Archive for the ‘festivals’ Category

SIFF Day 1

If you too have been counting down the days to SIFF 2010, count no more as it has finally arrived.

The festival kicks off in grand style with a gala screening of The Extra Man tonight at Benaroya Hall. Paul Dano plays a young writer who rents a room from a playwright (Kevin Kline) who works nights as an “extra man” – an escort for wealthy widows unwilling to attend social functions alone. The two men soon become bonded together by their mutual insecurities. Director Robert Pulcini and actors Paul Dano and Alicia Goranson are scheduled to be on hand to walk the red carpet.

The Extra Man is, of course, but one of many great films that will be screened at the festival this year. This year’s SIFF features shorts and full length features, documentaries, fictional, and animated films from all over the world covering just about any topic you can imagine. Every year SIFF seems to get better and better and that’s in no small part due to its dedicated staff who work hard all year to make each festival the best it possibly can be.

Artistic Director Carl Spence and Programming Manager Beth Barrett took a short break from their busy schedules to answer a few questions about the fest:

SIFF’s mission is to expose people to great film. Do you have any specific hopes for what people will get out of the films in this year’s festival?

Carl: To discover films that audiences might not ordinarily take the risk to see.

Beth: I hope that they are able to experience the world around them, and learn more about issues that are hot right now – for example, Lucy Walker’s COUNTDOWN TO ZERO became much more timely this spring with the new SALT talks, and renewed interest in nuclear energy. The stories we present are from some really new places – New Zealand’s gorgeous Ruahine Mountains shine in THIS WAY OF LIFE – yet the film is still a universal story of wanting to make it on your own, and the challenges we can face as a family.

Which films in this year’s festival are you most excited about? Are there any films that you think that audiences will be particularly receptive to? Are there any special events or expected guests you’re particularly looking forward to this year?

Carl: It is impossible to pick just one or even a few…..audiences will love THE EXTRA MAN, MAO’S LAST DANCER, FAREWELL, GET LOW, THE HEDGEHOG, MEDITERANEAN FOOD, SOUL KITCHEN, GARBO: THE SPY and WASTE LAND amongst others. I’m especially looking forward to the Edward Norton Tribute and also our live events – including Stephen Merritt of the Magnetic Fields performing to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Maldives performing to Riders of the Purple Sage and the “Live Documentary” Film presentation by academy award nominated filmmaker Sam Green.

Beth: I’m really looking forward to a couple of films – THE TOPP TWINS : UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS – the pride of New Zealand, inducted into the New Zealand Hall of Music Fame in 2008 – they are identical twin lesbian yodelers with a great stage show and infectious comedic songwriting – and they are coming to SIFF to present the film!

I am also quite fond of a South Korean film called CASTAWAY ON THE MOON- this is a very quirky love story between a shut-in and a castaway, who is on an island in full view of millions of people (and she’s the one that sees him)

I think that audiences will also find Jeff Malmberg’s MARWENCOL fascinating – it is about a man, who is beaten nearly to death outside a bar, and loses the first 38 years of his memories. In the process of his recovery from total amnesia, he builds a WWII era Belgian town called Marwencol, peoples it with Barbies and GI Joes named after people in his life, and then photographs it. The photos are stunning, and his intimate relationship with the town, and towns”people”, is quite deep. But it is really Mark’s story that emerges from this artistic adventure. Really well told, and compelling.

How does selecting films for the festival differ from selecting films for the year-round SIFF Cinema? Are there different standards that apply – for example, because there are so many films in the festival, do you feel more comfortable including films that might not have as big of an audience as others?

Carl: The size of the Seattle International Film Festival allows to show a diverse line-up of films and the huge interest in the festival allow helps when we show films that may not usually have a big audience. In terms of SIFF CINEMA – the standards are the same – we are looking for films that will allow the audience the opportunity to discover extraordinary films together as a community.

Beth: The goal of the Festival is to bring the stories from the world to Seattle, and to provide a platform for people to discover films and filmmakers. There are a lot of new directors, young filmmakers, and emerging talents at the Festival, and we are able to take some chances on unknown (to Seattle) films. With SIFF Cinema, we relish the opportunity to bring some of those films back, to re-introduce the classics to the big screen, and to provide a platform for independent cinema. The two opportunities really are intertwined, in our desire to create cinematic experiences, as a community.

