Tonight in Seattle:  

Film

SIFF 2011 Opening Weekend Highlights

Venice

Yep, it's time for the 2011 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival. Can you feel the excitement? Have you carefully perused the printed schedule and SIFF website? Do you have a fresh bottle of Visine on hand? Are you standing in queue already?

Ready or not, the action gets underway this Thursday 5/19 with the usual big Opening Night Gala at McCaw Hall (featuring the not-great film The First Grader, details below) and continuing through 6/12 with 189 feature films and 150 shorts (most grouped into 18 themed shorts packages) from 74 countries. The action takes place at 19 venues around and outside town, covering Renton, Everett, Kirkland, Ballard, West Seattle, Cap Hill, Queen Anne, Downtown, and the U-district (where the beloved Neptune becomes a movie palace one more time, complete with new seats and a bar [!], before re-launching as a music venue this summer). Whew, I'm exhausted already.

Amie filled you in on ticketing last week, then gave you a peek at the Northwest Connections and Face the Music programs. Should you find yourself having trouble navigating all the other cinema-rific offerings  from this year's schedule (which can be found at siff.net or in printed form at the ticket counter at Pacific Place, or at your nearest Starbucks, or at a variety of other spots around town), take note of this year's ten program "pathways", which divvy up the features and shorts programs into themed groups, hopefully making things easier for the overwhelmed potential SIFFer: Creative Streak (imaginative, inventive, innovative), Face the Music (mentioned previously, music or musician-centric), Love Me Do! (lovey stories in their many forms), Make Me Laugh (comedy, duh), Open My Eyes (expanded horizons, via world vistas and the like), Sci-Fi and Beyond (speculative fiction to sciencey nonfiction), Spellbinding Stories (provocative plots), Take Me Away (get transported), Thrill Me (shocks and chills aplenty), and To the Extreme (avoid if you are on psychotropic or heart meds).

General festival how-tos and FAQs can be found here.

So are you ready now? We of the TIG SIFF crew sure are, and while we won't be able to alert you about everything before it comes to a theater near you, we'll be keeping you current on a good number of selections that are unmissable, skippable, or somewhere in between. Because, let's face it, not everything can be a masterpiece.

Let's get started with fifteen of the films coming up opening weekend (May 19-22), shall we?

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SIFF Preview: Shortsfest

{SIFF's 2011 Shortsfest Weekend screens between 5/27 and 5/30 at SIFF Cinema}

There are lots of ways to make your own personal festival out of SIFF. Maybe you only want to see German films, love stories, or animated escapades. One niche that SIFF carves out into its own show-within-a-show are short films. While some shorts will screen before features, a collection of the really good stuff has been grouped into a weekend of mini-film festival goodness. Beginning on May 27th with Shortsfest Opening Night and concluding on May 30th with Shortsfest Closing Night, you can spend your entire four day memorial day weekend watching these bite sized pieces of cinema. And at $100 ($75 for members) it's one of the most inexpensive pass options going this year (individual tickets also available at SIFF.net or the box office).

The films are grouped up into rough themes and screened in sets of 5-10 per 90 minute (or so) block. I've been lucky enough to watch five of the packages so far. I always enjoy throwing a few shorts sets into the SIFF mix, as you're almost guaranteed to like a few of them. Watching shorts to me is akin to Seattle's weather. Don't like it at present?, that's OK, just wait 15 minutes. As someone who has traveled specifically to shorts festivals such as the scorcher that's Palm Springs Shortsfest in late June, I can happily report that this year's Seattle offerings are some of the strongest I've seen to date. The hit to miss ratio is very satisfying. Even if you don't normally like shorts, I'd really encourage you to pick a package that sounds good and give it a try. Odds are you won't be disappointed.

Below are some brief notes of the packages I've seen with callouts for some of the most positively memorable contributions. All the packages have more films than I'm mentioning - it's likely your highlights may be different than mind, which is a big part of the fun.

