by Herb Krohn -
SGN Contributing Writer
The Seattle International Film Festival is now underway, and will continue through June 12. Here is SGN's look at the festival's prominent LGBT-oriented films.
Information and tickets can be found at www.siff.net as well as the SIFF box office (located on the second floor of Pacific Place) and SIFF Cinema at the Seattle Center (321 Mercer Street).
Friday, June 3, 7 p.m., Harvard Exit
Sunday, June 5, 4:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema
Two guys meet, converse, and date (if you want to call it that) over a weekend and forever change one other's lives. While not very complex, not very deep, and nothing unique or new, it nonetheless is a mildly entertaining film. At 96 minutes, it may be a bit too long and does tend to drag. Yet it all takes place over a weekend. It does explore deep topics as the two characters converse about their lives, but it doesn't really satisfy the potential that it could have had as a film. Worthwhile, but don't expect to be too impressed. It seems to be a valid effort in Gay-oriented cinema even if it doesn't really hook the audience on any emotional level, as it is more of a 'been there, done that' film plot.
Rating: Above Average
Genre: Political Drama, Romance
Saturday, June 4, 6:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
Monday, June 6, 4:15 p.m., Egyptian
While productions from other parts of the world can often be lacking, the only real complaint with this unusual film is the low-level lighting. It's very dark throughout, making it frequently difficult for the audience to see what is transpiring on the screen. What makes this film really unusual is that it was made in Iran and managed to make it out of the country, circumventing the notorious censorship by a repressive government that is among the world's most hostile towards homosexuality (it is still a crime punishable by death). This is a tale of two women who fall in love, and the storyline is a powerful one, especially coming from Iran. So, while the film suffers from production issues, it remains an extremely significant work of cinema given its context and the subject matter it explores.
Man at Bath
Genre: Relationship Issues
France/New York City (Subtitled)
Screened May 25 and 26
A man preparing to leave for New York on business has a conflict with his boyfriend, and tells him to be gone when he returns. The film follows each of them on their exploits over the next several days, both in New York City and in France. The positives: male frontal nudity (including erections), soft-core sex, some enjoyable male eye candy, and a short 72-minute running time. The negatives: even at 72 minutes, this film is too long, awful in almost every way, and has an almost non-existent, incoherent plot. It is among the worst films screened at SIFF 2011 so far and is not worth the price of admission, unless your idea of a good time is looking at your watch every few minutes because you can't wait for it to end. After feeling compelled to sit all the way through this worthless tripe (just in case it redeemed itself), it made me wonder where and how anyone was able to raise the considerable funds necessary to create such a profound waste of celluloid. Is international Gay cinema taking a step back after finally moving two steps forward? Time will tell. Anyway, this is one not just to avoid, but to run away from!
Rating: Very Good
Genre: Romance Drama
Screened May 20 and 21
Another winner from director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Heaven). This film centers on a heterosexual married couple who both end up falling in love with the same man, unbeknownst to both of them and the object of their affections. This is a poignant and clever cinematic work of art that explores life, death, and the complexities of love and attraction in unique and masterful ways. As with most of Tykwer's work, this is movie is beautifully filmed with expert cinematography and a complex yet cohesive plot that culminates with satisfaction. Soon to be released, watch for it!
Rating: Very Good
Genre: Family Drama
Coming to theaters June 3
This film screened as one of the selections in the 'Tribute to Ewan McGregor' series. The movie stars the actor as a 75-year-old who, following the death of his wife, comes out as Gay and takes a young male lover - much to the consternation of his 30ish son, who has relationship issues of his own. It is a delightful movie about love, life, and aging, told in a sensitive and respectful way that will appeal to mainstream audiences. The performances are rock solid, the production values high, and the plot consistent, realistic, and entirely believable. While it doesn't hook the audience too tightly on an emotional level, it still draws your complete attention and interest. It's a film worth watching, if for nothing else than to witness the evolution of Gay-themed cinema and Gay film characterizations in the USA.
