The Seattle International Film Festival experience is akin to having only two hours in Las Vegas. Grueling choices must be made. Which events are must-sees, and which must be reluctantly discarded? Will that Hong Kong thriller you give up be re-made in two years by Martin Scorsese? Will the comedy you attended in its place be a turgid, cinematic cesspool of predictable pond scum?
In 2006, seeing movies was the primary ritual at SIFF. But the event also offered numerous forums, concerts, and debates. A Face the Music forum concerned the ever-growing linkage between movies and music, and expanded on SIFF’s generous heaping of music docs. Stewart Copeland’s “Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out,” for example, immortalized the drummer’s Super 8-shot home movies of his superstar band. (Following the recent death of Copeland’s brother Ian, a scheduled appearance by the filmmaker was abruptly cancelled.)
Devo’s bespectacled, cone-hatted Mark Mothersbaugh dropped by, presenting an overview on the art of film composition. While maintaining his role as famed Devo ringleader, Mothersbaugh has composed scores for over seventy film and T.V. productions, including “Thirteen,” “Happy Gilmore,” and the movies of Wes Anderson. (He also pops up as a talking head in oddball, music-doc indies like “Derailroaded.”) The International Stunt School offered “On a Wire and a Prayer,” demonstrating the art of stunt wirework. SIFF’s annual Fly Filmmaking Challenge also took flight, spotlighting four short films created over a compact, ten-day time span.
Pulling Seattle’s own icons into the mix, SIFF featured Talking Pictures, an audacious forum in which famed locals gushed admiringly over favorite movies. For 2006, glass artist Dale Chilhuly, opera singer Jane Eaglen, and restaurant entrepreneur Tom Douglas shared film-faves before responding to Q & A questions. And so it went. Filmmaking classrooms lured wannabe moviemakers. Industry summits, heated debates, and screenwriters’ salons also left their shadows on the wall.
Despite all the serious, academic fodder on hand at SIFF, my favorite attraction was Midnight Adrenaline, a witching-hour celebration of subversive, cult-destined, cutting-edge attractions too warped for mainstream attention. Traditionally the festival’s most extreme bracket, past “Midnight Adrenaline” fodder has included “Dead or Alive” (Takashi Miike), “Hole in my Heart” (Lukas Moodysson) and “Battle Royale” (Kinji Fukasaku), three of cinema’s most notorious, cutting-edge offenders.
Maybe I’m jaded, but the underground nuggets I viewed this year were disappointingly unoriginal. I confess to having missed “Isolation” (reportedly featuring mutant cow births), “Destricted” (an art-porn collection featuring shorts by Larry Clark, Gaspar Noe, Matthew Barney, and other notorious provocateurs), and other intriguing titles. But “Frostbite,” a tame, Buffy-styled teenybopper comedy, didn’t make the grade. Involving Swedish bloodsuckers and vampire-creating party pills, Anders Banke’s movie is obviously aiming for the youth audience, full of adolescent actors unconvincingly pretending to be vampires. It’s not gruesome enough for gorehounds, or funny enough for lovers of twisted humor. But your thirteen-year-old daughter might like it.
“Evil Aliens” is a more colorful Midnight Adrenaline candidate. UK Director Jake West’s gushing soda fountain of a film pours gooey alien afterbirth, mirror-marring zit pus, erupting semen, and good ol’ bloody red stuff. Arteries are whacked by weed-eaters, and orifices endure probing via invasive, intergalactic drills. A wheat-harvesting tractor slices up limbs with the efficient gusto of a flamboyant chef at Benihana. But there’s a huge déjà vu factor haunting West’s images. They aren’t quite outrageous or inventive enough to enter the pantheon of splatter humor currently inhabited by “Dead Alive,” the “Evil Dead” trilogy, and “Re-Animator.”
For all-out horror, you could do worse than Gela Babluani’s “13 (Tzameti),” a tense shooting range of a movie echoing the more extreme moments from “The Deer Hunter” and “A Bullet in the Head.” Winner of Sundance’s 2006 Grand Jury Prize, “13 (Tzameti)” follows a young, impoverished French immigrant whose desperate quest for income brings a night of high-stakes brutality that makes “The Most Dangerous Game” look like a benign round of senior center bingo.
After overhearing a job offer granted to his disoriented dope-fiend of an employer, starving roofer Sebastien (George Babluani, brother of the film’s director) seeks out the work after the drug-addled, deadbeat boss suddenly keels over. Impersonating the shady, deceased man, Sebastien intercepts a mailed envelope of employment instructions meant for his junkie customer. He follows a discreet trail of train tickets, hotel room reservations, taxi rides, and phone conversations. Ultimately, the laborer is forcefully engaged in a moneymaking venture beyond his worst nightmares.
Shot in high contrast black and white, “13 (Tzameti)” wears an elegant exterior that screams “art.” It’s certainly a more serious commentary on human depravity than the similar “Hostel,” exploring the jaded depths that rich novelty-seekers might to go get a thrill. But while “Hostel” was obvious geek-show exploitation, I’m not sure what Babluani is getting at. That mankind is capable of evil? So what else is new? Meanwhile, the director’s downer of a finale might be a realistic wrap-up, but it’s depressing as hell.
