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 Queen of Ireland

Director Conor Horgan is a longtime friend of Ireland’s most famous drag queen, Panti Bliss, so he couldn’t be more qualified to bring her story to the big screen. Panti is more than just an entertainer. She is the accidental leader of a civil rights movement in Ireland, kick starting the national conversation about gay rights and marriage equality. It’s very possible that without her advocacy, Ireland wouldn’t have become the first country to approve marriage equality by popular vote. Horgan’s engaging and concisely comprehensive film tells the story of Panti’s origins and how she came to be The Queen of Ireland.

Panti Bliss isn’t exactly a household name in America, but in Ireland, she’s basically RuPaul. Panti’s male counterpart is Rory O’Neill, a man from a small, idyllic town in County Mayo called Ballinrobe. He grew up “painfully middle class” but always with the awareness that he was different from other boys. Horgan, began filming Rory/Panti in 2010 when he was still just a moderately successful club owner and drag persona. It’s their personal connection that gives TheQueen of Ireland a boost of intimacy. Rory is extremely comfortable revealing himself to the camera because his dear friend is behind it…

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SIFF Review: The IF Project

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: Middle Man

You might recognize Jim O’Heir from his role as Jerry/Larry/Gary on the sitcom Parks and Recreation, but chances are you didn’t remember his real name. No worries, neither could his fictional colleagues. In Ned Crowley’s debut black comedy feature, Middle ManO’Heir’s character is equally unremarkable. Though he has lifelong aspirations of making a name for himself on the Vegas comedy circuit, he is painfully unfunny. Maybe that’s why he so easily falls in with a violent drifter and soon finds himself in the midst of a killing spree that informs a new, much more successful stage presence.

Lenny Freeman (O’Heir) is an aspiring comedian who was born several decades too late. For him, the height of comedy is Abbot and Costello and George Burns. He has every classic routine memorized and he longs to revive that sort of antiquated comedy in Vegas. After the death of his mother, Lenny quits his dead-end accounting job and hits the road in a vintage station wagon to pursue his dreams. The trouble is, even if people were still into the wholesome wordplay he reveres, he doesn’t have what it takes to write his own material. He’s so blinded by his desires and the grief of losing his mother (who was clearly the only person in the world who loved him) that he misses the fact that everyone he meets finds him tedious…

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SIFF Review: Burn Burn Burn

No one does black comedy quite like the Brits, though, in the case of Burn Burn Burn, it’s especially heavy on the black. The directorial debut from Chanya Button (who learned the ropes as an A.D. on the Harry Potter films), and written by Charlie Covell (her first feature script), is a road trip film about friendship, death, and the dangers of internalizing grief. Fortunately, it’s also peppered with dry British humor (or should I say humour?) to help the medicine go down.

Surprises from friends can be fun, but not in the case of sardonic party boy Dan (Jack Farthing), who springs his own funeral on his two best friends, Seph (Laura Charmichael, Downton Abbey) and Alex (Chloe Pirrie). As he explains in his video will, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but he wanted to spare them (and himself), the agony of watching him fade away. His last wish is for Seph and Alex to take him on a road trip, scattering his ashes in four meaningful places across the U.K. He has recorded an additional video for each stop that they are to play just before leaving a bit of him behind. His elevator pitch for this task is “Thelma and Louise meets Casper the Friendly Ghost.” At first, the girls are reluctant. But circumstances (Alex walking in on her girlfriend with another woman and Seph getting sacked from her job), suddenly make the idea of getting out of town seem a lot more appealing…

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SIFF Review: The Pistol Shrimps

It’s no secret that women’s sports are considered second tier if not downright illegitimate. Many Seattleites, for example, are still bitter about losing our SuperSonics to Oklahoma. But they’re not so hard up for basketball that they’d consider attending the games of our WNBA team, the Seattle Storm. Giving some long overdue and well-deserved attention to female athletes is just one of the great aspects of Brent Hodge’s latest documentary, The Pistol Shrimps.

Adult recreational sports leagues are all the rage, but usually they’re for more, well, recreational sports, such as dodge ball and mini golf. The Pistol Shrimps (named for a sea creature who uses one giant claw to paralyze its enemies with a super sonic snap) are part of a women’s recreational basketball league in L.A. Hodge’s (I Am Chris Farley) third film follows this steadfast team of underdogs, comprised of women from various sectors of the entertainment industry, as they, for the first time, face the very real possibility of winning the division. It outlines their origins, including their floundering early seasons, and profiles select team members, interspersing their background with the story of the team’s journey to the 2015 league championship…

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SIFF Review: Slash

There is no shortage of coming-of-age films, but none that I’ve seen are quite as virtuous and laissez-faire as Clay Liford’s Slash, a feature-length remake of his 2012 short film. Julia (Hannah Marks, TVs Awkward) and Neil (Michael Johnson, TVs Teen Wolf) are social outcasts who bond over their mutual interest in writing Fan Fic – erotic stories featuring characters from popular culture (mostly films and books, but they do mention a subgenre involving real people). Both the characters and the film itself suggest that committing to a label isn’t necessary. Sexual fluidity is both natural and necessary in determining your predilections. Thanks to their hobby, neither character needs to practice sexuality in order to explore it. They are able to use their imaginations to work it all out. Neil chooses to write about Vanguard, a Star Trek-meets-Buck Rogers sci-fi novel series, while Julia prefers Fein, a series about warring elves. The result is a film that manages to remain light and endearing, whilst tackling the delicate subject of teenage sexuality…

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