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Win tix to SIFF's Opening Night Gala! {5/19}

The First Grader

Calling all fellow SIFFers! The generous folks at the Seattle International Film Festival have offered us two tickets for this year's Opening Night Gala (which happens this! Thursday! May! 19!). Wanna put on some nice duds and hobknob with Seattle cinephiles at McCaw Hall?

Send an email to tig {at} threeimaginarygirls dot com with the subject line "SIFF Rulez" by Wednesday, 5/18 at noon for a chance to win. We'll choose a winner using our imaginary randomness method, and email them back with a confirmation! Your free tickets get you and a friend in to kick-off the festival in style with a screening of The First Grader, as well as two complementary drink tickets and tables of delish appetizers from local restaurants at the post-film party. If you've never been, I HIGHLY recommend it (bring your camera for photos on the red carpet!).

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SIFF Preview: Face the Music

Backyard

It goes without saying that most of us imaginaries get more PSYCHED about the Seattle International Film Festival’s Face the Music program than anything else at the fest. There’s always a ton of great films and events that feature music, from documentaries to re-imaginings of a famous musician’s life.

This year, there are quite a few that we’re excited about. Backyard is a story about a guy that wanted to put on a small show for his friends with bands he was truly passionate about that grew into kind of a big deal. This intimate doc showcases Reykjavik’s up-and-coming indie music scene. Hit So Hard details Hole drummer Patty Schemel’s tumultuous life—reportedly including some never-before-seen video of Kurt and Courtney—while Who Took the Bomp? follows electro-pop group Le Tigre (YAYYYYY!) on tour from 2004-2005.

Over on the fiction side of things, Mario Van Peebles’ latest: Black, White, and Blues, takes us on a road trip with a bluesman hoping to recover his mojo, Funkytown details late-70s disco debauchery, and Killing Bono tells the story of two brothers in a band hoping to break into super stardom in late 70s Dublin, but get eclipsed by another fast-rising band called U2 (yup, it's that Bono). Roadie is about a middle-aged dude who doesn’t know what to do once his dream job hauling gear for Blue Oyster Cult (!!!) ends, and Surrogate Valentine is a sweet tale about a San Francisco musician (Goh Nakamura) teaching a musically-challenged TV star how to play—and also features some great Seattle scenery. And of course, I have to mention Moulin Rouge!, in which Ewan McGregor makes me all swoony by singing mashed-up 80s and 90s tunes in the most adorbs way possible. 

Once you’ve had your fill of cinematic glory, grab a date and head to The Triple Door to see Damien Jurado and the Russian Avant-Garde, wherein one of TIG’s favorite singer-songwriters provides a unique soundtrack to Russian filmmaker Dimitri Kirsanoff’s shorts. For those that crave some down-home gritty folk music, the musicians behind the music from Winter’s Bone are performing live, and you can also indulge in what is sure to be the trippiest event at SIFF this year—Douglas Fairbanks’ 1924 silent film The Thief of Bagdad, married with the music of E.L.O. (that's Electric Light Orchestra, kids) by popular DJ Shadoe Stevens (um. what).

Basically, the Face the Music program this year rocks as hard as always, and there’s plenty to see for music-lovers of every genre. Make a schedule of your must-sees, buy some tix, and go go go!

Photo from: Backyard

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SIFF Preview: Northwest Connections

Late Autumn

Man oh man. The Seattle International Film Festival’s Northwest Connections showcase ALWAYS thrills me, as I love to see what innovative NW filmmakers they’ve picked from the talented submitters, as well as who shot films here, and what I can recognize in them. Here are few top picks from the long, long list!

The Catechism Cataclysm apparently involves a priest on sabbatical and a pair of Japanese tourists recreating the river journey in Huckleberry Finn (what the), it’s been gaining steady word-of-mouth for massive hilarity, and was produced by Seattle-based filmmaker Megan Griffiths—who also directed Sundance favorite The Off Hours (which is here in the NW Connections program too). And Late Autumn follows a pair of ill-fated lovers through the streets of Seattle.

