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This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.

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SIFF 2012: First Week

Posted by gck Saturday, May 26, 2012

First week of SIFF is over. In a way, it feels like my SIFF experience hasn’t fully begun because of how little I have seen and volunteered, but that should fix itself up quickly over Memorial Day weekend. Film count: 4. Volunteer vouchers: 6.

(also: Bé Omid E Didar)
Iran, 2011
Genre: Drama
Watched: SIFF 2012, Pacific Place
Rating: N/A (walked out)

Mohammad Rasoulof directed the beautiful movie The White Meadows that screened at SIFF 2011 (my review) that I was so enthralled by that I was excited to see his newest film, Goodbye, which reflected some of his own experiences through the story of a lonely by determined woman named Noora. Visuals were depressing but beautiful, at least the part I saw. That’s right, this officially marks my first walkout from a SIFF movie. Not because the movie was bad, but because the viewing circumstances made it impossible to watch the movie. In this case, there was a technical issue that caused the subtitles to be displayed 10-40 seconds before the actual speech occurred. They didn’t do a whole lot of talking at the beginning of the film so it was just annoying, but once conversations started happening more quickly, it was just too difficult to remember so many lines and figure out who was saying what. The artistic director did respond to my e-mail about this, apologizing and explaining about the nature of the film format that caused this to happen and that it would have required an hour to reload. I definitely understand that it can be challenging to deal with so many different formats moving between theaters and projectors, but I also remember my first film last year at SIFF, also at Pacific Place, and also with technical issues. Le sigh. They gave us vouchers for compensation, but the other screening time of this film isn’t going to work for me, so hopefully it comes back in some form some other time.

Canada, 2011
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama, Road Trip
Watched: SIFF 2012, Egyptian
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

Tuesday was a good SIFF day. I was excited about my two romantic-drama-comedy films, each from a very different culture and stage of life. I’ve noticed, with a bit of sadness, that this year at SIFF, many of the most popular movies have been from the US and Canada, most looking like they had a decent budget and well-known actors and/or directors. This film definitely fits into that category. Brenda Fricker plays an aptly named Dot, a blind woman whose granddaughter has decided to take her out of her house and put her into a nursing home. Olivia Dukakis is her foul-mouthed protector/lover who protests this plan by kidnapping Dot and driving her up to Canada to get married. It’s a bit formulaic, some of the supporting actors weren’t great, but overall, the mix of sentimentalism and comedy worked for me. The cinematography was also surprisingly beautiful.

Starry, Starry Night
Taiwan, 2011
Genre: Coming of Age, Romance, Fantasy
Watched: SIFF 2012, Pacific Place
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)

Reviews were a little mixed on this film, but I knew I was going to see it as soon as I saw the trailer and read the description. It was another subtitled one at Pacific Place, but at least with this one, I’d be able to understand the dialogue if the subtitles were messed up. But they weren’t. This isn’t a film for everyone – the pacing is pretty slow, and if I was to describe the plot, it would sound like nothing interesting happened. But for people who like this sort of thing, it is a five star movie. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous. My friend who watched this with me wanted to know where in Taiwan it was filmed so I looked it up. No luck. The director said it was filmed in locations that were “less popular for filmmaking” and that “we wanted to show a unique side and were careful and strict about every frame and lighting. We wanted perfection.” This effort comes through very clearly. I’ll be very interested to see other things that Tom Lin directs. The one thing I didn’t like about this movie was the epilogue. I thought it was unnecessary, dragged the film out too long, and didn’t work well in general. The story was based on an illustrated novel by the same name, and they showed some of the illustrations in the credits sequence, and those were beautiful as well. Also, what’s up with Taiwanese people and France? The main character’s mom speaks French and has a thing for the country and culture, and that gave me a flashback to Au Revoir Taipei (SIFF 2010).

Lost Years
Canada, 2011
Genre: Documentary
Watched: SIFF 2012, Harvard Exit Upstairs
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

While everyone else in the world was crowding into the Uptown to see Safety Not Guaranteed, I fought ridiculous downtown traffic to make it to the small upstairs theater at the Harvard Exit for Lost Years, an award-winning documentary originally broadcast on Canadian television. It tells the story of the challenges faced by Chinese immigrants to Canada and other countries around the world. This is a subject that I feel passionate about spreading information about because of several reasons: 1) it is my heritage, 2) it is not well known, 3) it is inspiring how an impoverished, ill-treated group has now become what people think of as a model minority, and 4) hopefully the knowledge will prevent this treatment of other groups in the future. There were a lot of things I didn’t know that were presented in this documentary, like the head tax in Canada and other countries, the fact that the US pressured Canada and Mexico to adopt the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Anti-Chinese Riots in Seattle and Tacoma where mobs rounded up Chinese people and forced them to leave by ship.

