SIFF 2019 Capsule Reviews
The 2019 Seattle International Film Festival kicks off on May 16th and runs until June 9th and UW Film Club is covering as many films as possible so you know which films to see! Throughout the festival, this article will be regularly updated with capsule reviews for festival films with the newest additions at the top. Check back every couple days to see whats new!
The Dead Don’t Die
Jim Jarmusch’s latest, The Dead Don’t Die, draws from the well of 1950s and 60s B-rate horror films to create a star studded genre film about the end of the world. Starring the likes of Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Selena Gomez, and more, the film premises itself on the idea that “the world is off its axis” in literal and metaphorical terms. The film is shameless in its overt meaning, but perhaps intentionally so. In the name of tongue-in-cheek humor and aligning itself with the style of its influences, the film takes on a very literal, on-the-nose approach to its meaning, often resulting in the film’s driest and funniest lines. Full of great moments and characters, The Dead Don’t Die is another great outing by Jarmusch that distills the essence of its influences for a comedic zombie flick about contemporary problems.
The Dead Don’t Die played on June 8th at 6pm at SIFF Uptown, but will be making its return to SIFF on June 21st.
Them That Follow
The dark, cold Appalachian Mountains conceal a community whose fringe religious practices prove to be deadly to any sinners. No one is wholly innocent though, their secrets looming over their pious and oppressive convictions. Them That Follow makes for a relatively smooth directorial debut for both Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, but the true highlight is some of the most cohesive and intelligent casting this year. The last thirty minutes will undoubtedly elicit some white knuckles, as characters take up serpents to test their soul and your nerves.
Them That Follow plays on May 31st at 9:30pm at SIFF Uptown, and June 1st at 1:00pm at SIFF Uptown. Producer Bradley Gallo is scheduled to attend both screenings.
Fresh off his Founder’s Award victory at Tribeca, Philip Youmans’ Burning Cane has made its way to SIFF. Set in rural Louisiana, the film revolves around Helen, her son, and her pastor as their religious faith is put to the test by the struggles of life. Taking a very ‘meditative’ approach to the film, Youmans isn’t concerned with a straightforward Hollywood narrative, but rather, a dissection of what it means to have faith by using poetic speculation. For a first time director at the age of 17, it’s an impressive work that shows the future potential of this young talent.
Burning Cane plays on June 6th at 6:30pm at SIFF Uptown, and on June 7th at 3:30pm at SIFF Uptown.
Tel Aviv On Fire
It takes a great deal of tact and dexterity to depict the turbulent relationship between Israeli and Palestinian, and even more to crack jokes about it. Writer and director Sameh Zoabi manages to navigate opposing perspectives while telling an exceptionally charming and human story. There is an ever-present sense of meta at play in this filmmaking that only adds to the one of a kind sense of humor. Festival films like these are priceless for their deft execution of a truly unique idea and something that shouldn’t be missed.
Tel Aviv On Fire plays on May 30th at 7:00pm at AMC Pacific Place, and May 31st at 3:30pm at SIFF Uptown. Director Sameh Zoabi is scheduled to attend both screenings.
Memory — The Origins of Alien
In 1979, Alien made its world debut at the Seattle International Film Festival, and now, forty years later, the legendary film comes back in the form of Memory — The Origins of Alien. 78/52 director Alexandre O. Philippe tackles the characters, themes, and moments of Ridley Scott’s beloved sci-fi horror film to get to the bottom of why we all love it so damn much. If you’ve ever read a BFI Film Classic Book, this film is essentially the visual manifestation of that. It’s a conventional doc that utilizes interviews, behind the scene footage, and even some self-produced content to create a by-the-numbers break down of the film. What it says won’t blow your mind, but what it does say is composed very well, and for a film like Alien, it’s hard not to love some extra trivia knowledge for one of cinema’s best films.
Memory plays on June 8th at 7:00pm at SIFF Egyptian.
Sew the Winter to My Skin
Sew the Winter to My Skin is folk tale of the Robin Hood figure who championed the resistance of Native South Africans in the early days of Apartheid. Relying on montage editing and minimal dialog, the film paints an epic picture of human struggle with the sweeping landscapes of South Africa as backdrop. It’s a theatrical and poignant storytelling method for such a vast and sorrowful period of history. Also, hats off to the composer and production designer for their particularly standout work.