Other SIFF highlights:
Genre: Documentary Biography
Wednesday, June 8, 7 p.m., SIFF Cinema
Thursday, June 9, 6:30 p.m., Kirkland Performance Center
The test of an outstanding documentary is whether it can take an audience in on a subject they may have no interest in or knowledge of, and completely absorb their interest intellectually and perhaps emotionally to the point that they are wowed. Buck is one of those films! This wonderful work is a profile of Buck Brannaman, the man who was the inspiration for the film The Horse Whisperer. The film profiles Brannaman from his childhood start, performing rope tricks with his brother and starring in a famous Kellogg's Sugar Smacks commercial in the early 1970s. However, all was not well in the Brannaman home, and we learn all about the adversity that Buck overcame in his own life to become a remarkable cowboy and horse trainer who has radically altered the acceptable ways of training and breaking in horses. Brannaman travels the country each year conducting clinics to teach horse owners how to handle their animals, and how to understand how they think and why they behave as they do. This must-see film profiles Brannaman and how his life experiences parallel the old way of raising horses and how he has changed the entire culture of American horsemanship. There are many lessons to be learned from this remarkable human being and his relationships with both human and horse. Seeing this film will cause you to examine your own relationships and your own existence. It is, without a doubt, one of the best films in this year's SIFF lineup, and among the best documentary films made in recent times.
Rating: Very Good
Genre: Family Drama
Tuesday, May 31, 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place
Sunday, June 5, 3:30 p.m., Admiral
This interesting drama centers on the life of a Polish family who flees to Eastern Poland to try to avoid Hitler's approaching onslaught. The plot centers on the 12-year-old son who resides at a Catholic boarding school, who at the beginning of the film desperately wants his parents to take him on their upcoming trip to Venice, Italy. The war intervenes preventing the travel, so he soon finds himself at his grandmother's country home with the rest of the family, including his cousins and aunts. The basement of this spacious house floods out, and he creates a miniature Venice in the cavernous cellar which becomes a place of refuge for the entire family during the occupation. There are several Jewish characters and families which are central to the story, as resistance to Nazi oppression as well as graphic demonstrations of anti-Semitic brutality and murder are major turning points in the film's plot. Everyone can understand and relate to the view of the world as seen through the youngster's eyes and those of the other children in this story. This film sets the scene and time period with mastery.
My So-Called Enemy
USA/Israel, Occupied Territories (Partially Subtitled)
Sunday, June 5, 6:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
Monday, June 6, 4:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
Building Bridges for Peace is a U.S.-based organization that attempts to undermine hatred, violence, and terrorism by promoting dialogue and understanding between warring factions. This documentary focuses on this effort by examining six Israeli and six Palestinian high school students, who are brought to a home in upstate New York to spend a week engaging in a mediation workshop. It is amazing to watch as these young women interact honestly and directly with each other outside and far away from their home environment. As they could easily be mistaken for a class or a small group of friends, it is remarkable to see how similar they all are, yet an almost unbridgeable gap exists in the midst of it all. The film goes on to follow up on many of the participants after the short weeklong workshop over the next several years. True friendship does take hold between some of them, even across the dividing wall, yet in other cases the women head down their own paths as they mature into adulthood. The heated discussions between these girls delve into the hatred shared by both sides, yet we see that even those with the strongest animosity for the other side are able to empathize with their enemy on at least an individualized basis. Yet they all leave with some lasting change within themselves: the inability - despite their deeply ingrained beliefs - to completely dehumanize the other side. The production values in the making of this film are strong and evident; it flows and keeps the audience's interest throughout. This documentary is one not to miss.
USA, Rwanda, and countries across Europe (Partially Subtitled)
Sunday, May 29, 10 a.m., Harvard Exit
Monday, May 30, 4 p.m., Harvard Exit
What is the proper role for foreign diplomats who find themselves in a country where genocide is taking place and they are besieged with pleas for help from those being persecuted? In this fact-based film, we follow Sir Martin Gilbert and Stephanie Nyombayire (a Rwandan activist), who travel across Europe and through time to explore and profile the efforts of the handful of brave diplomats who dared to defy their own governments and risked their own careers and lives to engage in remarkable and heroic efforts to save Jews from Hitler's death grip. Told through archival footage, graphics, and moving maps, as well as contemporary interviews, this is a gripping and compelling story of how a few brave people doing the right thing can have a lasting impact for generations into the future. However, our two guides also attempt to uncover why genocide continues to take place so often in the world as they explore the role of diplomats and the nations they represent in such situations. This must-see documentary examines history, the role of the individual, and the loyalty of diplomats to their home country and to humanity as well as the end result of those who were spared. Many of those profiled paid a huge personal price to save others from the Nazis, who often openly and defiantly violated their own government's policies (a German diplomat and Nazi party member who acted to save Jews is profiled). This film is a fascinating examination of individuals willing to brave enormous consequences and risk everything to save the lives of others.
