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SIFF 2024 #3: What to see? Some early recommendations…

Our Rating

What to see? What to see? The pared-down Seattle International Film Festival is shorter and leaner, but still filled with so many intriguing-looking movies hard it’s hard to narrow things down. There are several that I’m really looking forward to, like Pamela Adlon’s feature directorial debut Babes (which, pardon my French, has the funniest g-d trailer I’ve seen in years); the documentary on Merchant Ivory (because I adore their movies); Rainier: A Beer Odyssey, which is a no-brainer for folks who lived in the Pacific Northwest in the 70s; the opening night film Thelma, with 90-something action star June Squibb killin’ it, I’m sure; and The Primevals, which simply looks amazing (both in a “bless their heart” way, and a “this is freakin’ awesome” way). Speaking of my favorite movies, a restored Wings of Desire is playing on the amazing SIFF Downtown screen, and it makes me weep that I’m out of town that night.

In the meantime, I’ve been able to see a dozen or so early screeners so far of films that will be playing SIFF. Here are some of my faves so far (with more reviews coming!):

Luther: Never Too MuchLuther: Never Too Much (7/8)
Dawn Porter’s terrific documentary serves both as a great introduction to R&B singer Luther Vandross and as a fantastic gift for those who are already fans of the late singer. The film starts by pulling you in with his live performance of “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” showcasing what an engaging stage performer and industry pro he was, surrounding himself with a killer band and the best supporting vocalists. The doc follows his career from his teenage years, when he was already performing, to Sesame Street (!) where his band was plucked from Harlem’s Apollo Theater to be on the children’s show, to becoming an in-demand vocal arranger and backup singer (he performed on David Bowie’s “Young Americans”), to making a mint singing commercial jingles, to finally his huge success as a solo artist. All through his career, especially when he became a star, there was an inordinate amount of attention given by the media (and even pushed by his record label) about his see-sawing weight (leading to health complications like diabetes). Lightly touched upon is the murmured speculation that he was a closeted gay man. It’s clear from all interviewed that he was lonely outside of his chosen musical family (who are still protective of him). The movie treats this heartbreaking aspect of his life tenderly and a little distantly, and there is a tricky balance between respecting a dead man’s privacy, and well, giving a full portrait. But, oh, the music in this film is SOOO good. If you loved 20 Feet from Stardom (SIFF 2013 Best Documentary winner), this film is right up your alley.

Fish WarFish War (7/8)
There’s an elder named Ramona Bennett from Washington state’s Puyallup Tribe, who still cackles with delight remembering how she and other indigenous protestors fought the “pigs” back in the day in this infuriating, inspiring, and sometimes chilling documentary. I was agog that as someone who grew up in Washington, I was never taught about the contentious legal fight for native fishing rights that was ultimately decided by 1974’s United States vs Washington (also known as the Boldt decision). Judge Boldt, a conservative judge from Montana, decided that Washington state had to abide by the treaties from the 1850s when Northwest tribes agreed to cede their land in return for preserving their right to fish in “all usual and accustomed grounds”. This meant that not only could Northwest tribes fish outside of their designated reservations (aka pretty much anywhere), but that they were entitled to 50% of the state’s salmon harvest—an astonishing decision that completely shook the state’s huge fishing industry. The legal battles continued for decades. Now the tribes and the state co-manage fishing resources, but a new mutual enemy threatens the industry: climate change. The film is chock full of amazing footage from the 1960s (showing state officials literally pulling tribal folks from their fishing boats and destroying their equipment), has great interviews from folks from many different tribal nations (as well as lawyers from both sides, state biologists, and reps from the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife), and is a rousing tribute to indigenous activists, including Billy Frank, Jr.

The New BoyThe New Boy (7/8)
I’m a sucker for a film with gorgeous cinematography, and this film has that in spades. The setting is 1940s Australia, awash in dusty golds and browns. An Aboriginal boy is found alone in the Outback. He is captured and delivered to a remote boys’ orphanage, dropped off unceremoniously in a sack like a mail delivery. Sister Eileen (Cate Blanchett, glammed-down), has a patience and fascination with the boy.  The New Boy (as he is dubbed), brings a new level of wonder and curiosity to the tiny community, plus more than a little bit of magical realism. But when a life-sized wooden carving of Jesus on the cross is delivered, the New Boy sees a brown man who looks like him rather than the symbol of the religion that is destined to separate him from his own culture both physically and spiritually.

Critical Zone (7/8)
I went into this movie cold, knowing nothing about it. As it unfolded, I initially thought it was a documentary. It turns out Iranian filmmaker Ali Ahmadzadeh shot the film without permits due to it’s subject matter (one night in the life of a Tehran drug dealer), so had to be creative with discreet and creative placement of cameras lending often to a frenetic fly-on-the-wall urgency. We follow the drug dealer in question, whom we eventually learn is named Amir, as he picks up his goods, carefully preps and weighs and bags and bakes his goods in his apartment, then gets into his car for a long night of deliveries. Amir is sort of a shaggy, hippie type, and soon it becomes clear that he is actually a kind, empathetic man, seemingly in contrast to the chaotic underbelly in which he works. His main companion through the night is the female voice of his car’s GPS system as he delivers to his clients, ranging from the scrappier folks on the street to the unexpected (like a nursing home worker, a flight attendant, and a mother). The film is invigorating, stressful, wild, and surprisingly moving.

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