Sunday, May 27, 2007

SIFF #1 - So it begins...

For me, the Seattle International Film Festival is like getting one of those Costco-sized tubs of Red Vines. You see it at the store, put it your cart, and can think of nothing else until you get it home. You pick up the tub, turn it in your hands and look at it from all sides, admiring the hundreds of treats in it. When you finally get it open, you gorge and gorge and tell yourself happily that you will never tire of Red Vines. As the tub of treats start to dwindle, so does your enthusiasm. You find yourself offering some tickets, I mean Vines to friends and co-workers. You find that over-doing it is making you feel frankly a little sick. But when you see that the tub is almost empty, and only a few remain, you force yourself to finish it off. When that tub is gone though, you find that you don't know what to do with yourself for another year. How can you live without Red Vines?

So, on Friday, I got to open my metaphorical Tub-o-Treats... FINALLY, after poring over the SIFF schedule for weeks. My first night did not disappoint...

In order to flee work early for a 4:00 screening, I got myself to work at the ass-crack of dawn (as I told others). Fortunately, as it is almost summer, it was not as bad as getting to work two hours before the sun came up, yet still I suffered. I am NOT a morning person.

A little after 3:00, I fled out the door, and decided to walk from my office on Capitol Hill down to the brand-spankin' new SIFF Cinema at McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center. Two things I didn't figure: Even though it was overcast by then, and a mild 70-ish degrees, I was covered with sweat by the time I got to the Center. And second (duh) I totally forgot that the Northwest Folklife Festival began that day. Weaving in and out of hippies, musicians, and craft hucksters was not in my plan for my shortcut through the Center. I made it with 15 minutes to spare however, and found myself basically dipping my whole face into the drinking fountain to cool off (those darn fancy faucets in the bathroom only had hot water! waahh!).

My first film was the delightful and exuberant Gypsy Caravan (7/8), a sort of Buena Vista Social Club for gypsy music. The documentary follows a US concert tour of five Romany bands from varying countries and cultures: Macedonia, Spain, Romania, and India. The bands don't know each other, have never played together, and in many cases don't share a language. But music breaks down the barrier, and the film develops into a cross-cultural road trip as the group of 30-some musicians, singers, and dancers bond over a 6-week tour. The music is, unsurprisingly, fantastic. I've been a fan of composer Goran Bregovic's music (he is known for scoring Emir Kusturica's films) for many years, and was both surprised (and not) to find myself recognizing several of the tunes played by Macedonian diva Esma and the horns-o-rific Fanfare Ciocarlia of Romania. Heck, turns out that I even knew Romanian band Taraf de Haïdouks, whose CD I picked up on a whim from a used pile a few years back. The Indian band Maharaja is full of charm and humor (wait until you see their dancer's "knee dance"), and the Spanish aunt/nephew flamenco duo is perhaps the ones that grow on you through the film, as their seeming outsider status among the others slowly changes to them joining one big happy family. Highly recommended!

My next event was also at the same cinema. I had gone to goddess Lisa Gerrard's concert the night before at The Moore, but honestly had some hesitation that the Dead Can Dance singer and frequent film composer would be very "talky" in an interview setting. The Evening with Lisa Gerrard (8/8) turned out to be fantastic. For some reason, the theater was only half full, but we were all crammed to be as close to the stage as possible (none of that aloof sitting in the back row nonsense). The audience was full of fans as Lisa floated in (as she tends to do), and sat with a Q&A with moderator Ian Hierons. Turns out that Hierons would just ask a single question (like "Tell us about how you got started in music..." and Lisa would launch into a 10 or 15-minute answer. She was a funny and thoughtful storyteller, and would go on tangents about anything from the environment to "finding your center" to trying to relearn what you were taught as a child (and told to unlearn as an adult). Oh yeah, she also talked about scoring films, elaborating on her work for films like The Insider, Gladiator, and Whale Rider. Two words that came up often: "obedience" (towards the director and his or her vision) and "self-confidence" (to believe in yourself and your craft, even if the director is constantly cutting you down). If you fail at either of these, it will break you.

When they announced that they interview would end so that they would show the documentary film Sanctuary: Lisa Gerrard (5/8), I have to admit, there was a ripple of disappointment in the audience. We were all newly converted disciples of Lisa, and could have skipped the film to let her continue. The film was fine, though its initial artiness (with staticky images of Iraq War news footage, dripping forest leaves, traffic jams, and what have you) didn't always work, and frankly the sound was crap. Dialogue had a halo of fuzz around it, and music only fared a little better. I heard later that it was the film print, and not the new theater itself. Let's hope so for SIFF Cinema's sake.

At the end of the Q&A following the film, a young woman in the front row asked Lisa if she could give her a gift. Lisa accepted, and she was handed a stick of plastic-wrapped cotton candy, and a Northwest Folklife T-shirt. Lisa was obviously delighted, saying, "Oh! We call this 'candy floss' in Australia!” and we all adored her even more.

After she mentioned that she gave singing workshops to universities in Australia and New Zealand, but had never done one in North America because she hadn't been invited, someone in the audience immediately yelled out, "You're invited!" And indeed, Lisa, if you are reading, I'm sure those few hundred folks you shared your evening with in Seattle would love to have you back... and next time they are bringing all of their friends!


Vickie said...


The SIFF'n has begun!

And how exciting to have a SIFF blog this year!

Tom said...

Damn. I know I should have gone to that one!
I was at the concert the night before and Lisa was fantastic as usual. The first 2 songs, the music was too loud and Lisa was kind of hard to hear. I thought "well, she can't be perfect forever". The guys in back must have tweaked some equipment and Lisa was back to her goddess-like, floating perfection!