How to Die in Oregon
Currently airing on HBO
This standout documentary feature examines Oregon's 'Death with Dignity' law, enacted in 1994, and how it is being utilized by those with terminal illnesses and short life expectancy. The film begins by showing an Oregon resident taking the final dose of drugs to end his own life as he thanks 'the Oregon voters' as he lives out his final moments. This documentary explores a very sensitive and difficult subject with the tact and thoroughness it deserves. The bulk of the film follows a terminally ill Oregon woman who plans to invoke her rights under this legislation when the time is right, and also profiles a Washington state woman who helped lead Initiative 1000 at the behest of her deceased husband, who died a horribly painful death because Washington state lacked such a law at the time. Initiative 1000 passed here in 2008.
The filmmakers also attempt to provide balance in profiling an Oregon man who, when facing a terminal illness, was told in writing by the State of Oregon that they would only offer hospice care or aid in dying rather than treatment for his disease - a response which was quickly reversed due to the controversy. This exposed some of the realities behind the fears of opponents of this innovative law. Going deeper, this outstanding film explores the issues of end-of-life care, societal constructs around death, and the messages that are conveyed about suffering and dying. This film won the top documentary prize at the Sundance Film festival and is a strong contender for Best Documentary at 2011 SIFF. Whether you support or oppose assisted suicide, don't miss seeing this one!
A Barefoot Dream
Genre: Social Docudrama
S. Korea/East Timor (Subtitled)
A down-on-his-luck former Korean soccer player is lured to East Timor by a con artist, and quickly learns he is about to be ripped off. He ends up opening a sporting goods store and falls upon the idea of selling tennis shoes on credit to the impoverished youth of this war-torn country. One thing leads to another, and he ends up coaching a youth soccer team as a way to sell the shoes, but when it ends up not working well, he decides to try to get them into an international youth soccer tournament in Japan. With lots of ups and downs, this film is a delightful work that hooks the audience emotionally with the plight of the characters and the situation. It is a demonstration of cinema at its best - by taking a subject and plot that most people would have no interest in, and making it a completely absorbing, complex, and worthwhile film. Based on a true story.
Other SIFF Films of LGBT Interest:
Friday, June 10, 9:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
Saturday, June 11, 1:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
SIFF Gay-La Film Presentation with party afterwards
Thursday, June 9, 7 p.m., Egyptian
Saturday, June 11, 3 p.m., Egyptian
Bi, Don't Be Afraid!
Screened May 22 and 25
Sunday, June 5, 9:15 p.m., Pacific Place
Monday, June 6, 4:30 p.m., Pacific Place
Wednesday, June 1, 9 p.m., SIFF Cinema
Friday, June 3, 4:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same
Saturday, May 28, 9:45 p.m., Egyptian
Sunday, May 29, 4 p.m., Egyptian
Do You See Colors When You Close Your Eyes?
Tuesday, May 31, 7 p.m., Admiral Theatre
Saturday, June 4, 11 a.m., Harvard Exit
A Few Days of Respite
Thursday, June 2, 8:30 p.m., Admiral Theatre
Saturday, June 4, 11 a.m., Egyptian
Saturday, June 11, 6:00 p.m., Kirkland Performance Center
Four More Years
Saturday, May 28, 1 p.m., Pacific Place
Friday, June 10, 9:30 p.m., Pacific Place
Sunday, June 12, 3:30 p.m., Pacific Place
Gun Hill Road
Friday, May 27, 7 p.m., Harvard Exit
Sunday, May 29, 3:30 p.m., Admiral
Hit So Hard
Friday, May 27, 9 p.m., Egyptian
Sunday, May 29, 4 p.m., Neptune
Wednesday, June 8, 7 p.m., Harvard Exit
Friday, June 10, 4 p.m., Pacific Place
Saturday, June 11, 6:30 p.m., Neptune
Sunday, June 12, 11 a.m., Neptune
Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour
Saturday, June 4, 9:30 p.m., Neptune
Tuesday, June 7, 4:30 p.m., Egyptian
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