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Come into the dark - SIFF is waiting
by Greg Ursic

It’s marathon movie time again as SIFF (the Seattle International Film Festival) celebrates its 32nd anniversary. If you’re from the Emerald City, there’s no excuse not to take in a flick or twenty: running for 25 days from May 25th to June 18th SIFF will screen 419 films (both full features and shorts) from 60 different countries.

In addition to all the individual screenings, the programmers have once again put together a collection of themed showcases to appeal to specific tastes. Some examples inlude the spotlight on Denmark, The Emerging Masters and the Face the Music series. For Cinephiles enamoured of the Golden Age of Cinema, the ever popular Archival Series returns with a collection of rarely screened classics including Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, The Scarlet Letter and Rome Open City.

If you’re more of a casual moviegoer or like your flicks a little edgier, don’t worry, they haven’t overlooked you - check out the Midnight Adrenaline or Alternative series which feature darker and more offbeat themes. Finally, if you don’t know what you want, buy a pass for the Secret Festival, which gets you into a screening every Sunday during the festival. The only drawback is love em or hate em, you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement and can never talk about them. If you can’t find a film you’ll enjoy, you’re simply not trying hard enough.

There are 6 main venues for the festival: four are downtown, one in the University District and a new venue in Bellevue.

Broadway Performance Hall
1625 Broadway (Broadway and Pine)• 206.325.3113
801 E. Pine St. (across the street from the Broadway Performance Hall)
Harvard Exit
807 E. Roy St. (Roy and Broadway)
Pacific Place Cinemas
600 Pine Street (Pine and 6th)

University District
1303 NE 45th St (45th and Roosevelt)

Lincoln Square
700 Bellevue Way N.E.

Getting there and away

If you don’t have a car, there are multiple metro routes that service each of the venues. For specific information, check out the SIFF festival guide page 297, but if in doubt remember that the #49 will get you near all the downtown venues and the Neptune. You can catch it at 6th and Pike. For more information, pick up a King County Transit Map and Rider’s Guide, or go online at

Adam’s Apples
Country: Denmark
Year: 2005
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
When Adam, a paroled neo-nazi, sarcastically states that his goal is to bake a cake, he’s put in charge of the church’s apple tree, which is quickly attacked by a series of plagues. Ivan, the delusional overly optimistic priest who presides over the halfway house /church is convinced that it is the work of Satan, which sets the stage for a skewed battle of good against evil.

The calming pastoral setting serves as the perfect background for Jensen’s tale of redemption with a twist: the only character in touch with reality among this cast of misfits is the amoral Adam, who emerges as an antihero of sorts. Ulrich Thomsen and Mads Mikkelsen are outstanding as Adam and Ivan respectively, and carry this character driven piece on its darkly humorous journey that challenges the very concepts of right and wrong. Perfect for cynics and optimists alike.


Boy Culture
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Q. Allan Brocka
X, a thirty-something hustler, embraces anti-intimacy as he tries to balance tricks, crushing on one of his roommates and extinguishing another roommate’s crush. When X meets an older client who wants to get to know him, X struggles to deal with the ensuing flood of emotions

It’s fitting that SIFF’s first annual Gay-la Extravaganza should feature a film set in Seattle and directed by a U-dub graduate. The script boasts some snappy dialogue and the occasional insight, but the story moves too slowly and what should be an emotional journey morphs into a flat and less than satisfying intellectual exercise. In addition, the main characters fail to gel in any coherent manner, especially the relationship between Andrew and X characters which feels forced

Conversations With Other Women
Country: USA
Year: 2005
Director: Hans Canosa
A man and woman meet at a wedding reception and their instant attraction is evident. As the evening progresses it becomes apparent that there may be more to their kismet than a simple chance meeting. Or is that simply what they’d have us believe?

Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter’s exchanges, backed up by Gabrielle Zevin’s real-world dialogue solidly anchor the film. It is Canosa’s decision to split the screen however that ultimately makes or breaks the experience. Although I initially found it gimmicky and off-putting, Canosa uses it as an effective tool to simultaneously examine past, present and potential encounters. An engaging film that demands your attention, it is sure to generate a lot of art house buzz.


Evil Aliens
Country: UK
Year: 2005
Director: Jake West
When meddling aliens interrupt a Welsh couple’s nocturnal coupling, reality tv reporter Michelle Fox and her crew are dispatched to an isolated island to investigate the very pregnant young woman’s claims. What starts out as a lark, leads to a conflict with potentially galactic consequences.

West’s surprisingly polished effort is equal parts Evil-Dead and Alien, with a smattering of Monty Python and the X-Files thrown in for good measure. It’s also extremely gory (but in a Monty Python Black Knight kind of way): between messy cattle mutilations (much to the chagrin of the trio of Welsh-only speaking inbred farmhands) and humans and aliens alike being eviscerated, most scenes are awash in a spray of blood and body parts. Darkly amusing.


Country: Canada
Year: 2005
Director: Louise Archambault
When yet another relationship implodes, the perpetually irresponsible Mimi once again picks up the shamble of her life, including her teenaged daughter and sets off on a mooching journey. Her “friend” Janine agrees to take them in temporarily and Sylvie quickly opens old wounds and sets everyone on a journey of self-discovery.
Are we a product of our genes, our environment or both? Those are questions addressed by Archambault who wrote and directed Familia, a film that’s so good that it’s bad– but in a good way. I couldn’t help but cringe repeatedly as characters unknowingly relived the follies of their parents and tried to figure things out. Sylvie Moreau is disquietingly brilliant as Mimi providing a bang on portrayal of someone who is a slave to their addiction. While it is difficult to watch at times, it is well worth the effort.


Gitmo: The New Rules of War
Country: Sweden/Denmark
Year: 2005
Director: Erik Gandini / Tarik Saleh
In 2001, Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish citizen, was arrested by US forces in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanmo where he languished for two and a half years without ever having been charged with a crime. Upon his release in 2004, he held a one-time press conference detailing the torture he experienced, a claim which the US government has not refuted.

While the filmmakers found it easy to get to Gitmo – the army provides a free flight from Puerto Rico for journalists – getting any real information proved nearly impossible: observers are not permitted in the actual prison, nor are they permitted to speak with detainees or soldiers about the prison. Their ongoing investigations in the US yielded disturbing information including direct links between the torture methods at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and how high up the conspiracy went.

Sadly, the directors sandbag their best opportunity to leave viewers with a lasting impression, when, for some unknown reason, they chose not to use subtitles for the press conference and interviews – conducted in Swedish - with the former detainee and his father. To say that I was annoyed is a massive understatement.


Life With My Father
Country: Canada
Year: 2005
Director: Sébastien Rose
The only thing brothers Patrick, a big time pharmaceutical executive, and Paul, a freelance pharmacist, have in common is their parents. Soon after their freewheeling father returns from a non-stop bacchanalia on the continent Patrick’s wife kicks him out of the house and the trio takes up residence in their father’s decrepit homestead.
Anyone familiar with Quebecois cinema will recognize the thematic elements of this film i.e. the uptight son looking to make amends with his ill bohemian father, except in this instance an equally shiftless brother is thrown into the mix. Raymond Bouchard’s shining performance as the quirky patriarch notwithstanding, there isn’t enough to make this anymore than The Barbarian Invasions lite.

The Method
Country: Spain/Argentina/Italy
Year: 2005
Director: Marcelo Pineyro

When seven corporate heavy hitters arrive for a group interview it’s soon evident they learn that they’re going to be evaluated using the mysterious Gronholm Method – an HR strategy developed in the US. The candidates must uncover the imposter among them as they struggle through a maze of challenges that will test their abilities and fortitude, all the while ignoring the anti-globalization protests raging outside. Your job counselor never prepared you for this.

