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Ah, SIFF. Back again, so soon, in all its magnificent, bloated, astonishing, brilliant, annoying, magical, all-consuming glory. "Go inside film, get outside yourself," says this year's marketing tagline. I've been outside myself quite a lot these past ten days, and as I approach my 30th screening I submit for your approval a few assorted musings on my experience so far.
First, let’s get this perennial gripe out of the way now and I promise not to mention it again during SIFF '10: the Egyptian Theatre’s restroom situation leaves much to be desired. Especially if you happen to be male. This has been the case during all eleven SIFFs I’ve been fortunate enough to attend, and I wager it’s not going to change anytime soon. (Proximity to the door and hallway are one thing, but would it kill them to at least install a splashguard somewhere in the few scant centimeters between the two urinals?) For those of you who’ve never endured it, let’s just say it’s not a setup that accommodates crowds well. Those of us with any degree of modesty have learned the hard way that unless you get in there during a non-peak window (i.e., the middle of a screening) it’s just best to arrange for business to be handled elsewhere beforehand, to prepare for an Egyptian screening the way you prepare for surgery (no food or liquid after midnight), or to shut up and suffer in silence. Can I get an amen, fellas?
But many of the other typical SIFF annoyances of years past haven’t seemed so intense so far: the queues haven’t been bad at all (especially when you arrive five minutes before a screening as I tend to do – an ill-advised strategy but I’m nothing if not honest), audience behavior has actually been ok (occasional inevitable popcorn-crunching and cellophane-rattling aside), and this year’s pre-film SIFF bumpers are holding up well to repeat viewings (though why would The Nightmare Before Christmas be a September film?). But it’s early yet; ask me about these again next week at this time.
So opening weekend was Shortsfest – most of which took place at SIFF Cinema, a lovely venue with a far more favorable lavatory scenario – and I made it to the Ambiente and (Amie's favorite) Pandemonium Boulevard packages there. I enjoyed most of the shorts, hated at least one per set (par for the course), and didn't come away considering anything a bona fide classic. Same goes for the Straight From NPR program at the (WC-deficient – oops, sorry, last time I'll mention it I swear) Egyptian; I left it, my bladder full to bursting, wishing for a bit more This American Life and a bit less All Things Considered.
Speaking of creative nonfiction, documentaries succumbing to the too-long-for-comfort tendency (I'm looking at you, The Oath) should take a cue from Queen of the Sun, an enlightening and briskly-paced enviro-doc about the alarmingly poor state of the US honeybee population. It's no Food, Inc. or Fresh or (director Taggart Siegel's more well-known film) The Real Dirt on Farmer John, but it would make a good companion piece to any of these for the agri-conscious eco-citizen. Other non-fic delights to date have included Alamar (about a Mexican coastal-fisherman father imparting Mayan heritage to his citified lil' son), Restrepo (harrowing first-hand account of US soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley), and The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (which ChrisB liked a lot too).
On the fiction side, I've been enchanted by The Hedgehog (based on Muriel Barbery's dark and hilarious novel), roused by the great Ferzan Ozpetek's gay Italian confection Loose Cannons, heartbroken and hope-filled by the French movie-family-in-crisis drama Father of My Children, and enthralled by The Maldives' live-scored Riders of the Purple Sage.
But the highlight of week one – and when all's said and done, possibly of my SIFF '10 in general – was the ravishingly gorgeous I Am Love. It's the Savage Grace of this festival – an arty, grandiose, diva-fronted eurodrama that I can't get out of my mind but which is virtually unrecommendable to most people I know. Many will find it deliberate, slow, and overly talkative. I find it a near-masterpiece, with its operatic, glistening mix of lifestyle porn (oh my God, wealthy Milan!) and food porn (Tilda Swinton gets her groove back with a hot young chef whose delectable treats aren't limited to the well-appointed kitchen). Director Luca Guadagnino is one to watch.
The joy of SIFF is its international-ness, the glimpses of elsewhere-life it provides. So far audiences have been given opportunities to hang out with the motley crew of regulars at an American-style soul food diner in Hamburg (Soul Kitchen), observe the long-term effects of Sri Lanka's civil war (Between Two Worlds), take part in an emotional and violent manhunt in the Missouri Ozarks (Winter's Bone), and tag along on an intensely affecting search for a missing father in Iraq (Son of Babylon). And there are still many, many glimpses to be had.
But if said magic is scheduled to happen at the Egyptian, just remember to pee first.