Monday, May 23, 2005

SIFF2005: SIFF diary, pt. 1

While the rest of the world is lined up at The Cinerama to see Star Wars, Episode III, I spent my weekend attending my very first film festival, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). I only attended two screenings, since I am a festival novice and was uncertain how many movies I would have time to take in and am a little short on cash at this time of the month (won't get paid for a few more days), so I opted for a couple of matinee shows to test the water. 

Well, I'll be taking in many more films next weekend.

Yes, it went well. Saturday, we saw C'est la Femme, a collection of short films directed by women. It was a good choice. Seven films were scheduled, although only five were shown due to technical issues. I really appreciate the short film format and have often found short subjects to be much more inventive and daring than feature length films. I especially remember a few shorts that were shown between features on the Sundance Channel with fondness. There was a fascinating and dark take on Little Red Ridinghood staring Christina Ricci that was deliciously erotic. I also remember a very shocking short about a motorcycle accident and another about a woman that pulls a man from the drain of her kitchen sink. So perhaps my expectations were a bit high as these shorts were not nearly as well crafted or original as I had hoped.

The first was All Fall Down a five minute long film where a little girl asks her critical mother, if she had to choose whether one of her children would live, who would it be? All Fall Down wanted to delve into the challenging topic of how girls are treated, but I found it to be the lest affecting of the shorts. 

The next short was Gyppo. Gyppo was about a girl asking questions about sex while growing up in a very feminist environment. This was a very compelling subject matter rife with interesting issues to explore and the young actress who played Gyppo was very good, but the film tried to cover far too much ground in its 10 minute running time. 

The best of the shorts was Between Baronovskys, the story of a woman dealing with the loss of her husband in some rather eccentric ways. This film was quirky and often charming, but it also was the most sincere and really the only film the really struck the right emotional chords. I felt Helen's joy and playfulness as she stripped and swam in a public fountain, but also felt her desperation and loneliness at night as she laid on the floor of her room or stormed the liquor cabinet. This was also fresh for the look into the lives of the elderly which really made it stand apart from the other tales of childhood and young adulthood. Between Baronovskys was a very refreshing and lovely film.

Below the Break was a film that began with a lot of promise, about a young disabled woman who would like a boyfriend. In the beginning, we see her invisibility as she to attempts to get service as she sit in her wheelchair. But then after she dates, the film becomes very clich├ęd as she finds love in her first sexual encounter. I liked the actress and generally enjoyed the film, but it could have explored some really interesting and rarely touched upon topics of sexuality for the physically challenged, so it was disappointing when it became just another unrealistic love story.

And finally, there was the coming of age story, Cat's Bad Hair Day, a title that really didn't fit the film. An obviously autobiographical film covering first sexual experiences, a tough father daughter relationship, and of course the appearance of a first period. 

I was hoping for more from these shorts. They were all very straight forward and didn't have the tightness and total originality that I've seen in shorts in the past. But there was one gem and it was fun listening to the directors talk about making the films afterwards. 

And Sunday, we saw The Dying Gaul. I am so pleased that we attended this screening as it was by a first time director Craig Lucus and I had heard very little about the film other than a brief plot summery. There was very little buzz surrounding this film and the only reviews I've seen of it were based on the screening at Sundance and were not very positive. 

The Dying Gaul was very compelling. The film opened with a quote from Herman Melville, "Woe to him that seeks to please, rather than appall" which sets the tone for this classical tragedy set in modern day Hollywood. It stars Peter Sarsgaard as Robert, a screen writer who is selling his first screen play. Campbell Scott is the Hollywood executive that offers to buy the screenplay and Patricia Clarkson plays his wife. The first exchanges in the film are between Robert and Scott as Robert is persuaded to sell his script and is told that there will have to be re-writes as "no one goes to movies to be challenged or to learn anything." I really believed that The Dying Gaul was being set up to be very critical of the Hollywood system and the sacrifices that have to be made to sell the work and by successful.

I wasn't prepared for the tragedy that unfolded. These three characters who had a lot of respect and love for one another, as they mingled and their motives became muddied and entwined and drama unfolds that is sometimes touching, sometime sad, and at the end really startling. We watch this story unfold all because of one immoral act that triggers a tragic chain of events. This is a very complex and multilayered story that I will be thinking about for some time. Especially Patricia Clarkson's character as I spent most of the film one step behind trying to understand her motivations and at one point wondering whether she was indeed the personification of Robert's dead ex-lover or whether she was simply a very jealous writer flexing her creativity in a most hurtful way. 

so yea... great cast, interesting film that was definitely worth going out to the SIFF for. And now that I understand how this process works, I need to plan next weekend's movies. And to remember to space out the movies enough to allow to get to the theater more than 30 minutes ahead as the ticket holder lines seem to get long fast and to eat and be well hydrated because it isn't set up very well for taking advantage of concessions (when they are allowed at all). I was worried about seeing a ton of movies in one weekend, thinking that would lead to a ton of soft drinks and movie candy and popcorn, but so far, either there was no food allowed in the theater or there just wasn't time to get any before the film since they only let in ticket holders after pass holders and press and inside and seated.

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