Do you think it’s possible to predict which films will have the biggest audiences or are you ever surprised by which films people seem to like best?

Carl: We do try to predict which films will have biggest audiences – but we never know exactly what will spark a riot of attendees to go to a specific screening. Often we are pleasantly surprised.

Beth: A little of both – I think we have a good take on films that our audiences will like, or be entertained or intrigued by, but there are always films that I love that take me by surprise when so many others love them too! I think the energy of the audience has a great deal to do with creating those “surprise hits”.

What is it about SIFF that makes it such a huge, successful festival?

Carl: The hungry Seattle audiences power SIFF – first and foremost. They are what has allowed and pushed us to expand.

Beth: We are driven as staff and programmers to bring the best in international cinema to Seattle, and I think our dedication and enthusiasm is a large part of the energy of SIFF. The audience is the other part – to have such a dedicated core audience, as well as new audiences every year who join the SIFF ranks, is what the wonderful feeling of SIFF is all about.

How long have you been with SIFF? How has the festival changed over the years?

Carl: I started at SIFF in 1994 – and except for a two year period in San Francisco – I’ve been here ever since. It has seen explosive growth since I first began. Our year-round staff grew from 2 to 12+. We again operate a venue throughout the year (the festival previously operated and owned The Egyptian prior to 1990.

Beth: I started in the publications department in 2003, and became the Programming Manager in 2004 – we have grown since then, not only in numbers of films and venues, but also as an organization. Operating year-round allows us to really broaden our ideas, and create new and different experiences. With ShortsFest being an Academy Awards ® nominating part of the Festival, we have seen growth in the quality of short films, and recognition from the industry for our efforts.

Big film festivals can be overwhelming for first time attendees. What advice would you give someone coming to SIFF for the first time in 2010?

Carl: Going to SIFF can be as easy as going to any other movie throughout the year. Just pick the dates you can attend and then see what is playing on that date and time you are available. Use our interactive web tool – The Siffter or download our iphone app. Our new full color 32 page free guide is also quite informative and chock full of ways to get involved.

Beth: Use one of the SIFFting tools available! You can use the SIFFter on the website or iPhone, and put in parameters of when you are available, the kinds of films you want to see, the venue you want to be at… the SIFFter can help you narrow down your choices.

Our SIFF Guide this year can also help – we have listed the films in sections, with a great genre index in the back. Find a genre you like and give one of them a try. Once you are in line, keep your ears open, and the folks standing in line will give many many more suggestions!

SIFF recs: May 20 – 23

SIFF 2010 starts tomorrow! Here’s the first round of recommendations we have for you. Seeing something that’s not on this list? Tell us about it!

Prince of Tears plays SIFF 2010 May 23, May 26

Castaway on the Moon []: Kim Seong-geun decides to end it all and jumps from a bridge into the Han River. He doesn’t die, but instead washes up on an island in the middle of the city. Since he can’t swim, and no one ever comes to the island, he’s nearly every bit the castaway that Tom Hanks was. After a few days of understandable despair, and another attempt to kill himself, he starts, slowly, to make a life for himself. Across the river, a woman who hasn’t left her room in three years finds him in her camera lens. They start an awkward pen-pal relationship and we see Kim’s efforts to grow his own food in a desperate attempt to make black bean noodles. May 21 4pm – Pacific Place, May 23 9:30pm – Neptune, June 2 9:15pm – Everett Performing Arts Center [Patricia Eddy]

Prince of Tears []: Anti-communist fervor in 1950s Taiwan caused the White Terror period during which thousands were accused, imprisoned and executed as spies for little or even no reason at all. Writer/director Yonfan presents this tragic history on a human scale in this gorgeously filmed dark fable of intrigue and betrayal, centered around two young sisters, Zhou and Li. Daughters of a dashing air force pilot and his lovely wife, the girls learn first-hand about the personal in politics when their parents are accused of communist loyalties and arrested. Family friend Ding steps in to look after them, but their far-from-kindly “Uncle” has an agenda of his own and will allow no one, not even a glamorous would-be fairy godmother, to stand in his way. May 21 6:30 pm – Pacific Place; May 23 1:00 pm – Pacific Place; May 26 9:15 pm – Admiral. [Zee Grega]