Sew the Winter to My Skin plays on June 8th at 8:00pm at SIFF Uptown, and June 9th at 2:30pm at SIFF Uptown.
The Death of Dick Long
Attempting to blend drama and comedy in a grotesque fashion, The Death of Dick Long is a poor follow up for director Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man). After the death of their friend, two ‘small-town idiots’ try to cover up a monumental farce from those around them. The breaking point is the film’s revelation which will either have you in stitches or, like me, make you completely repulsed. The film wants to walk the fine line of a dramedy, but ends up choking on its own words.
The Death of Dick Long plays on June 7th at 9:00pm at SIFF Egyptian, and on June 8th at 2:30pm at SIFF Uptown. Daniel Scheinert is scheduled to attend both screenings.
A purposely slow and understated burn, Orange Days is a carefully calculated endeavor. Lead actress Hedieh Tehrani embodies a terse and persistent orchard contractor named Aban, a woman hardened to survive in a man’s world and industry. Only this year, she risks everything in order to reap a successful harvest and prove her capability, because to fail would mean the collapse of her entire world. In part to the film’s mounting tension, desperation to finish the job condenses in the air around her crew of seasonal laboring women. It’s a multi- sensory experience, with rich colors, textures, and the nearly perceptible scent of ripe citrus.
Orange Days plays on May 20th at 6:30pm at Lincoln Square Cinema, May 22nd at 3:30pm at SIFF Uptown, and May 24th at 11:00am at AMC Pacific Place.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
"A great deal of the film’s pleasantries come from Tyler’s and Zak’s relationship. The two meet under unlikely circumstances and come together under a mutual understanding of their on-the-run status. Together, they represent a carefree duo that finds joy in drinking on the beach, firing guns, and developing Zak’s wrestling persona, The Peanut Butter Falcon. With parts humor, sympathy, and rebellion, the two are an indomitable pair that generate much of the film’s long lasting appeal, and which only grows stronger as the film progresses and as external forces try to tear them apart. Though their pairing unlikely, you can’t help but leave the theater feeling warmed by the kindred friendship the two form on their journey...
Zak’s down syndrome is often brought up as a rationale to restrict him, but what PBF rightfully asserts is that it shouldn’t matter. He is not seen in the same light as others because of what others project onto him, and not what Zak knows true about himself. Elenor’s character is perhaps representative of the audience and the realization that comes from the film’s message. To see someone with a disability is to automatically assume inability, but what comes to fruition is that their hopes and dreams shouldn’t be shelved because of labels.”
The Peanut Butter Falcon is playing on June 9th at 7:30pm at SIFF Uptown.
Knife+Heart is well aware of its colorful kitsch, giallo roots. Following a killer working their way through performers in the indie gay soft-core industry, the camera is granted access to the interior of insular European queer spaces of the 1970s. It’s vibrantly bloody exactly when it needs to be and utterly inscrutable the rest of the time. For stylized eroticism, it’s handled with a surprisingly gentle touch. The fittingly garish coloration and grainy texture are the icing on the cake of an already very hypnotizing piece of art.
Knife+Heart plays on May 17th at 11:59pm at SIFF Egyptian, and May 19th at 9:30pm at SIFF Uptown.
Extinction is made intimate by this documentary about the last male white rhino. With the stunning backdrop of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy savannah, the struggle to protect and serve the last hope of a species is chronicled in vivid detail. The film is carried by two young caretakers, James and Jojo, whose vulnerability before the camera is nothing short of moving. The grief Kifaru evokes is almost too much to bear, yet it’s an absolutely essential viewing if mankind wishes to reverse the effects we have had on our planet.
Kifaru plays on May 21st at 7:00pm at SIFF Egyptian, May 22nd at 4:00pm at SIFF Uptown, and June 3th at 4:30pm at SIFF Egyptian. Producer Andrew Brown and Rhino caretakers James Mwenda and Joseph Wachira are scheduled to attend the former two screenings.
Q Ball tells the story of the lesser known San Quentin Warriors, a basketball team comprised of convicts at California’s San Quentin state prison. In the pursuit of recovery, the doc analyzes how basketball has given these men newfound purpose behind bars, excelling at making these prisoners human and removing the stigma attached to them. Through the sport of basketball, we see the players make themselves better individuals and find some kind of personal reconciliation for what they have done. The film touches on prison reform and mass incarceration, but at its core, Q Ball shows is that sports continue to be one of the greatest unifiers out there.
