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It’s now less than three weeks away and for the thirty-fifth time in thirty five years, the Seattle International Film Festival will once again be upon us. Even in a recession, SIFF has just unveiled a very strong program and one of the biggest and most ambitious lineups. The full schedule comes out later this week, but I have a most of the details to share. One thing I’m especially pleased with is that the opening and closing night films are both comedies.
The numbers for SIFF this year are: over a span of twenty-five days, SIFF will show 257 full-length features (54 are documentaries) and 124 short films. 62 different countries are represented. Films will be shown on the eastside (in Kirkland) and in West Seattle (at the Admiral Theater).
The festival kicks off on Thursday, May 21 with In the Loop, a British satire of the run up to the Iraqi war. It stars Steve Coogan, Anna Chlumsky and James Gandolfini and has the fast-paced, sharp dialogue you would expect from an Aaron Sorkin TV series, but much funnier. Without giving away too many details, it doesn’t take us too deep into the political process like the way “The West Wing” did and politically it reinforces our liberal tendencies (especially in hindsight) but Steve Coogan had the roomful full of critics this was screened for laughing out loud throughout.
The closing night film is OSS 117: Lost in Rio, a French spy spoof in the tradition of Casino Royale or Austin Powers. I had only seen the trailer (and it didn’t contain subtitles) but it looks like it could be very funny. It’s a sequel to OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, which won the Golden Space Needle award for Best Picture at SIFF 2006.
The Face the Music series is highlighted by two screenings of the 1988 French film The Bear at The Triple Door with the soundtrack provided by the noise punk band No Age on June 12. The series also includes a live Bruce Springsteen documentary (Live in Barcelona) as well as documentaries on the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, Senegalese music legend Youssou N’Dour and songwriter-producer Joe Meek. The list of films in the series is Bruce Springsteen: Live in Barcelona, Favela on Blast, Icons Among Us, Sounds like Teen Spirit: a Popumentary, Telstar, Trimpin: the Sound of Invention, Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love and All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Amongst the archival presentations, SIFF is showing two of my very favorite films: Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. I am also quite anxious to see Blake Edwards’ The Great Race, Cassavettes’ A Woman Under the Influence and Carol Reed’s The Third Man on a big screen.
The biggest film stars named, so far, to attend SIFF are the aforementioned Francis Coppola, who is presenting his latest film, Tetro (the first screenplay he wrote since The Conversation), Vincent Gallo (who stars in Coppola’s film) and Spike Lee, who will be presented with a (long-overdue) Outstanding Achievement in Directing Golden Space Needle Award and will show his latest film, Passing Strange at the Egyptian on May 27.
I haven’t liked every Spike Lee movie I’ve seen (She Hate Me and Girl 6 in particular) but he is incapable of making a boring film and when he deals with issues that Americans might not be ready to confront (race in particular but not exclusively), he is the best filmmaker working today. Plus, Do the Right Thing is a masterpiece and Malcolm X and Get on the Bus aren’t too far behind.
The Centerpiece Gala is Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, a story of two friends who decide to make a film together and enter an amateur porn competition. It’s based on The Stranger’s annual Hump contest and the film has been getting raves from Sundance and SXSW and will also be playing at the Cannes Film Festival. Shelton has become one of the most prominent northwest filmmakers over the past few years and her film My Effortless Brilliance played at SIFF 2008.
Also in the Northwest Connections series is World’s Greatest Dad, directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, and will be the fruition of all of those Robin Williams spottings we remember from last year.
This year, Three Imaginary Girls will continue to be a media partner of the event and will have (at least) four writers covering the festival. I could not be happier with the team we’ve assembled to provide as much coverage as we possibly could. The TIG team will include the same staff as last year, Imaginary Embracey, Roxie Rider and me, plus I am thrilled to have a writer who will be new to TIG but not to SIFF: my dear friend Amie Simon, who has previously covered SIFF for several years at SIFFBlog and maintains a great blog dedicated to horror films but she will be lending her considerable talents to us throughout the festival. Be sure to check back here regularly for the latest goings on throughout the festival.
SIFF is still big; it’s the economy that got small.