Bass Ackwards [] : Linas Phillips (Walking to Werner, Great Speeches from a Dying World) makes his first fictional film, directing and starring as a man who retreats from his failed affair by taking a road trip across America in a mini sized VW van. Entertaining, odd, and often sweet, the movie shines the brightest in its small, quiet moments of low-fi discovery. May 21 9:45 pm – Harvard Exit, May 23 3:45 pm – Harvard Exit [Zee Grega]

Air Doll [] : An inflatable love doll “finds a heart” and comes to life in this thought-provoking fantasy from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda that takes a thoughtful and often poignant examination of loneliness, longing and the ways that people wall themselves off from others, neatly correlating the literal emptiness inside Nozomi with the more metaphorical sort inside the people she encounters as she moves through the city. Take a friend – this is definitely one of those movies you’ll want to talk about afterwards. May 21 4:00 pm – Neptune Theater, May 24 9:30 pm – Neptune Theater [Zee Grega]

Holy Rollers []: Sam Gold is a nice young man living with his parents and working at his father’s fabric shop. He has typical dreams for a Hassidic Jew living in New York – he hopes to marry a a local girl and complete his rabbinic studies, but he wouldn’t mind picking up a few spare bucks which is why he lets his best friend’s older brother talk him into doing a bit of international smuggling. Sam’s so naive at first that he really believes he’s bringing “medicine” back from Amsterdamn, but he sticks around even after he finds out just what ailment Ecstasy is meant to “cure”. Sam tries to straddle both his old world and his new one, but he’s headed for at least one fall. A stunning debut from director Kevin Tyler Asch. May 22 9:00 pm – Pacific Place, May 23 4:00 pm – Pacific Place [Zee Grega]

From Time to Time [] : It’s WWII and young Tolly discovers that his grandmother and her employees aren’t the only people sharing the manor. Shortly after he sees the ghost of his long-dead great-aunt, he discovers that he can move back and forth between her time and his. As he waits for news of his father, missing in action in Germany, he spends his days both learning about his family’s history and taking part in it. A steady pace and an intriguing tale suitable for the whole family with plenty of appeal to both kids and adults; some scenes may be too intense for the very young. Oh, and bring tissues, you’ll need them. May 22 1:00 pm – Uptown, May 30 1:00 pm – Everett, June 13 1:00 pm – Kirkland. [Zee Grega]

SIFF spotlight: Midnight Adrenaline

RoboGeisha plays SIFF 2010 May 28, June 8.

The first truth about Midnight Movies is that any movie can be a midnight, it simply needs to be screened at midnight. The second truth is that some movies make better midnight movies than others. Just what makes the ideal midnight movie is a question that could lead to endless debate, but the primary difference between a true midnight movie and just a movie screened at midnight is some slight edge to the film that makes it mean something at midnight that might not be there at another time of the day.

Take Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example, perhaps THE midnight film of all midnight films. Watch it at home on video in the afternoon sometime and it’s just not the same movie that you grew to love in the theater. I discovered the strength of the midnight effect a few year ago with The Wizard of Oz.

Like most cinephiles, it’s impossible for me to name just one favorite film, but The Wizard of Oz comes close. Having lost track of the number of times I’ve watched the movie all the way through somewhere around 150 many years ago, I was sure that nothing about the film could surprise me – and then I went to a screening of Wizard at midnight at The Egyptian and quickly learned that watching Wizard with a group of openly-vocal Friends of Dorothy definitely made it a whole new experience.

Audiences are a key factor in what makes a good midnight movie – midnight movie audiences are definitely unique.

SIFF’S Midnight Adrenaline programmer Dan Doody says that one of the biggest misconceptions about midnight movie audiences is that they are drugged out or just plain bizarre. He allows that a very small minority might be weirdos out for mischief, but adds that even they want a film that will engage them. Perhaps more so than any other movie audience, midnighters have a real need to interact with the movie they’re watching. This doesn’t have to be physical interaction – it’s not all shouting out lines or tossing rice – but midnight audiences aren’t into passive entertainment. They embrace the unusual, the quirky, the outright strange. Midnight audiences want a movie that moves: “The biggest criteria,” Dan says, “is that it’s well-paced and gets its hooks into you.”