Q Ball plays on May 17th at 6:30pm at Ark Lodge Cinemas, May 18th at 12:00pm at SIFF Uptown, and May 21st at 3:30pm at SIFF Uptown. Director Michael Tolajian is scheduled to attend the May 17th screening.
Here Comes Hell
Here Comes Hell is a love affair between 1930s haunted house dinner party tropes and the confident absurdity of The Evil Dead with that iconic staircase shot from Psycho slipped in to boot. With plenty of practical effects and foggy black & white cinematography, the film gives the impression that these classic horror archetypes are kids dressed in their parents’ clothes having a ridiculous amount of fun making home movies together (in the best way possible). It’s a giddy, uncomplicated pick ideal for a late night with friends.
Here Comes Hell plays on June 7th at 11:55pm at SIFF Egyptian, and June 9th at 9:00pm at SIFF Uptown. Producer Olivia Loveridge is scheduled to attend both screenings.
When an aspiring comedian meets a washed up stand-up, the two form a newfound relationship where they look inward and see what brought them to the lowest point in their lives. International Falls is a film that positions itself as a comedy set against the narrative backbone of a midlife crisis. Using humor as a means to cover up their own pain, our leads come to find a new outlook on life, but the path that got them there is bland to say the least. It doesn’t help that the drama can’t be covered up by its comedy which, in my experience, was just not funny and made for a grating viewing. Like the subjects in the film, International Falls lacks the comedic spark to make it succeed, and without a compelling narrative, the film unfortunately doesn’t have much going for it.
International Falls plays on May 18th at 8:30pm at Ark Cinema Lodge where cinematographer Andrew Aiello scheduled to attend, June 6th at 9:00pm at SIFF Uptown, and June 7th at 12:30pm at SIFF Uptown. Director Amber McGinnis is scheduled to attend the later two.
N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear
N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear pays tribute to the titular renowned Kiowa artist and Pulitzer Prize winning writer whose works capture the spirit and history of his Indigenous people. Combining prose with dreamy visuals and historical art with archival photographs, the documentary positions the genocide and loss of Indigenous culture a personal experience still felt today. Brimming with reverence for Momaday’s great gift of language, Words from a Bear creates a vibrant profile of an exceptional storyteller respected for his preservation of an identity devastated by colonialism.
N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear plays on May 25th at 12:30pm at the Seattle Central Library, and May 26th at 5:30pm at SIFF Uptown.
Late Night is a comedy from Nisha Ganatra that tackles at diversity in the workplace. With its heart in the right place and the talents of Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson, it's unfortunate that the film is horribly misguided visually, narratively, and thematically. For the majority of the run time, the film is fine at best, but in the eleventh hour, Late Night implodes in eye-brow raising fashion with a questionable outcome, ultimately undermining its credibility. It also doesn’t help that its only marginally comedic.
Late Night is SIFF's Centerpiece Gala taking place on June 1st at 5:30pm at SIFF Egyptian, and June 2nd at 3:30pm at SIFF Uptown.
Peter Strickland follows up the Duke of Burgundy with a giallo-inspired horror comedy about a demonic dress called In Fabric. In pursuit of the aforementioned giallo aesthetic, the film intentionally plays up awkward, cheesy, B-movie choices which results in a delicate balancing act that works varyingly. Whether something will spur scorn or admiration is a toss up — my audience in particular modulated back and forth — but the vibe is mostly achieved, creating an interesting, albeit long-toothed, call back to a sub-genre of the 70s.
In Fabric will play on May 29th at 4:00pm at AMC Pacific Place, and May 31st at 9:15pm at SIFF Egyptian.
Werner Herzog is back with a documentary about one of Russia’s most important leaders of the Cold War era: Mikhail Gorbachev. Meeting Gorbachev is very informative doc in the sense that it feeds you a stream of facts without a taking a firm stance any one way. It frames Gorbachev as an unrealized bridge between Russia and the West, and the doc gets particularly interesting as it pursues this notion after all the components have been laid out. It’s a straightforward, interesting doc from a legendary director.
Meeting Gorachev plays on May 30th at 7:00pm at SIFF Uptown, and May 31st at 6:30pm at Shoreline Community College.