Pineyro has crafted hybrid that is equal parts The Apprentice and Survivor with some BF Skinner psychological torture thrown in for good measure. He skewers the win-at-all-costs corporate culture, a milieu where no good deed goes unpunished and allies are more important than friends. The cast deliberately vacillates between likable and loathsome leaving viewers with ambiguous loyalties. Finally, cinematographer Alfredo Mayo deserves kudos for rendering the office setting as spacious one moment and claustrophobic the next. If you ever interview with a company that lists The Method among its training videos, run.


Country: Denmark
Year: 1996
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Frank and Tonny are low level drug dealers who “test” their product a little too often. When presented with a lucrative opportunity, Frank takes out a big loan with Milo the local crime lord. And then everything goes wrong. Frank becomes desperate and increasingly violent as he struggles to recoup his losses until he has nowhere left to turn.

While many filmmakers glamorize both drugs and the dealers, Refn exposes the ugly realities of the drug trade and the toll it takes on people’s lives. His documentary approach gives the film its gritty edge, and he continually ratchets up the tension so the audience never gets the chance to really relax. Kim Bodina is superb as Frank, the manic sociopath trying to find a way out. Pusher resonated with audiences when it was released and hasn’t lost any of its impact a decade later.


Pusher 2: With Blood on My Hands
Pusher 3: I’m the Angel of Death
Country: Denmark
Year: 2004/2005
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

In Pusher 2, Tonny, Frank’s clueless partner from Part I is released from prison, and goes to work for his father, a vicious gangster who barely tolerates him. Tonny discovers that he is a father and suddenly finds himself stuck with another dealer’s debt. Staggering under his newfound responsibilities, Tonny opts for a surprising solution.
In Pusher 3, Milo, the drug czar from Part I, struggles to balance NA meetings, with preparations for his spoiled daughter’s birthday party, as he tries to make amends with the Albanian mob after a botched drug deal. Needless to say, things do not go smoothly, and the trilogy ends with an unexpected reunion and a bloody finale.
Mired in debt after his third film flopped at the box office, Refn returned to familiar territory for his trilogy. Instead of simply banging out a set of cheesy sequels, Refn infuses them with the same gravitas and attention to detail that made his freshmen effort shine and revisiting the characters a decade later also proves to be an effective hook. Mads Mikkelssen,(Tonny), Zlatko Buric (Milo) and Slavko Labovic (Radovan) are wonderfully subdued in their respective roles.
P2 3.5/5 P3 3.5/5

Quincenera –
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Wash Westmoreland/Richard Glatzer
Months shy of her Quincenera –fifteenth birthday celebration – Magdalena is kicked out of the house after her father discovers that she’s pregnant. She moves in with her great uncle, and exiled cousin forming a makeshift family that struggles to adapt to the rapidly changing neighbourhood.

Rare is the film that features a largely Latin American cast and rarer still is one that doesn’t portray them as gang bangers or manual laborers. Quincenera provides an insight into this vibrant culture and the challenges it faces as gentrification reshapes the neighbourhoods they’ve called home for generations. Westmoreland and Glazter also highlight the delicate balance between tradition and acceptance in families, masterfully personified by Chalo Gonzalez’s Uncle Tomas, the nonjudgmental family mentor. In addition, Emily Rios and Jesse Garcia’s Magadalena bring out the essential elements in their multi-faceted characters without lapsing into melodrama or stereotype.

Ski Jumping Pairs - Road to Torino –
Country: Japan
Year: 2005
Director: Mashima Riichiro/Kobayashi Masaki
After an accidental discovery, Tokyo professor Harada Toshifumi spends decades trying to establish pairs ski-jumping as an Olympic event and uses his twin sons to prove its feasibility. The sport proves to be a wild success, and his sons become the darlings of the circuit, until, at their peak, tragedy strikes.
This mockumentary, an extended version of Mashima Riichrio’s graduate film, boasts a varied cast of competitors, officials and mad scientists, as well as a series of amusing computer-animated sequences (the motivational session is the best). Unfortunately at 82 minutes its just far too long and they end up recycling too many of the gags, resulting in a flat second half.