He adds that the midnight audience is “the hardest to please. If they get bored, the audience has no compunction about walking out.”

As a long time midnight movie fan myself, I know this to be true myself, but I’ve also noticed that in some ways midnight movie audiences are also quite generous. As long as it brings the fun and keeps the story flowing, audiences will embrace midnight movies that aren’t quite technically perfect. It’s how the movie feels that matters most.

Over the years Dan has watched enough midnight audiences to have a good feeling about what will sustain an audience’s interest and he’s pleased with this year’s selections. Having seen a few of them already myself, I agree with his enthusiasm. My hate/hate relationship with zombies will (probably) keep me from the new Romero flick, but otherwise I’m hoping to see you all at this year’s screenings.

The 2010 Midnight Adrenaline series features:

Amer: A three-part giallo style erotic thriller from Belgium about three key stages in a woman’s life, all of them more than just a bit gruesome. Directors élène Cattet and Bruno Fortet are scheduled to attend.

Centurion: A small platoon of Roman legionnaires survive an ambush by the Picts they have sworn to exterminate. Quintus Dias must lead his small band of soldiers through the dangerous wilds of Scotland to rescue their general while being pursued by the remorseless, relentless “barbarians” out for revenge.

Dream Home: Cheng Lai-Sheun’s dream is to own her own home and she will stop at nothing, not even vicious murder, to make her dream come true in this bloody thriller from Hong Kong.

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead: Romero forever changed the shape of cinema, most notably that ever-growing genre that’s grown around the idea of zombies that he himself helped create, with his classic Night of the Living Dead. He’s continued to use the undead as a metaphor for society’s various ills; in Survival of the Dead, a group of soldiers find themselves trapped between a zombie apocalypse and a human one.

RoboGeisha: Sibling rivalry reaches a whole new level when sisters Yoshie and Kikue are recruited by a company bent on world domination through the use of cybernetic-enhanced geisha assassins in this kitschy, fun, sci-fi actioner from Japan.

Splice: Two scientist lovers go undercover to experiment with injecting human DNA into things that aren’t human, eventually producing a winged chimera that forces them to have to decide where being a scientist stops and being a parent begins.

Ticked Off Trannies with Knives: A tribute to the old grindhouse exploitation films featuring, well…you know.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil: Tucker and Dale are a couple of hillbillies who rescue a young college student from drowning and get more trouble than thanks when her misunderstanding friends become convinced they need to rescue her from harm. That’s when all the messy dying begins.

The Wild Hunt: Erik’s girlfriend Evelyn leaves him to immerse herself into the elaborate LARP (live action role play) game beloved of his brother Bjorn who is extremely dedicated to his life as a “Viking chieftan”. Despite his misgiving, Erik decides to follow Evelyn into the game in hopes of bringing her back home with him. Soon Erik discovers the dangers that arise in crossing the fine line that separates fantasy from reality. An extremely engaging debut from Canadian director Alexandre Franchi.

SIFF spotlight: programming a festival

This year’s SIFF presents 189 narrative features, 54 documentary features, 13 archival films, and 150 short films from 67 countries. Twenty-five of those films are world premieres. Thirty-six are North American premieres and 12 are US premieres. No matter you how slice it, that’s a lot of films – and those are just the films that made it into the festival programming. Every year SIFF gets thousands of submissions for their festival. So how do they decide which films make it in?

Dan Doody, programmer of the Midnight Adrenaline series, and Clare Canzoneri, who programs Face the Music, explained the process to me.

The work of the programming panel – the group of programmers responsible for deciding what goes in and what doesn’t – begins in winter of the previous year, around November or December, although SIFF programming manager Beth Barrett tracks films from other festivals all throughout the year, festivals like Toronto, San Sebastian, Sundance, Rotterdam, and Berlin. While the SIFF team are keeping an eye on other festivals to see what’s other there, they’re also sending out the word that they’re accepting submissions.