When you think of taxidermy you probably think of malicious hunters, grotesque interests, and creepy hobbyists akin to Norman Bates. But if you watch Erin Derham’s Stuffed, all those notions will be changed. Stuffed is a doc that looks at the artistry of taxidermy with a new light, one that wants to destigmatize the craft and show the passion behind it. The film is enlightening in a lot of ways not only because it layers its material in way that takes you through the various facets of taxidermy, but also because it outlines the beautiful nuances behind it. Stuffed encompasses several taxidermists, each with their own specialization, characteristics, and stories that are endlessly fascinating, and pervasive throughout is a respect for their craft. You can tell by the doc’s presentation that Derham isn’t out to make these artists into psycho creeps, but rather passionate craftsmen. Ultimately, coming out of Stuffed, you will walk away with a new perspective of taxidermy and those involved with it, and if that’s not an indicator of a good doc, then I don’t know what is.
Stuffed plays on May 26th at 12:30pm at SIFF Uptown, and May 27th at 6:00pm at Shoreline Community College.
The Apollo traces the history of one of the world’s most culturally significant theaters and shows the lasting impact it has on the African-American community. With great access to interviews, archival footage, and material, Roger Ross Williams’ doc progresses through the Apollo’s history chronologically, outlining what it meant at various moments in time for not only African-American artists, but also African-Americans living in America and the social issues they faced. The doc is conventional and often strays from its focus, but its message sings a contemporary resonance.
The Apollo play on May 25th at 6:45pm at the SIFF Egyptian, May 26th at 1:30pm at the SIFF Egyptian, and May 27th at 1:30pm at the Shoreline Community College.
Nightmare Cinema is an anthology horror film akin to V/H/Sthat tells five short stories in one over arching narrative. Certain shorts play better than others — notably David Slade’s fourth short —, but what is so off-putting about this film is being unsure whether or not the film is going for midnighter camp or is playing itself straight and serious. If you’re looking for your SIFF midnighter this year, then look no further. Just hit the bars before hand and enjoy the ride.
Nightmare Cinema is playing on May 29th and June 4th. Both at 9:30pm at the SIFF Egyptian.
Youth worldwide know the difficulty of breaking with the traditional values only to be greeted with resentment, and Sibel tackles just that. Following our titular character in a remote village in Turkey, Sibel is shunned not only because she is a mute who communicates by whistling, but also because she doesn’t abide by the traditionalism of the old guard. Her differences and defiance become a source of drama in the film, presenting a solid narrative about rebellion and romance in the face of adversity which we’re all familiar with.
Sibel is playing on May 18th at 5:30pm and May 19th at 12:00pm. Both are at SIFF Uptown.
Another Day of Life
Renowned Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski reported from the frontlines of war for nearly three decades covering 27 revolutions and giving a voice to people in the midst of revolutions and civil wars. One of his more famous books, Another Day of Life, has now been adapted into an animated feature of the same name, and shows the Angolan Civil War through the journalistic approach Kapuscinski took that made him so prolific. Using rotoscope technology reminiscent of A Scanner Darkly and opting for a surreal fantasy approach akin to Waltz with Bashir, Raúl de la Fuente’s and Damian Nenow’s feature uses archival footage, contemporary interviews, and animated material to discuss a journalist's roll in national conflicts, questioning the ramifications of their work and exposing the necessity for it. The film is not only easy on the eyes, but it’ll also leave you with a better understanding on how journalism can give a voice to those who don’t have one.
3.5/ 5 STARS
Another Day of Life plays on May 20th at 9:15pm and on May 22nd at 4:30pm, both at SIFF Uptown
Pigeons. The rats of the sky. The birds that pillage city streets and poop on your car are made cool in Milena Pastreich’s documentary, Pigeon Kings. Telling the story of enthusiast pigeon trainers who compete with their birds in South LA, audiences are shown one of the most bizarre hobbies that you won’t believe is an actual thing. Like last year’s SIFF film Catwalkwhich took viewers inside the cat show circuit, this doc will guide you through the wild and surreal hobby that is competitive pigeon training. Synching up rolls with multiple pigeons, learning the rules of pigeon scoring, preventing a hawk from killing your birds, keeping a family tree of pigeon lineage, and more are facets of this unbelievable niche culture that cultivates an avid and passionate fanbase. Through an extraordinary exhibition of this absurd avian interest, you sympathize with these trainers and come to understand their obsession much in the same way you would for any other culturally popular past time, despite the repugnancy that comes from the very idea of pigeons themselves. Though the ending is relatively flat and its theme on pursuing one’s passions is fairly common, Pigeon Kings’ subject matter is certainly enough for a passing score.
