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Hot Button: Seattle Film Festival Notes

Category: Beowulf & Grendel News
Article Date: June 9, 2006 | Publication: The Hot Button | Author: David Poland

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The 32nd Seattle International Film Festival started May 25 and continues through next weekend.

My 2nd annual Seattle International Film Festival started on Thursday and ends on Sunday. But I'm off to a speedy start.

Since arriving here at about 12:45p today, I have seen three features, one of the animation programs, enjoyed a filmmakers dinner, reunited with one of my favorite filmmakers whose film was one of the two fast sell outs here at SIFF, and whose crowd tonight included visitors who came specifically for it from hours away by bus and from as far as Toronto by plane, had the best cup of clam chowder I have eaten in years, met the female muscle of the electric car movement, drank a beer in nightclub loaded with underage kids celebrating the national release of a doc about a local basketball team, got to reconnect with a former L.A. film publicist turned festival film programmer, and chatted with two Puerto Rican born filmmakers who live less than a mile away from me in Los Angeles and who share a filmmaker of Cuban descent as a mutual friend.


There is something magical about a film festival, and Seattle is one of the best in the country. The selections and special events couldn't be more eclectic and smart and there is a warmth for those of us who visit as guests of the festival that is hard to beat. Helen Loveredge has ceded her leading management slot to Deborah Person, while Carl Spence continues to lead the charge creatively, along with a massive team of staff, volunteers, and interns.

The weather is a lot like Seattle, though an interesting conversation on the way in from the airport explained the appeal a bit. The sky here is small. Much is defined by whether it is clear enough to see The Mountain... or not. Not everyone wants strong sun, big skies, or dry air. And it certainly helps to like fish.

The first film I saw is a movie that is generating a lot of positive talk in Los Angeles, Old Joy. And while I get it... I don't get it. It just struck me as terminally indie. The story of two old friends who hang out and seek reconnection has that slow, deliberately intimate pacing that so many of these films do and... well, not for me. Not enough meat.

The same cannot remotely be said of Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?) In the case of this wonderful documentary - which will be notably more wonderful if you are a fan of Nilsson's music, the degree to which you are may surprise you - there is so much story, it is so dense, and there is so much existing material that there is only so much room for the filmmaker, John Scheinfeld, to flex his creative muscles.

That, of course, is not to say that Scheinfeld doesn't do a great job of gathering, choosing, positioning, storytelling, and emoting. He does. But this is a classic assemblage doc, not a strong director's voice piece.

Still, it is a sensational story well told. The one thing the film doesn't explain - and perhaps it's impossible to explain - is why while many of his songs are remembered, Nilsson really isn't. Sad.

Erik Gandini and Tarik Sale's doc, Gitmo: The New Rules Of War suffers from being easily distracted. What I think they were going for was what Winterbottom achieved on The Road To Guantanamo... a road trip polemic. But it never quite gets there. Yet, it does have something uniquely interesting in that it has the Swedish thing of being a bit more smart ass than ultra serious about itself.

I'm sure that this notion of the Swedish doc is not hitting a strong note for every one of you. We really don't get much of a chance to see these films. But every time I see one, it seems that there is this very iconoclastic tone, whether the subject is the Iraq War, pornography, or religion -- I need to see more of these films somehow.

As Gitmo plays out, each time it seems to be settling into telling one story, some other terrible misdeed by the American government becomes more interesting and wham, off the movie goes in that direction. There is, as I say, some kind of charm about it. It's so very enthusiastic, whereas the Winterbottom is trying to outclever you. Still, these just isn't enough there to qualify this is an important film in an increasingly crowded category.

I didn't get to see Beowulf & Grendel tonight, but 450 people did, including 40 Gerard Butler obsessed women, a couple of bus loads of school children from about 3 hours away, and others who are really into the magic of the era. Sturla Gunnerson's film, which has had a mixed reception at various festivals, seems to have the makings of a cult favorite. A tiny distributor is scheduled to release the film in New York in July. It'll be interesting.

And that's about it for now.

Have a great weekend.


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