Hammer to Nail: The Complete History of Seattle

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The Complete History of Seattle doesn’t just eschew the band documentary formula. Nick Toti’s film, which is mainly about 90s Christian experimental punk group, Raft of Dead Monkeys, binges on the genre and then simultaneously craps and barfs it back up. Believe it or not, this is not a criticism. It’s quite refreshing and exciting to watch something from a typically formulaic genre and not have any clue where you’ll end up.

Part of the reason the film is structured this way is due to Raft of Dead Monkeys’ wholly unique stage show. The band rose from the ashes of 90-Pound Wuss and Roadside Monument – two popular Christian punk bands that were darlings of the faith-based Seattle indie label Tooth & Nail. Taking their name from a throwaway joke in an Adam Sandler SNL skit, they were not your garden variety Christians. Raft’s music was particularly profane and noisy, and their performances invoked many provocative images including bloody crucifixions, fascism, monkeys barfing bananas, male and female go-go dancers, and sexy junkie nurses (played by their wives and girlfriends). At the time of their formation, the band members were feeling disillusioned and alienated from both their fellow Christian musicians and the secular punk scene at large. According to their manifesto, they were attempting to create the music that would usher in the apocalypse. In response to feeling shunned, they basically became Christian anarchists…

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SIFF 2016 Wrap-Up

Another SIFF has come and gone. This year, the Seattle International Film Festival ran from May 19th to June 12th and featured 421 films from 85 countries. I have to say this was one of my favorite years. With so many options, it’s always hard to narrow down one’s itinerary. Plus, even when most of the films are great, seeing so many in such a concentrated period of time tends to make them all blur together. But I loved so many of the films I saw this year, that when I receive the inevitable question, “what’s good?” I have a long and enthusiastic answer. If you’re reading this, I assume you would have asked me the same question. So here it is…

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SIFF Review: The IF Project

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Most people join law enforcement because they want to help victims of crime, but not as many are equally as passionate about helping the people who committed crimes. To Seattle P.D. Officer Kim Bogucki the inmates of the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, WA are more than just numbers. They are human beings who have made horrible mistakes. If they share what they’ve learned with young girls and women in the outside world, perhaps they can prevent someone else from meeting the same fate. Kathlyn Horan’s documentary, The IF Project, profiles Bogucki and the program she started as well as four of the inmates whose lives were changed as a result.

The first writing assignment Bogucki gave inmates was to write a letter to their younger selves telling them something that might have changed the course of their life. That first day, her query was met with silence. But the question stuck with one inmate, a woman named Renata Abramson, and she began to not only discover the answer for herself, but also to pose it to her fellow inmates. Months later, Renata presented Bogucki with a stack of letters and the IF Project was born…

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SIFF Review: Finding Kim

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There has been a recent surge in films about trans people, both narrative and documentary. And it’s about time. Trans rights have long been either lumped in with the rest of the LGBTQ issues, or ignored altogether. According to Kim, a trans man and the subject of Aaron Bear’s first feature documentary, Finding Kim, the Ls, Gs, Bs, and Qs have been some of the worst offenders for undermining trans equality. Trans women in particular have been excluded from women’s events as if they were devious cisgender men in disguise.

Fortunately for Kim, he lives in Seattle, where he has a supportive group of friends and can utilize his health insurance to cover his first surgical procedure, done by a sympathetic specialist. This has been a long time coming for Kim, who didn’t come to terms with being trans until his late 40s. Raised as a girl, Kim was often called a boy by peers, as if it were an insult. His classmates also barred him from using the bathroom at school – any bathroom. He never told his parents what he was going through, resulting in a very lonely existence. When he was older, he thought he might be a lesbian, but after spending time in that community, he still didn’t feel quite right. He finally had his life-altering breakthrough when he met a therapist who told him that all those masculine feelings he had were because he was a man. Within a couple of months, he was taking daily testosterone shots (called “T”) and finally starting to feel at home in his own body…

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SIFF Review: The Return

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Despite our founding principals, the United States is generally terrible at taking care of our own, especially if they suffer from mental illness or addiction. Newly released prisoners are just one of the many groups the system fails on a regular basis. Kelly Duane de La Vega and Katie Galloway’s vital documentary, The Return, details just one aspect of the myriad flaws in the American criminal justice system.

Following the voter-approved repealing of California’s Prop 184, also known as the Three Strikes Law, thousands of non-violent prisoners with life-sentences suddenly qualified for appeals. But you can’t strip someone of their humanity, as our prison system does, then dump them on the outside and expect them to thrive…

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SIFF Review: The Family Fang

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Jason Bateman is no stranger to the aggravation of selfish, irresponsible parents. On Arrested Development, he played arguably the most put-upon son in television history. Bateman returns to the well for his second directorial outing, adapting Kevin Wilson’s novel, The Family Fang. Bateman and Nicole Kidman play a pair of adult siblings who are developmentally arrested by their childhood spent being the unwitting participants in their parents’ surreptitious public art performances. Think the lesson pranks George Bluth paid J. Walter Weatherman to pull on his children. Only this time, the intent is a lot less explicit and the emotional consequences much less humorous…

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SIFF Review: The Joneses

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It shouldn’t be too much to ask of the world to let us live our truth. And yet, for Jheri Jones, and an estimated .3% of American adults identifying as transgender, it often seems an insurmountable request. It wasn’t until Jheri stopped waiting for permission that she could be truly happy. Moby Longinotto’s poignant, heartfelt, and often hilarious documentary, The Joneses, follows transgender matriarch Jheri and her family during another period of transition. Jheri struggles to find the right moment to tell her story to the grandchildren who’ve only ever known her as Grandma. Meanwhile, one of her sons, inspired by Jheri’s bravery, decides to stop hiding his true self. It’s a story filled with equal parts heartbreak and redemption, but, most importantly, it has something missing from far too many stories about transgender Americans: Hope…

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