Pigeon Kings will play on June 8th at 6:45pm at AMC Pacific Place and June 9th at 11:00am at AMC Pacifc Place. Director Milena Pastreich and subjects Keith London & Darrian Hogg are scheduled to attend both screenings.
The Nightingale is Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to the Babadook that pulls no punches when addressing its themes of violence against women and the terrors of colonialism. This period piece tale of revenge is extremely graphic — and I mean brutal —, but only because its subject matter calls for it, presenting issues from the 19th century that have contemporary relevance today. At 136 minutes, The Nightingale really run its course by the end of the film, but its worth the watch if you can stomach its length and explicit violence.
The Nightingale is playing on May 18th at 9pm at SIFF Uptown and May 23rd at 9:30pm at the SIFF Egyptian.
Sword of Trust
The opening night film for SIFF 2019 is Lynn Shelton’s Sword of Trust, a comedy about a duo trying to sell an inherited confederate sword that claims to prove the South won the Civil War. The film thrives on a seemingly improvised brand of comedy between from the likes of Marc Maron and Jillian Bell to great effect as it assesses the value of personal ‘trust’, but the story and lessons it spins out of history, historical artifacts, and their social controversy are less clear.
Sword of Trust is SIFF's opening night gala film and will be shown on May 16th at 7pm at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Director Lynn Shelton and actor Marc Maron will be in attendance.
Wild Rose is about the troubles one faces when your dreams and responsibilities are at odds with one another. Telling the story of ex-conn Rose-Lynn trying to make it big as a country singer in Glasgow, Scotland, the film is a sugary depiction that leaves its potential on the table. At its best when it pits Rose’s ambitions against her children’s interests and at its worst when it loses focus on that, Wild Rose presents a decent, albeit dramatically tame, message about pursing personal aspirations.
Wild Rose plays May 18th at 7pm at SIFF Egyptian and May 24th at 9:30pm at SIFF Egyptian.
“The film is narrated by al-Kateab as she looks back at her time in Syria and addresses her daughter, Sama. From the day the revolution breaks to the day she flees the country, al-Kateab traces the important moments in her life that happened in the middle of the war, and what that means for the future of the country.
Through violence, injury, and death, al-Kateab and Watts paint a bloody picture of the Syrian Civil War, but they ground it with the people who experience the conflict. To see a city full of life devolve into complete ruin is unworldly, yet al-Kateab speaks about her country with such tender affection that you come to understand why a family would stay—even with young children. Self-sacrifice and revolution are married as revolutionaries like al-Kateab and her husband put everything on the line and stay in Syria with the hope that their children will not have to live under Bashir al-Assad. But as the war rages on, the film transitions into the possibility that the children themselves will have to bring about change, a somber and sympathetic message for a country whose fate is uncertain.”
For Sama is playing June 2nd at 6:30pm at AMC Pacific Place and June 3rd at 4pm at SIFF Uptown.
The Art of Self Defense
“The film centers on Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) who is your average, awkward, white collar accountant. One evening on his way back from the store, he is the victim of a brutal mugging that leaves him shaken and traumatized. Determined to muscle up and prevent a future attack, his search for self defense leads him to a karate dojo. There he quickly ascends rank and becomes a star pupil of Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), but what he soon learns is there is more to the dojo and his training than he first thought.
The film thrives at dry-pan, dark humor. The script is tack sharp when laughing at things that come off as bizarre, strange, or absurd, but presented as totally normal in the narrative. This sense of humor gives the film an edge to cut deep into the hyper-masculine practices in our own society that we have adopted and normalized. Ditching your plans to learn French because the nation is perceived as weak, or refusing to pet your dog as to not show weakness through compassion are just two of the several dozen sharp witted and exaggerated jokes that Stearns writes into the script to build his hyper-masculine world of the dojo. What are initially pitched as methods of improving your karate abilities are underscored with just the right amount of out-there, rational thinking that makes it funny to laugh at until, eventually, it isn’t anymore, and we realize, ‘Oh … this has taken a dark turn.’”
The Art of Self-Defense is playing May 31st at 6:30pm at the SIFF Egyptian and June 1st at 3:30pm at SIFF Uptown. Director Riley Stearns is scheduled to be in attendance for both screenings.