And submissions they get. When the programming panels start meeting in January to talk about what films they might want included in the upcoming festival, they’re facing around 4,000 submissions, each of which needs to be reviewed along with the many films the programmers have solicited directly after seeing them at another festival or by keeping their ears open for buzz about new films.

The winnowing process starts early, says Dan. The first order of business is to weed out films that aren’t quite SIFF quality. This doesn’t necessarily that they’re bad films, just that they don’t fit; for example, “We got a bunch of Asian films that were very region specific and weren’t a good fit for Western audiences.”

By February, the programmers start “hammering down” in their panel dicussion: “I liked this – can someone else take a look at it?” is the primary question of the day. Sometimes the decision to include a film is easy – all, or at least a majority, of the programmers feel confident that a particular movie is a great fit for SIFF. Sometimes there’s equally agreement in the other direction. And sometimes there’s disagreement – a specific film’s champion might have to fight for it and win over the rest of the panel.

All of the films do get watched. SIFF manages this amazing job by utilizing a team of pre-screeners who take home boxes of films to review. While sitting around watching movies all day sounds pretty easy and fun, there is some serious work involved. Surely you’ve brought home at least one movie that you disliked enough to turn it off a few minutes in and move on with your life. The pre-screeners are required to log the amount of time that they watch the films – there’s a required minimum – and it turns out that most of them do watch every single frame.

Clare says, “I’m unable to not watch the whole film.”

Dan, on the other hand, says, “If I’m not interested in 20 minutes, it won’t work with an audience.” He says he can usually tell in the first five minutes if it’s going to be worth it. If the movie gets to the 20 minute mark without becoming engaging, he may move forward in the film to see if it does get better. He adds that if the film is solicited, the whole thing should be watched regardless of the 20 minute rule. “Something may not be bad – it’s just not my thing – but it may please a bigger audience.”

That’s the ultimate key to which films get included in the festival – how likely they are to fulfill the SIFF mission of presenting the best cinema available to the audience. “We can’t always get everything we love, but we have a wide perspective of films.”

SIFF Preview: Films4Families, FutureWave

Mountlake Terrace High School student Nicholas Terry makes his film directorial debut with Senior Prom this year at SIFF

Two of SIFF‘s most exciting programs are the closely aligned Films4Families and FutureWave, both aimed at giving young audience members a chance to get to know quality film from both sides of the camera. Both programs have year-round components but get a special gloss during the festival, with films from all over the world, including our own backyard.

FutureWave’s focus in on teens and young adults. This year’s festival features nine feature films curated specifically with them in mind. FutureWave Features 2010 includes such films I Kissed a Vampire, an American made musical about teen vampires balancing budding romance and bloodsucking; New Zealand sci fi film about psychic twins Under the Mountain and Samson and Delilah, an Australian love story about two Aboriginal teens.

Of particular note in this year’s FutureWave features is Senior Prom, an improvisational comedy along the lines of Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman that was shot by local director Nicholas Terry, 17, and features his Mountlake Terrace High School classmates as actors in a seriously funny look at the drama and excitement of the senior prom, told in a series of intertwined stories by actors who are as close to the subject as one can possibly get.

SIFF Educational Programs Coordinator Dustin Kaspar says that the goal of FutureWave is to give young people a chance to see as much as possible of what’s out there, presenting films that anyone at the festival can enjoy but that particularly appeal and engage youth. He recommends Bilal’s Stand, an inspriring story based on real life by 25 year old first time director Sultan Sharrief; Turn It Loose, a documentary about the World Championships of Breakdancing, held in Soweto, South Africa; and Regeneration, a world premiere film that “takes a hard-hitting look at youth and young adults and the culture of apathy” featuring appearances by the likes of Howard Zinn, Mos Def, and Amy Goodman in an examination of why the current generation of youth are not more active and how to get them engaged, a film that seeks to be a catalyst for change for people of all ages.

The FutureWave Shorts program takes youth film a step further – these films aren’t just aimed at young people, they’re made by them. Young filmmakers use a variety of film forms – documentary, fiction, animation – to tell stories encompassing all kinds of different subjects, from body image issues to family dynamics to pollution to identity issues and much, much more.