This Film is Not Yet Rated
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Kirby Dick
There has long been confusion over the sex/violence dichotomy in movie ratings: you can kill a busload of nuns and get an R, but have two semi-naked nuns kiss and boom, instant NC-17. Independent filmmakers have experienced further inequities, receiving tougher ratings than the studio films for identical content. Something stinks in the state of California, and this time it ain’t the smog.
Kirby Dick uses a mountain of movie clips, and interviews with both mainstream and indie directors to expose the hypocrisy within the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). He also relies on some old fashioned skullduggery to shine some light on the MPAA’s “mystery” panel of “average” parents and the cabal that hears ratings appeals. The results are a thoroughly engaging documentary that will both shock and amuse viewers. Hopefully it will also serve as a catalyst for change in the industry. A must-see film for cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike.

Who Killed The Electric Car?
Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Chris Paine
In 1997, in response to California’s Zero Emissions Mandate, GM unveiled the EV-1, a sporty emissions-free electric car, which proved to be virtually trouble free and anyone lucky enough to lease one, couldn’t say enough about it. The question is, if they were so great, where are they now?

Rarely does a documentary piss me off as much as this one did. Paine outlines how an auto giant designed a vehicle that struck an excellent balance between the needs of both consumers and the environment. Then, he proceeds to reveal how said Car Company, in collusion with the federal government, and big oil, spent millions to kill it. Well researched, packed with interviews it ranges between hilarity and outrage, Who Killed the Electric Car proves that some conspiracies are real.


Whole New Thing
Country: Canada
Year: 2005
Director: Amnon Buchbinder
Home schooled in a rural setting by his eco-hippie parents for the better part of a decade, Emerson’s flagging math skills necessitate his enrollment in public school, where his socialization is complicated by isolationist tendencies. Emerson’s burgeoning sexual awareness and an unhealthy crush on his same-sex teacher further complicate matters.
An atypical gay coming of age story, Buchbinder spends equal time examining family dynamics, in this instance, the effects of empty nest syndrome. The writing is tight, the story flows well and both Rebecca Jenkins and Daniel MacIvor deliver standout performances. The weak link in the production for me was Aaron Webber (Emerson) – I found him grating whenever he was onscreen and the repeated shots of his semi-clothed pasty prepubescent form were downright creepy.

Country: USA
Year: 2006
Director: Patrick Creadon
For 12 years, New York Times editor and “enigmatologist” Will Shortz, along with puzzlemaker Merl Reagle has been testing and torturing a generation of crossword puzzle addicts. The pinnacle for their legion of maze masochists is the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament where neither age nor past success counts for anything. Commence nailbiting.
While I found it interesting that the puzzles are designed so that they look identical if you flip them 180 degrees on their access, and that their difficulty increases as the week progresses, it’s the people that draw you into Wordplay. Whether he’s focussing on the amiable Shortz, the celebrity crossworders, or the somewhat eccentric competitors, Creadon maintains a breezy, lighthearted tone that is entertaining.

This of course provides only a glimpse into the wide array of films on offer. For more information on showtimes, venues, ticket avaiilablity, etc., check out SIFF online at

If you're looking for some more recommendations you can check out hard copies of Seattle’s weekly papers available free throughout the city. Or you can check them out online: The Stranger at or The Seattle Weekly at Failing that, you can always talk to one of the diehards next to you in line – I guarantee they’d be more than willing to share their suggestions.

So grab a popcorn, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. And for the sake of others, please leave your cellphone and any other noise making devices at home. Everyone will thank you in advance.

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originally posted: 06/05/06 13:19:34
last updated: 06/30/06 14:55:40
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