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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 2013: Second Week

Posted by gck Sunday, June 16, 2013 0 comments

I really took a break from SIFF this week. Saw so many films over Memorial Day weekend (10!) that it made me less eager to see anything during the week. I worked a quiet will call shift at Pacific Place on Wednesday, had pre-existing plans on Tuesday, and decided to stay at home on Thursday instead of watching The Artist and the Model as previously planned. I’ve been leaning towards trying the passholder thing, but weeks like this one make me wonder if I could sustain the film watching enough to make the pass worthwhile. Film count: 16. Volunteer vouchers: 18.

Short Stories
(also: Rasskazi)
Russia, 2012
Genre: Black Comedy, Drama
Watched: SIFF 2013, Pacific Place
Rating: **** (out of 5)

This one was a lot of fun. There were four short stories from a rejected manuscript that found their way into the lives of the people who rejected it. At the Q&A, someone asked the director if there was any other connection between the stories. He said no and that the manuscript thing was a “lame” way to do it. Russian humor! I liked the first and last one the best because they were the funniest. However, I suspect I’d get more out of the 2nd and 3rd if I had the chance to watch them again. All of them commented on the state of modern Russia in clever ways. In the first story, a couple meets with a wedding planner who takes it a step further and helps them plan out their lives. In the last one, a man meets an attractive younger woman, only to be slowly repulsed by her lack of knowledge of Russian history or anything else. The director claimed that he wasn’t intending for anything in the film to be funny (really??) but that people laughed so they called it a comedy. Someone in the audience insisted that his work had to have been influenced by some Russian writer whose name escapes me, and the director answered that he definitely would have been influenced… if he had read any. The Russian films have been meshing well with me at SIFF. Must be sure to see more next year.

A World Not Ours
(also: Alam laysa lana)
Lebanon, 2012
Genre: Documentary
Watched: SIFF 2013, Harvard Exit
Rating: **** (out of 5)

So many Middle East social issues films… I chose this one and decided not to see several others (Zaytoun, Inch’Allah, When I Saw You) because it seemed like this would give the most authentic experience. It’s a good companion film to last year’s 5 Broken Cameras. While watching this compilation of years of home videos, I didn’t find myself as engaged as I would have liked. Obviously, real life – especially in a refugee camp – isn’t as dramatic as a narrative film. But this place lingered in my thoughts long after the film was over. I remember the older Palestinians, patiently waiting in the camps until they are allowed to return home, and the angry younger generation, young people with no education, no work prospects, and no ability to leave. “I bet most of the guys who blew themselves up felt the same way I do. They just used Palestine as an excuse to end their lives,” one of the men says. That’s an angle I hadn’t seen before, and it’s heartbreaking.

SIFF 2013: Second Weekend

Posted by gck Thursday, June 6, 2013 0 comments

SO many films over Memorial Day weekend for me! I’m putting Monday in the next post, and it’s still a ton. At this point, I have decided that I need to trim down my “Middle East Social Issues” film list, and I am tired of films where I’m constantly worried about things exploding. The Inch’Allah preview qualifies! I’ve also realized that I prioritized a lot of the lighter romantic comedy type films pretty low this year, and I miss them. I can only handle so many depressing films in a row! Film Count: 14, Volunteer Vouchers: 15

The Rocket
Australia, 2013
Genre: Coming-of-Age, Drama, Comedy
Watched: SIFF 2013, Uptown
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)

This story is about child who is considered to be bad luck because he was born a twin. After his family is forced to leave their home village, he decides to enter a rocket competition to win money for a new home. It’s hard to tell from the description, but this is no sentimental cliched Hollywood style flick. The characters are fantastic – the kids are great actors, and the are two quirky older characters that almost steal the show. Lots of laughs, but there’s genuine suspense as the family faces dangers in post-war Laos. Some members of the audience were so emotionally invested that they blurted out, “Oh no!” during one of the more tense moments. One of my favorites of the festival so far. It deserved a bigger theater than the (sold out) Uptown 3.

About 111 Girls
(also: Darbare 111 Dokhtar)
Iraq, 2012
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Social Issues
Watched: SIFF 2013, Uptown
Rating: *** (out of 5)

I saw this one right after The Rocket, also in the sold out Uptown 3 theater. I wish the order had been reversed so I could end on a high note. I expected this film to be more serious, with some sort of hard-hitting message. Instead, it was really slow-paced with a few random screwball laughs here and there, nothing more. Sure, there are some messages that could be read from a few of the scenes, but they were more like hints than messages. Finally, the film isn’t really focused on the 111 girls. Yeah, maybe that’s one of the messages, but I don’t care. That’s not the film I wanted to see.

