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SIFF 2024 #5: Creatives and creators

Our Rating

Art can come from a source of joy, pain, or strife, as shown in these wildly different portrayals of creators…

Rainier: A Beer Odyssey (6/8)
Rainier: A Beer OdysseyAnyone who grew up or lived in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s and 80s will remember Rainier Beer’s iconic, goofy television ads. In 1974 alone, there were the ribbiting Rainier frogs, the herd of two-legged beer bottles scuttling across the road, and (my personal favorite) the motorcycle revving down the road with the mountain towering in the distance, “Rrrrrrraaaaaiii… neeeerrrrr… beeeeerrrrrrr….” Created by a marketing group led by Terry Heckler and Gordon Bowker (who himself was one of the founders of Starbucks… what!), these goofy, gleeful commercials were churned out, seemingly as fast as the team would come up with the ideas. This film exhaustively highlights the ads, the ad team, as well as the history of Rainier Beer’s marketing before and after. (Heckler and Bowker’s ads made Rainier jump to an astonishing 50% of the beer market in Washington state at its peak.) At one point, Hollywood icon Mickey Rooney was featured in several Rainier ads (during one of his career lulls), asking to be paid with a Ford station wagon to avoid having to pay more alimony (haha!). The interviews with folks involved are fun and enlightening (my favorite being the editor who made the perfect splice for the motorcycle ad to appear as one seamless shot), and you can tell by the stories that they all got a kick out of working on those campaigns. Ironically, the documentary itself feels like it could use a bit of an edit—but you can tell it’s absolutely a labor of love, an ode to Seattle’s scrappier, simpler times.

Resynator (6/8)
Alison Tavel was always told that she got her love of music from her father Don Tavel, who died in a car crash when she was only 10 weeks old. All she knew about Don was that he was some sort of Superman and musical genius that “invented the synthesizer”. Dubbed the Resynator, Don’s black box with lots of knobs was purportedly shopped to the likes of Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and Jon Anderson of Yes. But since Alison grew up in a happy family with a lovely stepfather, she never really thought to find out more about Don until she herself worked in the music industry when she was 25. Resynator is both a profile of the synthesizer that she found in wrapped in bubble wrap in her grandmother’s attic, but also an investigation into who Don really was. As Alison interviews friends and family, as well as various musicians about the capabilities and uniqueness of the strange black box with lots of twirling knobs, she discovers a flawed, troubled man. The movie spans almost 10 years, and truthfully, Alison herself grows and matures through the making of the film. For a first-time film project, the movie also evolves and gets better the deeper she dives. By the time she meets Peter Gabriel (who, back in the day, expressed interest in the prototype), it’s Gabriel who immediately points out that she is making a film not about the Resynator, but about her father, to give herself some context and closure about her relationship (or lack thereof) with the enigma of her dad. The emotional wallop at the end of the film is well-earned, just as it seems that Alison had to take the full journey before arriving at the final destination.

Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano (5/8)
Dancing on the Edge of a VolcanoIn 2020, 2700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, flattening city blocks, killing over 200 people, and wounding thousands of others. In the midst of this was director Mounia Akl and her film crew who were preparing to make her feature film debut Costa Brava, Lebanon (SIFF 2022). Their production office was littered in glass and many of them were wounded (and had friends who died). This is a film about the making of a film, where everything that could go wrong really does—currency is in freefall, there’s rolling blackouts of electricity, their lead actor gets stuck in customs at the airport for over 24 hours. Oh, and there’s the first year of COVID as well. I can see why the filmmakers immediately wanted to make a video diary of their situation, and I’m not sure how much more you could add to make their situation worse (other than a full-on war breaking out). But I feel like it may work best as a companion piece to the finished film Costa Brava (which I haven’t seen), making both films more rich in the contrast of what it took to get the film(s) made.

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