WWU graduate, poet, photographer, songwriter and filmmaker Caleb Young directed the touching Do You See Colors When You Close Your Eyes? about coping with family tragedy, and horror-master John Carpenter hauled his cast & crew to Eastern WA in order to shoot his first film in nine years, The Ward: a spooky atmospheric tale about a woman in a haunted asylum. Also filmed in Washington is Marrow, a psychological thriller that frankly, looks all kinds of MESSED UP, and Without—a haunting debut from Seattle native Mark Jackson, set on Whidbey Island. And then of course, there’s Treatment: the directing debut of our own beloved Sean Nelson (co-directed with Steven Schardt), about an LA filmmaker who lies about addiction to check himself into rehab in order to land an A-list actor being treated there. Nelson also has a role (+ a bit part in The Off Hours! That guy is all over the place…), and we know he’ll light up the screen. Treatment also has a score by Robyn Hitchcock!!!

NW Documentaries include Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians, in which we learn how Seattle-based Churchteam reaps serious profits from casinos for the lord (how did I NOT know about this before?), How to Die in Oregon about a woman’s choice to end her life under OR's Death with Dignity clause (bring some tissue, folks), and A Lot Like You, which follows Seattle filmmaker Eli Kimaro back home to Tanzania as she uncovers some long hidden family secrets (yeesh. Mebbe go to Costco and stock up on a palette of Kleenex). In addition to all these and tons more, there’s a package of shorts called Seattle Stories to get through, which covers everything from buskers and street artists to retinas (ew).

Huzzah! Support local filmmakers by getting out to see at least a few of these during SIFF's 2011 run.

Photo from: Late Autumn

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Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids

{Bridesmaids opened in Seattle on Friday May 13th, and is playing at The Big Picture, Pacific Place, the Metro, and Oak Tree Cinemas}

Hi, my name is Rich and I'm a big fan of romantic comedies. But even if you don't have this particular personal problem quirk, I think most people will find something to laugh seriously at in Bridesmaids. If you're male and in a dating situation it also has the benefit of appearing to be a chick flick while (I'm pretty confident) appealing to a broad population.

Guys - don't worry, this isn't like Sex in the City 2, where you went to be nice and spent the next two and a half hours deciding if the downside of clawing your eyes out outweighs the benefits of not having to see what was going on for the rest of the picture. That said, Bridesmaids isn't is a film to bring your young daughters (or sons) to...unless you want to expand their vocabulary a bit, and not in the workplace acceptable way.

Even the most casual film viewer from the last hundred years will recognize the story and the milestones along the way. Annie (Kristen Wiig), a woman without a lot of luck in love or business, struggles with emotional baggage while serving as her best friend Lillian's (Maya Rudolph) Maid of Honor.

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Louder Than a Bomb

{Louder than a Bomb opened at SIFF Cinema on Friday, May 6. Director Jon Siskel and artist Lamar Jorden are expected to attend both the Friday and Saturday screenings}

Louder Than a Bomb is an annual team poetry slam contest that began in 2001.  The contestants being students representing around sixty Chicago area schools. It's also the title of a dynamic and uplifting documentary about that event.

On the surface it feels as though the picture closely follows the template of other docs about schools kids challenging themselves via a unique after school activity (think Spellbound or Mad Hot Ballroom). That's a formula for a reason, so there's no reason to hold it against them. But in reality, the film peaks in a way that's somewhat different and is dramatically very effective.

The filmmakers followed four teams, and this film absolutely shines due to the energy and raw skill of the high school age participants. This isn't quite the poetry I remember from my high school writing club (and not just because of the lesser focus on death and suicide). It's raw and powerful, and chronicles both the joy and the anguish in the students' lives. The film gets the feel so right that there are moments where it's an act of will not to jump up and cheer along with the slam audience onscreen.