But I’ll give Babluani points for mood, tension, and the kind of detached intensity that Kubrick might smile at. Apparently, “13 (Tzameti)” is already slated for an American remake.
After stumbling out of “13 (Tzameti),” be advised to stay away from firearms. Instead, drink up “Heart of the Game,” an upbeat, life-affirming chaser. But before delving into this dark-horse basketball doc-plot, it’s worth noting that Ward Serrill’s lively crowd-pleaser actually played SIFF last year, as a “work in progress.” People loved it then. Now – after being picked up by Miramax and praised by Roger Ebert – “Heart of the Game” is a phenomenon. Comparisons have been made to “Hoop Dreams,” but Serrill’s examination of a Seattle-based high school girls’ basketball team and their rocky road to a state championship is, as Roosevelt High School coach Bill Resler might say, an entirely different type of blood-drawing, fang-baring animal.
When “Heart of the Game” introduces us to Resler, he’s painted as a most unlikely coach. Short and stout, he’s more cute/cuddly than stern/intimidating (all jowls and belly, Resler looks a bit like Mickey Rooney). But soon, we sit in jaw-dropping amazement as Resler fine-tunes the Roosevelt girls into a winning powerhouse. A University of Washington tax professor, Resler’s game-teacher is a true original. Assertive enough to tell a troubled team member to shape up or ship out, his true trump card is a shrewd, savvy sense of humor. Preferring to wield charm instead of intimidation, the colorful educator even voices his frustrations with laugh-worthy world play. “I tell them to do ABC,” he explains of his sometimes-maverick players, “then watch them do XYZ.”
Meanwhile, “Heart of the Game” reveals how basketball – or any sport, for that matter – provides high school age kids with a powerful means of sublimation. With hormones, turbulent romances, and future life decisions looming large, adolescence is a frustrating, anxiety-plagued time. A bit of the ol’ ultraviolence offers release. “I wish I could play football,” one player laments. Then her eyes widen, and you can almost see her drooling. “Be able to crunch someone to the ground. Watch them lay there.”
If Resler is master and commander of the film, Darnellia Russell supplies “Heart of the Game” with its hero factor. First appearing onscreen as a guarded ninth-grade player whose fiercely individual style goes against the grain of Resler’s team approach, she goes on the battle teammate jealousy, the stigma of pregnancy, and a suspenseful legal battle, before emerging self-actualized and victorious.
But Resler’s the true heart of this game, a man complex enough to command his team to “Draw Blood,” even as he tolerates having them toilet-paper his house and call him “Loose in the head, and not wrapped tight.” Perhaps his triumphant charm is best summarized in a post-win moment shared with his girls. Bathed in the lazy haze of victory, he asks them, “You know what rhymes with ‘bass flickin’? Then, with knowing eyes and a sunny grin, Resler exclaims, “I think I just saw one.”
SIFF wrapped up on June 18th, to the delight of exhausted publicists, fatigued program directors, and satiated viewers. A slough of awards followed, as recapped below.
BEST NEW DIRECTOR
-Grand Jury Prize: HOST & GUEST, directed by Shin Dong-il (South Korea)
“For its timely and universal story of two strangers moving towards common ground in an increasingly polarized world, told with great subtlety and emotional honesty.”–Jury Statement
-Special Jury Prize: GRAIN IN EAR, directed by Zhang Lu (China)
“For its minimal yet exacting portrait of a woman of poverty who chooses to be the agent of her destiny rather than a victim of circumstance, and for its bold juxtaposing of China’s harsh realities against the ghosts of Maoist idealism.” –Jury Statement
The Jury for the New Directors Showcase Competition was comprised of Scott Foundas (chief film critic and editor for LA Weekly), Caroline Libresco (senior programmer for Sundance Film Festival), and Oscar Torres (actor/writer/producer and winner of SIFF 2005 GSN for INNOCENT VOICES).
BEST NEW AMERICAN FILM
-Grand Jury Prize: LIVE FREE OR DIE, directed by Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin “In a competition of consistently high quality, the award for best new American Independent film goes to Gregg Kavet’s LIVE FREE OR DIE, for the meticulous crafting of its screenplay, its perfect ensemble cast and its outstanding use of High Definition cinematography.” –Jury Statement
-Special Jury Mention: MAN PUSH CART, actor Ahmed Razvi
The jury would like to give a special commendation to the actor Ahmed Razvi in the film MAN PUSH CART, for his skill in conveying such a wide range of emotions within the physical limitations of the space with which he was allowed to work, as well as the indelible realism of his acting performance.” –Jury Statement
The Jury for the New American Cinema competition was comprised of Robinson Devor (director of POLICE BEAT, nominated for 2006 Independent Spirit Award), Ann Donahue (news editor at Premiere magazine) and Jim Stark (producer, produced SIFF 2006 Gala Film FACTOTUM).
