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Monday, June 2, 2008

SIFF 2008: Day 12 Recommendations

posted by on June 2 at 10:21 AM

SIFF Cinema is finally done with that unpleasant parade of short films, so it’s safe to return to SIFF Cinema. And that’s what we recommend you do if you can make it to an afternoon show today: Alexandra (4:30 pm at SIFF Cinema), the magisterial new film from Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark).

Alexandra

Next, you might consider peeling off from SIFF and checking out the first (and wildest) entry in the Paramount’s Silent Movie Monday series on Douglas Fairbanks. It’s called When Clouds Roll By, and it’s about hypnotism, an opal ring, and an act of God. I’m totally there.

If you’re sticking with SIFF, SIFF Cinema has a great archival screening too: 1961’s Night Tide (7 pm), recently restored by the Academy Film Archive, stars Dennis Hopper in a cute sailor outfit and Linda Lawson in a strap-on mermaid tail—or is it in fact fused to her flesh?!?!

In the final slot, your best bet is You, the Living (9:30 pm at the Egyptian), a strange little Swedish film made up of 50 short, loosely interlocking sketches.

RSS icon Comments

1

Your remarks on the short films are far more infantile than I would expect from you, Annie. It's boilerplate Stranger sassiness. Granted, I tend to avoid the short films, too--I prefer features, and, you're right, one generally has to mine for gems in the collections. However, SIFF has consistently curated across-the-board excellent experimental shorts programs (two years ago, the *weakest* in their experimental program was by Kenneth Anger), and, this year, I'd be hard-pressed to find 10 features in the whole festival as good as Paddy Considine's Peter Mullan-starring Dog Altogether (and anything featuring Peter Mullen deserves a "Don't Miss" indication in your movie guide). The Stranger guide indicates that you reviewed the program it was in, Strange Days, a program contained only a single film that was drudgery to sit through, and which also contained the SIFF Jury Award winner Rewind. I can only guess that SIFF didn't send you screeners of the whole program, in which case you really should have indicated that in your review, just as you would have indicated if you'd walked out of a film before it was over. The two titles you disliked were two of the lesser pieces (cute, inoffensive films, although Ben Kasulke's cinematography for one of them was great) -- the worst being a Film Four afterschool special about the call-up being reinstated. But the remaining films were quite fine. In addition to the ones mentioned by you and me, the oversaturated color film of insects in their habitat completely outclassed Microcosmos and that IMAX bug film, and there was an incredibly disturbing experimental piece, Fawn, by one of the great Peter Tscherkassky's students.
The best thing about the short film programs being over is that I no longer have to encounter you debasing yourself by resorting to Stranger snark.

Posted by ratzkywatzky | June 2, 2008 10:52 AM
2

Pink sky and green hair? What planet is this?

Posted by montex | June 2, 2008 11:51 AM
3

Most of the shorts audience was not thrilled with the jury choices for best short this year, IMHO.

The best movie choices tonight are: Strangers, August, and Blind Mountain ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 2, 2008 11:52 AM
4

and, quite frankly, the Strange Days shorts were the best that most passholders and ticket buyers have seen from what they've been telling me.

Which puts it in perspective.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 2, 2008 11:55 AM
5

@2: Russia!

@1: You're right, SIFF failed to get us complete screeners for most of the shorts programs. I did my best with watching whatever I could get my hands on (usually one to three films), and I tried to indicate that in the blurbs. I guess I wasn't explicit about it in Strange Daysósorry about that.

But I'm not being snarky for snark's sake. Short films--with the notable exception of experimental films, but that program wasn't being shown at SIFF Cinema--do tend to be made by relatively inexperienced filmmakers (because they're cheaper, and because many of them are made as thesis projects in film schools) and often have condensed, unimaginative, and cutesy plots. Obviously there are exceptions, but unfortunately there aren't enough of them to fill up an entire weekend of programs. And I find it extremely annoying to sit through mediocrity or worse on the way to five minutes of something worth seeing. I think it's useful to share that opinion with readers, and yes, I'm being purposefully provocative so we can have a real conversation about this.