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Latest comment by: Imaginary Rich: "

Thanks guys. While I loved the film I had a hard time writing about it - felt seriously inadequate compared to the poets.

Speaking of films that could get lost in the shuffle. Since you've seen Louder than a Bomb already you might want to ...

Something Borrowed

Something Borrowed

{Something Borrowed opened in Seattle on Friday, May 6, and is playing at the Metro, Meridian, and Oak Tree Cinemas}

I'd like to tell you that Something Borrowed takes a gutsy stab at making something painfully unfunny, funny - but honestly, there's just no way to spin "sleeping with your best friend's fiance" into something hilarious, no matter how hard you try to pad it with stereotypes and OMG! LOL! moments.

This packed-with-cliches rom-com is dependent on many unbelievable things. The first of which is that best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson) is so smoking hot that no one would take a second look at Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) - which is of course, incredibly ridiculous. Even if you stick Goodwin in plain clothes and bad hair, hi. She's still GORGEOUS.

That doesn' t really matter though, because Rachel is such a sad-sack doormat that she let Darcy steal the man of her dreams years earlier because "hot guys don't go out with girls like me". Uh. or something.

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The 2011 SIFF Schedule is live! I repeat! The 2011 SIFF Schedule is live!!!

SIFF 2011

Hey! You! There! The official 37th Seattle International Film Festival scedule is online at siff.net for perusal and ticket-purchasing goodness! (the crowd roars)

Opening night is Thursday, May 19th - and I highly recommend you snap up tix to that immediately, and to see the ever-adorable and RAWR-worthy Ewan McGregor take the stage, because both will SELL OUT FAST. Not to mention, the film they're showing at the EW tribute looks super-cute. You can buy tickets and plan your schedule online, or show up in person at the SIFF Box Offices at 400 9th Ave. N (or on the 2nd level of Pacific Place) to purchase. Once the festival is underway, you can pick up tickets at any SIFF venue. One more cool thing: iPhone users can use the SIFFter app - which is also online - to narrow down choices by genre, country, venue, day, and time, and purchase tickets right from your phone.

Other note-worthy picks: pay special attention to the Face the Music choices (a Damien Jurado performance!) and the NW Connections program, featuring the co-directorial debut of one Mr. Sean Nelson (!!!).

HAPPY SIFFING!

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Latest comment by: Imaginary Amie: "

Liz, I know! With press privileges and being able to preview what's playing for weeks and weeks and weeks, my list is super long. :) We should coordinate to see if we'll be at the same screenings!

"

Recommended Event: MOHAI & SIFF's 1st Annual "History Is ___" Awards Gala {5/7}

MOHAI | SIFF History Is...
Love NW filmmakers? Interested in learning more about the filmmaking community in Seattle? And SIFF previews? And drinks and snacks - do you like drinks and snacks? I do. Anyway! You can get all this stuff and more this Saturday {May 7} at The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), when the Seattle International Film Festival co-hosts their first annual "History Is ____" Awards Gala!

Prepare for an evening emceed by Robert Horton and packed with film goodness, as the winners of the "History Is ____" film competition are announced, local filmmakers are introduced, and a sneak peek at trailers from SIFF's NW Connections 2011 program is seen. Stick around for the after-party to meet Northwest filmmakers, have a few drinks, and get down on the dance floor. SIFF programmers will also be in attendance to offer up tips on must-see festival films!

Snag a ticket to the awards for $12 ($8 for SIFF or MOHAI Members, $5 for students 18 & under), or grab a $20 ticket ($15 for Members) for after-party access, which includes 1 free drink.

Schedule:
(The awards event is open to all ages.)

6-7pm: Welcome reception (coffee, cupcakes, lemonade)
7-8:30pm: Program and awards ceremony with special guests
8-11pm: After-party (cash bar, hors d’oeuvres, DJ)

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