Paradise: Faith
(also: Paradies: Glaube)
Austria, 2012
Genre: Drama
Watched: SIFF 2013, Pacific Place
Rating: **1/2 (out of 5)

If not for the whole “I should see the entire trilogy” thing, I would have skipped this one. There wasn’t a whole lot of redemption in this overlong drama between a fanatical Catholic and her Muslim paraplegic husband. It was unpleasant to watch her practice her extreme religion and mistreat her husband. The scenes where she was trying to evangelize at other people’s apartments were more interesting, but this was mainly because of the other people. 

Paradise: Hope
(also: Paradies: Hoffnung)
Austria, 2013
Genre: Drama, Coming-of-Age
Watched: SIFF 2013, Pacific Place
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

I was worried about watching two Paradise films back to back, but fortunately, this one was shorter and lighter in nature. A friend pointed out that it was the only film of the trilogy where the main character’s focus wasn’t allowed to take over herself and everyone around her. I liked the way the film explored the relationship between teenager Melanie and the older doctor, and interactions between the teenagers felt very authentic. I ultimately ended up liking Love the most out of the trilogy (which was not what I expected!), and what kept me from liking Hope more was the lack of a strong message.

Forbidden Voices
Switzerland, 2012
Genre: Documentary, Social Issues
Watched: SIFF 2013, Uptown
Rating: *** (out of 5)

After watching back-to-back Paradise films, I immediately ran to the Uptown and saw this one. It was definitely overkill. I was tired and had trouble staying awake during parts. Originally, I was really excited about this film because one of the featured bloggers was Yoani Sanchez, who wrote Havana Real, one of the books I read during the Around the World challenge last year. I do think that honest bloggers in repressive regimes are an important subject, but this documentary didn’t give a lot of good insight. The Iranian blogger is living in exile out of her country. The Chinese blogger is under house arrest. Okay, that’s not groundbreaking news. To be fair, there was more focus on Sanchez and some of the events that took place in Cuba, but I had already read about them in greater detail in the book, so it wasn’t new to me. The film itself was fine, and the information may be good enough for someone totally new to the subject, but it was far less than what I was hoping for. A combination of reading Havana Real and watching the Ai Wei Wei documentary would be much more interesting and informative than this.

Sand Fishers
(also: Le Chemin du Sable)
Mali, 2012
Genre: Documentary, Social Issues
Watched: SIFF 2013, Renton Performing Arts Center
Rating: **1/2 (out of 5)

I feel bad even rating this one. I went in and watched because it was during my volunteer shift, but I wasn’t really interested to begin with. As a documentary, I think it really could have benefited from a narrator explaining background on some things a little more or at least prompting the subjects by asking questions. Without the background, I didn’t know enough to care about what was going on. People are poor in the village. They go elsewhere to dig sand up from the bottom of the river to sell so they can have some money. But more and more people start to do this, and they’re worried about running out of sand. The end. On the plus side, the short film they screened before it was pretty good.

USA, 2013
Genre: Documentary, Social Issues
Watched: SIFF 2013, Renton Performing Arts Center
Rating: **** (out of 5)

This documentary wasn’t on my radar at all because, believe it or not, I had never heard of Anita Hill. I was only 8 years old when the judicial hearings were going on, and I guess I never paid attention. I’m really glad I got to see this one on my volunteer shift because it’s such an important event in history. The director was there for Q&A (I think she came in during the film and stood in one of the aisles for awhile, probably blocking views). The audience was asked how many people watched the judicial hearings back in 1991, and most of the audience raised their hands. That’s unfortunate – I think younger people who aren’t familiar with this are the ones who might get the most out of the film. Hopefully once this film gets a wider release, it will reach more young people. It’s great to see how far things have come regarding things like sexual harassment in the workplace and gender equality, but the victim blaming we saw in the film is still very much alive and well today.

Poland, 2012
Genre: Drama, Romance
Watched: SIFF 2013, Renton Performing Arts Center
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)

Imagine is about a blind man with controversial techniques of walking without a cane who goes to teach children at a hospital. The story itself is nothing terribly extraordinary, but it’s the way the director chose to shoot the film that makes it great. Visually, it’s beautiful, with lots of light and nice scenery. But the uniqueness is how it gets us to understand “how it is to be blind.” This seems counterintuitive for a film, since we’re obviously watching it. However, in this film, we often are not shown what we expect to see. Many shots are close up so we can see the character, but like the blind, we can’t see his surroundings. When he talks about how he can sense a large ship in a harbor close by, I instinctually expect the camera to show whether he’s lying or not, but instead, I’m kept blind. I loved the tension this created and the new way of perceiving the world.