Kicking off the FutureWave Shorts program is the always exciting SuperFly Filmmaking challenge. Partnering with Longhouse Media, SIFF’s SuperFly Filmmaking Workshop takes 50 young people from all over the country and hooks them up with experienced mentors to create short films based on a script by Peter Bratt, giving them a mere 36 hours from start to finish.

Another great aspect of the FutureWave program is the FutureWave jury, a diverse group of young people from the Seattle area who will watch all the films in the program and cast their votes for the best films in the festival, making their award presentation at the Golden Space Needle Awards. YouthWave jurors might be budding filmmakers themselves or they might just be kids who are very interested in watching movies. In either case, the young people on the panel must learn that while it’s easy to say “This is my favorite film”, it’s a little harder to find consensus with the whole group but once they’ve made their decision it’s always a chance to for a fresh perspective on what makes a film worth watching.

The Films4Families program presents children’s films from all over the world, suitable for the whole family to watch. Short and feature length fiction and documentary features include live action and animation. Among this year’s standouts:

Eleanor’s Secret is a French animated film (dubbed in English) about a seven-year-old boy who moves into his late aunt’s house and discovers that Tante Eleanor left him an entire library of classic books. Problem one: Nat can’t read. Problem two: since Nat seems disinterested in the books, his parents sell them to a collector. And that’s when the real trouble begins – the character’s in Eleanor’s books come to life only in the library and if left unread will disappear, taking all their stories with them. Nat has to join them to save them but can he make it in time?

White Lion uses actual white lions to dramatize a folktale in which a legendary white lion, a messenger from the gods in Shangaan culture, must struggle to survive on his own with only a young Shangaan named Gisani to protect him from the dangers of the wild.

A young Spanish orphan named Carlos manages a dual life as an obedient student during school hours and a member of the Spanish national junior team behind the back of nasty orphanage director Hipolito in Carlitos and the Chance of a Lifetime.

Other films include From Time to Time, a British story of a time travelling boy who discovers a secret that could change history forever; Princess Lillifee, an animated film from Germany about the fairy who rules over the magic land of Pinkovia; Turtle: The Incredible Journey, the story of 25 years in the life of a sea turtle; and The Family Picture Show, a program of animated and live action shorts.

This year for the first time Films4Families has its own youth jury, consisting of kids from Seattle area elementary and middle schools.

Every year, some of the best films in the festival happen as part of one of these programs. Whether you have kids or ARE one, there’s definitely a lot on screen for you to enjoy, but even if you don’t fit into one of those groups, you should definitely check these films out.

NFFTY 2010 opens Thursday night

The National Film Festival for Talented Youth – NFFTY for short – is kicking off this year’s festival of films made by young people on Thursday, April 29, with an opening night film presentation at Cinerama and an opening night party at EMP’s Sky Church. The opening night films are seven shorts by young filmmakers ranging from 13 years old to 21, from all over the USA.

The festival continues through May 2nd at SIFF, Cinerama, EMP/SFM, and the Seattle Center Pavilion with a series of panels, parties and programs, concluding with an awards ceremony to recognize exceptional films. Among the highlights are Sunday night’s Closing Night: Washington Scene program which highlights films from young Washingtonians. We don’t just love to see movies here, we love to make them, too, and there are some great up-and-coming young filmmakers putting their works on display: fiction, fantasy and fact-based films are included.

Washington’s not the only source of great youth filmmaking, though: films in the festival come from China, the UK, France, Denmark, Iran, Mexico, Canada, and more. There are documentaries on a wide variety of subjects, fiction films encompassing a wide variety of themes, animation, sports and music movies and more.

Obviously, NFFTY is a lot of fun for young people – there’s even a family film program with movies for the whole family, including the younger kids – but what makes NFFTY doubly-exciting is that these films are well worth watching even for audience members who have left their own youth behind. And, hey, you never know – one day you may be watching one of these teens or young adults picking up their first Oscar and be able to brag about how you saw their first film way back in the day.

Passes and tickets can be purchased in advance online. For a complete schedule, check the NFFTY site

2010 Langston Hughes Film Festival opens April 17

One of my favorite films at last year’s SIFF was Nurse. Fighter. Boy, a movie which I think deserved a lot more attention than it got. I’m thrilled that it’s getting another screening in front of Seattle audiences – this time as the opening night film at the 2010 Langston Hughes African American Film Festival. The festival is partnering with the Northwest Sickle Cell Collaborative and their Metropolitan Seattle Sickle Cell Task Force to present this movie, and donating $5 of each Opening Night ticket sold to the task force.