– Grand Jury Prize: GITMO: THE NEWS RULES OF WAR, directed Erik Gandini and Tarik Sale
“This timely and important investigation illuminates the crux of an issue that has not been sufficiently explored in mainstream media. Its formal structure exposes the process of the investigation while highlighting the degree of obstruction or cooperation of its subjects.” –Jury Statement
-Special Jury Mention: WALKING TO WERNER, directed by Linas Phillips
“An unconventional and completely charming film that offers not only entertainment but also spiritual depth and an homage to an important and original filmmaker.” –Jury Statement
The Jury for Best Documentary is comprised of Kay Armatage (Professor of Film Studies at Innis College, Toronto and former member of Toronto Film Festival programming team), Brian Brooks (associate editor at indieWIRE), Caroline Cumming (Executive Director of 911 Media Arts).
BEST SHORT FILM
Best Narrative Short
-Grand Jury Prize: BEFORE DAWN, director Balint Kenyeres?”;l0kjhgfd
-Special Jury Mention: MOTHER, director Sian Heder
Best Animated Short
-Grand Jury Prize: RINGO, director Dave Monahan
-Special Jury Mentions: FUMI AND THE BAD LUCK FOOT, director David Chai; and MARVELOUS, KEEN LOONY BIN, director Lizzi Akana
Best Documentary Short
-Grand Jury Prize: LOT 63, GRAVE C, director Sam Green
-Special Jury Mention: UNDRESSING MY MOTHER, director Ken Wardrop
The Jury for Short Films is comprised of Jason Reitman (director, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING), Anita Monga (programmer for Palm Springs International Film Festival), and George Wing (screenwriter, 50 FIRST DATES).
GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AUDIENCE AWARDS
Best Film: OSS 117: NEST OF SPIES, director Michel Hazanavicius (France)
1st Runner Up for Best Picture is WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY directed by Goran Dukic (USA); 2nd Runner Up is ELSA & FRED directed by Marcos Carnevale (Spain); 3rd Runner Up is QUINCEAÑERA by directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer (USA); and 4th Runner Up is LASSIE directed by Charles Sturridge (Ireland).
Best Documentary: THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT, directors Rickie Stern and Annie Sundberg (USA)
1st Runner Up for Best Documentary is HEART OF THE GAMEM directed by Ward Serrill (USA); 2nd Runner Up is AMERICAN BLACKOUTdirected by Ian Inaba; 3rd Runner Up is WRESTLING WITH ANGELS: PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER directed by Freida Lee Mock (USA); and 4th Runner Up is WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? directed by Chris Paine.
Best Director: Goran Dukic, WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY (USA)
1st Runner Up for Best Director is Andrucha Waddington, HOUSE OF SAND (Spain); 2ND Runner Up is Marco Tullio Giordana, ONCE YOU’RE BORN YOU CAN NO LONGER HIDE (Italy); 3rd Runner Up is Jean-Marc Vallee, C.R.A.Z.Y. (Canada); and 4th Runner Up is Ishai Setton, THE BIG BAD SWIM (USA).
Best Actress: Fiona Gordon, THE ICEBERG (Belgium)
1st Runner Up for Best Actress is Sigourney Weaver, SNOW CAKE (Canada/UK); 2nd Runner Up is Fernanda Montenegro, HOUSE OF SAND (Spain); 3rd Runner Up is China Zorilla, ELSA & FRED (Spain); and 4th Runner Up is Shareeka Epps, HALF NELSON (USA).
Best Actor: Ryan Gosling, HALF NELSON (USA)
1st Runner Up for Best Actor is Alan Rickman, SNOW CAKE (Canada/UK); 2nd Runner Up is Chris Tashima, AMERICANESE (USA); 3rd Runner Up is Ulrich Thomsen, ADAM’S APPLES (Denmark); and 4th Runner Up is David Dencik, A SOAP (Denmark).
Best Short: FULL DISCLOSURE, directed by Douglas Horn (USA)
1st Runner Up for Best Short is HEAVY METAL JR. directed by Chris Waitt (Scotland); 2nd Runner Up is THE LEGEND OF THE SCARECROW directed by Marco Besas (Spain); 3rd Runner Up is K-7 directed by Christopher Leone (USA); and 4th Runner Up is CHOQUE directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Spain).
Winner for Best Short Film will receive a brand new 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo MacBook Pro courtesy of the Mac Store/IrisInk. The Best Short Film winner also receives $1,000 of Kodak color negative motion picture film from Eastman Kodak Company.
Women in Cinema Lena Sharpe Award: Freida Lee Mock, WRESTLING WITH ANGELS: PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER
WaveMaker Award for Excellence in Youth Filmmaking: SLIP OF THE TONGUE, directed by Karen Lum.
WaveMaker Honorable Mention: REZ LIFE, directed by Nick Clark, Martin Edwards and David Aleck
FutureWave Audience Award: THE DRIVE THRU, produced by Stacey Rozich, Matt Lewis, Jesse Lomax and Ashley Russell