As I head off to “Prometheus” this morning, I wanted to give one last notice that this is the final weekend of the Seattle International Film Festival. To listen to my Spokane Public Radio mention, click here (you'll be directed to the station's list of podcast movie reviews; if my SIFF commentary isn't yet posted, enjoy listening to the other reviews that either Nathan Weinbender or I have recorded).
For those of you who like to read, the transcript follows:
I first attended the Seattle International Film Festival in the mid-1980s, and it had been going then for nearly a decade. The audience was composed of a gaggle of film fans, crowded into a small theater situated just below the Pike Street Market. I remember thinking, “Wow, these people really love movies.” I had no idea.
The SIFF, as they call it, of today is as much like that early festival as a rubber-band-powered biplane is like an F-35. Or, rather, an Airbus A380. From being held in a single theater and comprising a couple of dozen films, SIFF is now among the biggest and grandest film festivals in the world. It lasts 25 days, it is held in theaters not just in Seattle but in Everett and Renton, it screens more than 450 films from some 70 countries and attracts an annual average of 150,000 or so attendees.
I just spent the last three weekends driving to Seattle and I can report that SIFF 2012, at least as I experienced it, is still everything a movie lover could want. One caveat: In the old days, I used to cram as many films as possible into my schedule. It wasn’t uncommon for me to see 40 or so over a three-weekend stay (my record remains six in a single day). My aging back won’t allow me to do that anymore, so all I saw of SIFF 2012 was 10 films from eight different countries.
Those films represented a wide range of themes, stories and styles. During the first weekend, I saw “Valley of Saints,” an Indian-U.S. production that tells the story of a young man from Kashmir whose life changes when he meets a young scientist researching the lake where he lives and is desperate to leave. The documentary “American Addict” makes a case that prescription of U.S. drugs has become epidemic. The Czech Republic entry “Four Suns” explores the struggles of a blended family looking for meaning in a modern society that seems to have lost its way.
My second weekend began with the U.S. feature “Lola Vs.,” in which actress Greta Gerwig – seen most recently in Whit Stillman’s independent film “Damsels in Distress” – plays a woman dealing with the abrupt cancellation of her wedding. I followed that with what was maybe my favorite, “The Painting” – or “Le tableau” – a French animated film about characters that come alive in a work of art. I followed up with the fascinating French documentary “Step Up to the Plate,” the study of a chic rural restaurant that I saw with my friend Leslie Kelly. I ended with the Argentine film “Las Acacias,” which tells the story of a truck driver and his growing intimacy with a Paraguayan woman and her baby girl.
My last weekend began with two documentaries: “Rouge Parole” from Tunisia, which gives an insider’s look to that country’s 2010 revolution, and “Italy: Love It or Leave It,” a comic tour of the dark heart of Italia. I finished with “Xingu,” a dramatic retelling of the founding of Brasil’s only indigenous people’s national park.
SIFF 2012 runs through Sunday night. You can still take your own cinematic trip around the world by jumping in the car and heading west. Go online at SIFF.net to see what I mean. Just make sure to take something with you that can relieve an aching back.
Below: The trailer for “Le tableau.”