Did you notice that there was no single local film program this year? The local films were spread across multiple programs--it's easier to fill seats in every program that way. It's much easier to be cynical about the programming when the programs have been designed cynically.

I reviewed Strange Days on the basis of the four films I'd seen, two of which I disliked and one of which--I Love Sarah Jane--I really liked (I actually wrote about it on the Slog when it played at Sundance). The remaining film (the bugs) I didn't have feelings about either way, so I didn't waste space on it. I think that that information, however limited, is still helpful to people deciding what to see. You may disagree, but I didn't have any other choice. I would have loved to see more of the films in the program (I didn't have access to Dog Altogether or Rewind), and I beg SIFF for more complete programs every year. If you'd like to pass along your frustration that critics couldn't give a complete picture of the program, I'd be much obliged.

Posted by annie | June 2, 2008 12:22 PM
6

My bipolar love for Annie just blew the richter scale.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 2, 2008 12:32 PM
7

I think it's General Zod's mother.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | June 2, 2008 12:39 PM
8

All points well taken. I did notice the lack of a local program, but wasn't devious enough to see how that affected the programming of the rest of the fest. I'm sure that does a disservice to the other filmmakers--if "Golden Space Needle" voters decide to give their friends a 5, and lower the grades for the other shorts in the same program in order to give their friends a better chance.

I'm also sympathetic to the reviewers plight of having to review the films on often substandard screeners. The bug film, without having the images projected larger than life, probably looks just like filler on the Nature Channel. By the same token, if you'd had a screener of Fawn, I'm sure it would have been just an annoying murky mess, unless you've got a roomsize plasma screen at home.

I will pass word on that it would be great for reviewers to have a fuller selection of shorts--I'd love for you to have to suffer through the complete programs next year!

Posted by ratzkywatzky | June 2, 2008 12:44 PM
9

There are also some shorts outside of the shorts weekend that are screening ahead of features. Our Seattle-produced short BOOKIE will be this weekend 6/8 and 6/10:
http://www.siff.net/festival/film/detail.aspx?id=27239

Posted by bao | June 2, 2008 12:59 PM
10

So you don't like short films.. that's your opinion. Is the Stranger just an entire OPINION paper? Yawn.

Posted by Aster | June 2, 2008 12:59 PM
11

No, the problem is that when you see a total shorts package, it's a mix of 1's, 2's, 3's, 4's, and 5's.

Some friends of mine saw one of the packages yesterday and both myself and Pamela thought it was kind of rocky, with my and her first 1's and 2's and her first 5's in the entire festival.

That said, the guys who did the Pinata Revenge short (from Saturday) were very charming in person. And the two shorts people who showed on Sunday were also great in person (both from the shorts we rated 5).

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 2, 2008 4:48 PM
12

Second thoughts on the validity of dumping the Northwest shorts program. As theater folk are fond of saying, the most important thing is "butts in seats". If showing a local short gets attendance up at a program featuring great shorts from international directors, great! Maybe a little paternalistic to do it that way, but you do what you have to do. Also, in shorts programs past, (not always at SIFF), I've had first or second encounters with people like Jane Campion, Alison MacLean, Gus Van Sant, Guy Maddin... You may have to mine for gold, but it pays off. And all those people continue to make shorts.

And then, just last week, Paul Constant said this: "...most booksellers can tell that they're not dealing with the most imaginative customer when said customer asks for recommendations with the qualifier 'I read anything except for short stories.'"

Posted by ratzkywatzky | June 3, 2008 7:54 AM
13

Guy Maddin actually had a short in Marie Losier's Portraits in Cinema program this year, and I noted that. It wasn't very good, unfortunately.

To be honest, I prefer novels to short stories too, but there is definitely a world of difference between a collection of short stories by the same writer and a package of short filmsómany of which are the first movies their directors have ever completedóby different filmmakers. The former requires a kind of depth and stylistic consistency and thematic coordination that short film packages simply don't bother with.

I don't hate all short films--that would be irrational. I just recommend that people avoid the kind of mediocrity-packaged-alongside-genius shorts programs that show up at most film festivals. They're a waste of time.

Posted by annie | June 3, 2008 3:51 PM

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