Nurse.Fighter.Boy at Langston Hughes African American Film Festival

Nurse.Fighter.Boy is a story of love and hope that breaks your heart and mends it all at once. The nurse of the title is Jude, a single mother who is struggling with Sickle Cell Anemia. The boy is her son Ciel who spins dreams from music to support his mother. Silence is a boxer past his prime fighting illegally to survive; when a late night brawl sends him to the hospital, his life becomes tightly tied to Jude and Ciel. With outstanding cinematography, excellent acting by the cast, an engrossing story and one of the best movie soundtracks ever recorded, Nurse. Fighter. Boy is not to be missed. Filmmaker Charles Officer will attend the screening.

The closing night film on April 25 is Still Bill, a documentary about Bill Withers (“Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Lean on Me”, “Lovely Day”, “Just the Two of Us”) whose soulful delivery and warm, charismatic nature have made him a soul legend.

In between the two, the festival screens a variety of films from around the world; see the website for scheduled screenings, locations, and advance tickets.

Sakura-con returns

Previous year Sakura-con attendees in a photo by Roger Abramson via Creative Commons

It started as a small event for Otaku – devoted fans of anime and manga, Japanese cartoons and comics – back in 1998 at the Double Tree Inn in Tukwila, but in the past few years Sakura-Con has grown huge, necessitating a move to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in downtown Seattle. Starting April 2, fans of anime, manga, and Japanese culture as a whole will be gathered together for lectures, classes, screenings, contests, shows, games, and just hanging out together and having a good time.

With three full days of activities from morning through night, Sakura-Con truly does offer something for everyone. Diehard fans have some tough decisions to make as they attempt to fit in everything and casual fans or the merely curious get a great opportunity to sample a little bit of everything to determine what they like.

If you are a casual fan, experienced attendees have some tips for you: go with friends who are more knowledgeable to keep from being overwhelmed, or go Friday, the most (relatively) quiet of days and make sure you check the schedule in advance to find a day that offers the most of what interests you. DoktorZetsubou, going for the fifth time, suggests that if you’re not sure you’re ready for a con, you sit on the bottom floor and observe for a while, but adds, “If you’ve got a casual interest in anime, I’d definitely recommend spending one of the days there just to see if you’re into it or not and get an idea as to what the ‘anime fan community’ is like. Sakura-Con’s website has some great tips for con attendees that are particularly helpful for the first-timer.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to seeing is all the costumes – a significant number of people participate in “cosplay” – dressing up as their favorite characters – and ever since the con moved downtown a few years ago I’ve always looked forward to seeing costumed guests walking around downtown. Costumes are a big draw – says Sailor Tweek (who has been six time), ” I’m also a big fan of the costumes. No matter how good or bad the costumes might be, I love the ocean of creativity that is cosplay at a convention!” Michi, an attendee since 2002 and staff since 2006, is looking forward to “being able to wear the costumes that I’ve put several months worth of time and effort into.” Says Small Rini Lady, in her third year on staff with eight years of attendance, “I love to see people dressed up in their outfits and get into the roles and I love to dress up myself (i have 7 outfits ready for this year). It’s so fun to join in games and jump into conversations with people you’ve never met before but its like your best of friends because you assume the roles (the characters) that have known each other forever.”

Not everyone’s comfortable dressing up, of course, but it’s definitely always cool to see those who are. Plus, there’s are many other attractions. Small Rini Lady says, “I’ve brought many friend who just liked to people watch and enjoy the atmosphere. They love to look at the costumes, try the new things, practice their photography, watch the anime to see why it’s so popular. It’s like going to a museum in a foreign country for them, tons to learn and spark new interest from.”

Amplexicaule, going for the second time, says, “[M]y favorite things have been the exhibitor’s hall, and the Anime That Scarred Me For Life panel.” DoktorZetsubou will be happy to see other fans: “I really love the people there, everyone’s so friendly and I’ve met some really incredible fellow fans there. Otherwise, I’m a figure maniac, and so the shopping aspect is really exciting. The panels, too… I just love the whole convention, I guess. This year I’m most looking forward to shopping, being around other anime fanatics, and seeing DJ Sharpnel.”