The documentary itself was okay. It was a little slow, and I felt like there could have been more content or more informative interviews. I was looking forward to the Q&A with the director Kenda Gee at the end, but I found it very strange that he turned his answers to all of the questions into a way to brag about the film’s accomplishments. For example, one woman told him that her mother was very touched by some of the scenes in the film, but she didn’t really understand English. She wanted to know if there was a Chinese version of the film for people like her mother to watch. He said that they had broadcast at film festivals in China and won awards, and they also had screenings in Vancouver, and they were so full that they were turning people away, and then they ended up doing another screening in Richmond, and again they were full… blah blah… did not answer the question. Really odd. Maybe he felt like a not-quite-full upstairs at the Harvard Exit was a little too humble for his film?

5 Broken Cameras
Palestine, 2011
Genre: Documentary
Watched: SIFF 2012, Uptown
Rating: **** (out of 5)

I mentioned this film to Mike and asked if he was interested. His response basically was that he had seen enough pro-Palestinian propaganda and wasn’t really interested in seeing more. I didn’t push it, but it felt to me like this was going to be more than that. For one thing, Emad Burnat teamed up with Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi to make the film. Both of them worried about the criticism they would face for working together, but Davidi said something that fits this film very well: “I hope that the people that come to see the film will do it with open hearts and minimum pre-judgments. I think when watching a film that deals with such a painful controversy, people tend to shut down. Most people divide the world into right and wrong, good and bad, Palestinians and Israelis. They immediately take a side and that corresponds to their identities, life experience, ideology... but whatever reason it is these loyalties are many times at the expense of experiencing the world emotionally and openly, while understanding the true impact of actions. The reality is wonderfully complex and this is beautiful. I am frustrated when people fight so much to narrow it down and put the film into a box and choose to look at it with one or two filters.” I feel like this is incredibly relevant in many two-sided battles today.

The film is not about all of the violence on the Gaza Strip. It is a story about a family – we get to see Burnat’s youngest son, Gibreel, grow from a baby into a boy. It is a story about a peasant village that watches their land disappear as settlements move closer and closer. But instead of big corporations doing this, it is the Israeli military, which responds to non-violent protests with guns and smoke bombs. The Palestinian villagers don’t oppose the settlements themselves. What they protest is the barrier – they want the land to be open. It seems so simple, and it leaves me with the cliched but appropriate thought, “Why can’t everyone just get along?”

1 Responses to SIFF 2012: First Week

  1. Lost Years Says:
  2. Hi Kitty/Nina,

    Thnx for fighting traffic to see our doc Lost Years and for your kind review. Your story is very touching. :D

    I don't know if the first part of the answer had been missed in the audio during the Q&A, but the complete response had been that, a Chinese sub-titled (captioned) version was indeed available, that this sub-titled version had only been seen at screenings in China (where it picked up its first award), Vancouver and Richmond, and that the turn-outs had been large and favourable (where many Chinese viewers showed up). This, was, at least, the intent of the complete answer, to let the viewer know that her mother was not alone, that we discovered there are many Chinese-speaking viewers who would like to see the Chinese (sub-titled) version.

    Unfortunately, but, understandably, SIFF chose to screen the original, English-only version for its Seattle audience as it does all its titles, and everybody here at Lost Years is continually humbled by the support of the sponsors, our colleagues and friends in Seattle, and of course the viewers such as yourself who made such a huge commitment to come out to the screening. We felt we needed to express this in our interview with SIFF TV.

    Harvard Theatre likewise is one of the most beautiful theatres in which Lost Years has had the honour of screening.

    We wanted to let you and your family know that the DVD will finally be released in time for Christmas, which will offer multi-lingual (Chinese, French) versioning. If you send us your contact information under separate cover, we would be happy to send you a complimentary copy ( you can reach us at feedback@ or dvd@ lostyears.ca).

    Thnx again, Kitty for coming out! Very appreciative. : D


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