I've been lucky enough to have seen a good number of the films making a return lap through SIFF Cinema this coming weekend. Some I've reviewed, some I haven't - but I'm gonna make a quick run through the lot to share some quick thoughts on many. Thankfully there are still a few I haven't seen - so hope to run into tons of folks this weekend. Tickets are onsale now at the SIFF website. If you're gonna spend some serious time at Seattle Center you'll want to checkout the Best of SIFF pass - at $50 for members ($75 for non members) it's a steal.
- Gandu (India) - Well, all I can reliably say about the jurors for the New Directors Competition (who chose this film for their Grand Jury Prize) is that they either love hard driving rap, experimental cinema, or pornography. Perhaps all three. The name of this film means "asshole" - so Winnie the Pooh it ain't. This ain't no Bollywood film - which I strongly suspect is the point. It definitely earns it's "experimental" title in both the WTF? and the "I can't believe I brought my mom" sense of things. I liked the raw energy, the look and the music. But there's a deeper level I know I missed. Or maybe there's not a deeper level and director Q just wanted to get some fantasies involving big sunglasses wearing women pretending to be a cat licking cream out of a bowl onscreen. In which case he has gloriously succeeded. I'm still not really sure I "liked" it. But in the spirit of seeing something different I'm super glad I went. Held my attention much better than the experimental film with dudes wearing sheets in the afterlife. Personally I sort of think it's worth seeing - but I guarantee this is gonna be the most decisive film of the weekend.
- Simple Simon (Sweden) - On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Gandu is Simple Simon a film about Simon, a teen with Asperger's who lives with his beloved older brother. When his older brother's girlfriend leaves him, in part due to the rigors of living with Simon a solution needs to be found. Simon takes it upon himself to find his brother a new girlfriend. Which is complicated by his lack of understand of girls, and his difficulty reading people's emotions. Though is made entertaining by the "scientific" scorecard he develops to find the perfect woman. What follows is somewhat predictable, but still rather entertaining. It could be (and was) called "fluff" by a less charitable soul - but I think if it is then it's well made (entertaining) fluff. With a bright colorful look it's the lightest and most "fun" film I saw in Palm Springs this year.
- Best of SIFF Shorts - I haven't seen all the shorts included in this package, and sadly some of my favorites aren't included. But there's incredible breadth here with at least a few that I personally will vouch for. This is probably the material you're most likely never to see again - and hence the film(s) I think are most imperative to catch during their run this coming Friday.
- Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey - Haven't seen it. But it's about the man behind Elmo. I didn't even grow up with Elmo, but I'm more than intrigued enough to be seriously waking up early to catch the film. I've heard good thing.
- To Be Heard (USA) - yes, it's another documentary about high school aged poets. And even more incredibly, I'm recommending this one too. My full review just went up - so I'm just gonna direct you there. Oh yeah, this film also won the audience award for best documentary of the festival. So if you don't trust me - the masses liked it as well.
- Tilt (Bulgaria) - Skateboarding, pinball, love and broken dreams in 80's Bulgaria. Snappy music and a kinetic style. Lots to like here. I didn't quite enjoy it as much as I thought I might from the description - though it's certainly not bad - even engrossing at times. My less than 100% stellar reaction might only be because it's possible that the Bulgarian concept of a happy ending of a romantic drama may be bleaker than I'm used to from Hollywood and beyond. Worth a look if you're in the area.
- On the Ice (USA) - As promised in the title this film takes place on the ice. Set in Barrow Alaska something goes very very wrong on a hunting expedition. Whether it's alcohol or drugs or just testosterone the end result is that someone is dead. The other two teens on the trip take steps to cover it up - which is made harder by the freezing temperature and snowmobile tracks. There's a lot going on here - from how teens deal with small town life, the nature of guilt, and just a good old fashion suspense ride. I thought it was an interesting film, a solid if not personally amazing 96 minutes. And many folks liked it far more than me. So odds are you'll get something out of it - if nothing else a reminder that having amazingly self destructive friends often doesn't end well for characters in the movies. Or more specifically - if your dumb friend is the sort of chap whom may set in motion events that cause another friend to be dead, he's unlikely suddenly to become a calm rational person who doesn't blab your secrets to everyone he meets.
- Paper Birds (Spain) - They say the audience is never wrong. In the case of Golden Space Needle best picture winner of SIFF 2011 I'm going to have to disrespectfully disagree. I'm still working on a top ten list for the festival - but I can assure you Paper Birds won't be on it. I'm actually quite happy for anyone who enjoyed this film more than I did - but I can't personally suggest it with a clear conscience. The film is set in post-civil war Spain and follows a troupe of performers who are harassed to varying degrees by agents of the Franco government. It's a hard, hard life and these people try to make the best of it through their virtual family of performers. Dark as it is, that part of the film would have a lot to recommend it. But something about the intense melodrama kept me from truly being pulled into the film's world. Part of that, perhaps a large part of that is the overwhelming music that seemed ever-present informing me how to feel. From the introduction in Palm Springs I recall mention that the music was composed by the director. That's certainly an impressive accomplishment, but I think in this case less would be more. The melodrama continues right through to the penultimate scene which I may have chortled a bit at. That is I'm fairly sure not the reaction being sought. Plenty of people I met really dug this film. So your mileage may vary.
- Circus Dreams (USA) - Takes us behind the scenes of Circus Smirkus as we follow the touring youth group from start to finish. The under 18 year old circus provides an opportunity for talented kids who are thinking of going into the business a chance for a live experience and great mentorship. It seems to also provide a hands on lesson on how to run a business on the continued bleeding edge of financial insolvency by planning via hope and a prayer. Putting that second part aside it was interesting to watch some of the kids - particularly the pair of female clowns who we get the most time with. Beyond them coverage of any one aspect wasn't especially deep - just gives you some fly on the wall time. I wouldn't say it's a very enthralling documentary but not an unpleasant one either. It's likely targeted at a younger audience and the fact that it was awarded the best Films4Families prize by the SIFF 2011 Youth Jury seems to speak to that. I think the takeaway is that your kids will dig it - and afterwards you can probably undue the bad business lessons imparted.
I've had a great time, and I'd like to publicly thank everyone at SIFF professionally and as a volunteer for working your asses off to give this cinematic gift to the city of Seattle. If you're heading over to SIFF Cinema this weekend please be sure to thank them in person. We're very lucky to have such a great festival in our town.