Most people attending are from the area, but Sakura-Con’s a big enough draw that people travel here for it–besides Washington, con-goers come from all over the US and Canada, too.

Among the activities this year: “Being a Digital DJ” with DJ Shrapnel, Comic Production with Chloe Chan, Ancient Anime from Japanese History, Chado Urasenke Tankokai Seattle Association presenting the Way of Tea, Kabuki Academy, and What Not To Wear, Kimono Edition, are just a few of the panels; there are three dances including a formal ball; a charity auction to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Sakura-Con Cosplay Chess, in which convention attendees in cosplay serve as the pieces; art shows and exhibitors.

Pre-registration for Sakura-Con is closed, but don’t fret: you can still purchase a membership, full or pro-rated, at the door that allows you to attend.

Calling all kids who like movies

Ever wonder who makes up the jury that hands out awards at film festivals? Most of the time, it’s a selection of film professionals–writers, directors, technicians, etc.–which makes sense. Why not have peers reviewing their peers?

SIFF agrees. During their annual festival, their featuries, documentaries, and shorts of all sorts are reviewed with an eye for excellence by a group of professionals.

Two special programs within the festival, however, require two special juries. The Films4Families program is aimed at introducing young children to the joys of film. The FutureWave program is about introducing young people to filmmaking by hand-ons immersion. These special groups of films get judged by the people most important to them–the young people who make them and the young people for whom they’re made.

SIFF is seeking jury members for both programs. To be eligible, you must be a student in King County who really cares about film. If you are in grades 3 – 7, you can apply to be on the Films4Families jury. If you’re in grades 8 – 12, you can apply to be on the FutureWave jury. (As someone who is way older than either of those groups, I envy you a bit: every year some of my favorite films in the festival come out of these two categories.)

To apply, go online and download the application here.

If you need more information, send an e-mail to or call 206.464.5830.

Weekend Film Agenda: October 16

NWFF offers up an excellent evening of movie and music magic with a screening of The Saga of Gosta Berling, starring a dewy young Greta Garbo, introduced by Paul Norien and accompanied by a live soundtrack performed by Murl Allen Sanders. Friday night only.

The 2009 Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival kicks off this weekend at NWFF, Cinerama, Central Cinema, The Egyptian, Central Library, and The Admiral. As always, films run the gamut from beloved classics like1975’s The Naked Civil Servant about pioneering British activist Quentin Crisp, for example to the hot and new, like An Englishman in New York in which John Hurt reprises his role as Crisp, older and wiser than ever. There are a variety of excellent documentaries, features and shorts, as well as great programs like the opening, centerpiece and closing galas, not to mention the not to be missed Night with Mink Stole, hosted by Peaches Christ. Mink has appeared in over 25 films, including every one by John Waters, and is a vivacious, charming entertainer. Following a screening of Waters’ brutal Desperate Living with Stole as a middle-class murderer finding refuge from the law in a lawless village ruled by a mad queen, Ms. Stole will discuss her films, answer questions and do a post-show meet and greet.

The festival runs through October 25.

Speaking of festivals, the Festival of New Spanish Cinema plays SIFF through the 21st. Most of the films are US premieres and all of them represent the best of contemporary Spanish filmmaking. Amongst the offerings: The Sound of the Sea, an animated work about freedom, passion, and loss, and The Shame, an emotionally gripping tale of a couple who can’t handle their adopted son and contemplate “sending him back”.

Grand Illusion takes a break from all the graphic horror they’ve screened lately with 1964’s The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. Starring Tony Randall in seven distinct roles, include the titular character, Dr. Lao is a gem of film with a surprising emotional intensity as an extremely unusual circus gives the inhabitants of a small town a unique view of their own selves. Plays nightly at 7; stick around for the 9 pm screening of Jason and the Argonauts, the 1963 telling of the well-known myth that tells an interesting story and features some of classic F/X creator Ray Harryhausen’s best work including a skeleton army that is creepy to this day.

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