A German proverb notes so wisely, "A lawyer and a wagon-wheel must be well greased." The same advice applies to the U.S.'s largest film festival, the well-oiled 2007 Seattle International Film Festival, which once again ran without a hitch, this year from May 24th to June 17th. Spotlighting over 211 narrative features, a new record of 61 documentaries, plus 12 archival films, and 117 shorts, this feat was especially applaudable.
Add panels (e.g. "Digital Distribution: Fantasy or Reality"; "Attainable HD"), a Lifetime Achievement Award to Anthony Hopkins, 47 World Premieres, features from more than 60 countries, and Steve Buscemi asking Starbucks-inundated audiences, "Is there a place you can a good cup of coffee in town?" and you can understand a bit of what was achieved.
A slightly exhausted Artistic Director Carl Spence noted a day after the festivities ended, "Definitely everything went like clockwork. No major snafus. Of course, there's always something that goes on behind the scenes but nothing terrible. The goal is to make it look like it's seamless. Flawless. And we achieved that."
With a second year of expanding the fest to the city of Bellevue for 18 days and the opening of its own state-of-the-art theater, SIFF Cinema, which will unspool the best in world and indie flicks 365 days a year starting July 6th, Spence added, "This is becoming a real 365-day job if it wasn't before.
"By the way," he noted, "two of my favorite films were opening night's "Son of Ranbow" and the closing "Moliere." I think "Moliere" was a triumph. I'm just really passionate about that film. We also had "Arctic Tale," and "Sons," the New Directors jury prize winner. I was very happy to see that get the attention that it deserved.
"Then we did a memorial to the Dutch filmmaker Fons Rademakers who just recently passed away. He had a long history with the fest and many of his films premiered in Seattle.
"As for my other favorites, there was "Soldiers of Conscience," a stand-up documentary that looked at the morality of war, and the excellent "Sex and Death 101" and "Walk the Talk" and, by the way, we also added an entire section of films under the banner of 'Planet Cinema,' which included 12 films that dealt with our interaction with the Earth and the environment."
Also of note were the four directors declared "Emerging Masters": Mauritania's Abderrahmane Sissako, France's Olivier Dahan, Iran's Rafi Pitts, and Israel's Eytan Fox, whose lover is a judge on Israel's take on "American Idol."
Fox, who's now working on five projects in France, was celebrating the audiences' reaction to his latest, "The Bubble," which will be released by Strand in the States. His follow-up to "Walk on Water" is a timely mixture of homosexual, straight, and Arab/Israeli coupling, comedy, politics, dancing while on ecstasy, plus your everyday Middle-Eastern tragedies.
This is the latest of the celebrated Kosher New Wave. But why so many applaudable Israeli films in the last decade?
Between sips of Diet Coke, Fox explained: "A lot of different reasons. One is the Sam Spiegel Film School, which is considered by many people as one of the best films schools in the world today, and a lot of people are coming out of that film school and making feature films. And then there's the cinema law passed in 2000 which insures that such and such amounts go into film a year. It used to be every new government would say we don't care about film. Or we do care about film. We'll put this kind of money . . . or that kind of money into film. Finally, that madness has ended."
Madness, the alcoholic kind, is the centerpiece of Jorge Luis Sanchez's "El Benny," a Cuban biopic about bandleader Benny More. An odd linear structure battles the highly danceable music in this predictable yet enjoyable offering.
Jean-Pascal Hattu's "7 Years" is a top-notch, off-the-wall romancer from France. Here a young woman agrees to have sex with her husband's prison guard on the sly to make life easier for him, but is it really on the sly? Who's manipulating whom?
One of the best films of the fest and possibly the year is triple-threat Lionel Baier's "Stealth." Here the writer/director/actor plays a Swiss homosexual named Baier who discovers he has Polish roots. To explore his ancestry, he decides to learn Polish, visit Poland, and have an affair with a Polish woman. This vibrant comedy will have its American rights decided in the next few days according to Philippe Tasca, president of Rendez-vous Pictures.
Kirt Gunn's highly quirky "Lovely by Surprise," is another one of those author-confronts-her-characters-in-her-novel treks. Who controls whom? Who will be killed by a milk truck? Terrific acting, especially by Reg Rogers as a depressed car salesman, carries you through the oddest of conceits.
Todd Harrison Williams' "Trainwreck: My Life as an Idoit" is spelled correctly. Based upon the unpublished memoirs of an alcoholic would-be-comedian who on a good day only sinks one yacht, this often hilarious farce about a serial 12-stepper boasts a surprisingly full-blooded performance by Seann William Scott, his best.
Germany's Christian Petzold's "Yella" is seemingly a thriller about balance sheets, crooked corporate deals, and wife abuse. Masterfully acted and directed, this offering had everyone on the edge of their seats until its metaphysical ending, which caused many in attendance to groan in disappointment. Still . . . it's worth a viewing.
NEW DIRECTOR AWARD
Grand Jury Prize: "Sons", directed by Eric Richter Strand (Norway)
Jury Statement: "'Sons' completely meets its own objectives and manages to successfully navigate a morally difficult subject matter. 'Sons' is a remarkable debut, combining consummate storytelling ability with a fully realized cinema aesthetic."
Special Mention to Actress VALERIE DONZELLI "Valerie Donzelli" in the film "7 Years", directed by Jean-Pascal Hattu (France)
Jury Statement: "For an utterly convincing performance of great emotional range in a very demanding role."
The Jury for the New Directors Showcase Competition was comprised of Cameron Bailey (writer, broadcaster and programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival), Angelo Acerbi (CEO for the Alba International Film Festival), and Jeremy Kay (Chief U.S. reporter for Screen International).
NEW AMERICAN CINEMA AWARD
Grand Jury Prize: "Shotgun Stories", written and directed by Jeff Nichols
Jury Statement: "'Shotgun Stories' is a starkly powerful tale told with a distinctively American voice."
Special Jury Prize: "Lovely By Surprise", directed by Kirt Gunn
Jury Statement: "The jury would like to recognize this film for its strong performances, notably Reg Rogers, as well as its ambitious narrative and stylistic choices."
The Jury for the New American Cinema competition was comprised of Charles Pugliese (Head of Development for Killer Films), Carl Hampe (Director of Acquisition for Warner Independent Pictures), and Nancy Bishop (Editor of Venice Magazine).
Grand Jury Prize: "Out of Time", directed by Harald Friedl (Austria)
Jury Statement: " The Grand Jury Prize is awarded to 'Out of Time', for its courage in choosing an unfashionable constituency, a group of old Viennese merchants, examining the passing of an era of craft and service, and opening up into a meditation on the universal question of the meaning of an individual life."
-Special Jury Prize: "Angels in the Dust", directed by Louise Hogarth (USA)
Jury Statement: "'Angels in the Dust' is a rousing act of consciousness-raising about the human toll and bravery of living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, told at the most personal, and therefore the most political level."
The Jury for Best Documentary is comprised of Emily Woodburne (Director of Theatrical Sales for IFC First Take), Sarah Finklea (Theatrical Booking for Janus Films), and Ella Taylor (film critic with the L.A. Weekly).
SHORT FILM AWARDS
Grand Jury Prize: "Wigald", directed by Timon Modersohn (Germany)
Jury Statement: "For crafting a brilliant black comedy, capturing everything that is funny in suicide and divorce."