenally enthusiastic audiences after their Seattle screenings — John dressed characteristically in straw hat, plaid work shirt, a bright orange jacket with a daffodil pin on it, and a pink feather boa. We spoke after the Sunday screening — here is one question from our interview. (The whole thing should be published next week.)

    Q: What strikes you about the audiences where you've shown this film, including in non-agricultural areas?

    FARMER JOHN: Well, many people come and say that it's changed their lives, which is a very powerful thing to hear. And it goes way beyond eating organically — I mean, it's about tenacity, or, some people feel, permission to be in their own grief fully, their own sadness fully. Some people, like the gay community, it's very interesting because for them, often, it's a tale of being marginalized. So we get a lot of different reactions from people. It's not like, oh, it's a film about eating organically and all these people decide to eat organically after the film. It seems that it has a transformational power in many different areas, and I think we've both been kind of surprised by what we've heard from people.

    TAGGART SIEGEL: Yeah. I mean, people do come up and say, "This is the best film I've ever seen." And I'm not saying that because I directed the film — I'm just amazed that people say it. I'm just like, "Where did that come from? You've seen a lot of films." But I also get it, because it's delivering some emotional force and it's a good story. It's like, we worked on it for nine years. There's a reason why that works — what's on screen, every frame is chosen and looked at, and it has a lot of integrity. It's authentic with John's life, and my life as a filmmaker, and we had to do a lot of work to get it there. ... To me, it's a very, very personal film because I've lived 25 years knowing this guy and a lot of my 25 years have been associated with the farm and with this life. So a lot of my life is buried in the film. It is my life more than meets the eye. So it's really interesting to hear the audience reaction. I mean, they're getting what you've gone through, what I've gone through. [To John] You're like this archetypal figure, which is fantastic.




    Films I've seen so far

    With star ratings, which I sort of don't believe in but it helps put them in order of preference. What the heck. Some of these are films I've seen previously in New York or Philadelphia, so they include films that haven't screened here yet.

    After Innocence  ***1/2
    Real Dirt on Farmer John  ***1/2
    After the Day Before  ***1/2
    10th District Court  ***1/2
    Machuca  ***1/2
    Brothers  ***1/2
    3-Iron  ***1/4
    5x2  ***1/4
    Alone  ***1/4
    Frozen  ***1/4
    Apres Vous  ***1/4
    Fishermen's Terminal  ***
    Mad Hot Ballroom  ***
    Seoul Train  ***
    Syrian Bride  ***
    Layer Cake  ***
    Night of Truth  ***
    Our Own  ***
    Open Hearts  **1/2
    Junebug  **1/2
    Warsaw  **1/2
    Steal Me  **1/2
    Wall  **
    Cape of Good Hope  **
    In the Battlefields  **
    Land of Plenty  **
    9 Songs  **
    Pretty Persuasion  **
    Last Days  *1/2
    L'Amant  *1/2
    Broidit  *1/2
    36 Quai des Orfevres  *1/2
    The World  *1/2
    Platform  *
    Max and Grace  1/2


    Festival articles


    Reviews:



      

    9 Songs

    An arthouse movie full of hot, healthy and positive sex — and nothing else worth mentioning.



      

    After the Day Before

    The parched countryside of rural Hungary conceals mysteries big and small in the ethereal, time-shattering thriller "After the Day Before."



      

    Cape of Good Hope

    Made by Americans in South Africa, "Cape of Good Hope" is an earnest and sometimes obvious multi-character drama in people say about dogs what they really want to say about people.



      

    Frozen

    A bright thriller from cold, gray northern England, where a troubled, working-class heroine isn't sure whether she's tracking down a killer or growing delusional.



      

    Junebug

    A modest movie about a Southern family's foibles, made quite watchable by its affectionately conceived characters and subtle portrayals.



      

    Land of Plenty

    German director Wim Wenders provides a socially conscious view of poverty and paranoia in an America somewhat resembling the real one.



      

    Max and Grace

    A horribly failed attempt to make a romantic comedy about depression and suicide.



      

    The Real Dirt on Farmer John

    A flamboyant, cross-dressing, hippie-loving, third-generation farmer — beaten down by debt, drought and the resentment of his community — saves his farm from the crash by being different.



      

    The Syrian Bride

    A drama about the manifold complications that politics throws in the way of two people on their wedding day when the groom is on one side of the Israel-Syria border and the bride is on the other.



      

    Yes

    Sally Potter's "Yes" is a personal exploration that suffers, rather than gains, from being written in rhymed verse.

    JUNE 1, 2005
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Seattle International Film Festival:

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