Saturday, June 02, 2007

SIFF #6 - Planet Cinema, aka Everything's Going to Hell

One of SIFF's biggest press announcements this year was the introduction of a theme of films called Planet Cinema, focusing on the environment... or more specifically, how things are going to hell in a handbasket. Despite the fact that In the Shadow of the Moon, the doc about the Apollo space program that showed last weekend was included on this list, the screening of Everything's Cool on Thursday was pronounced to be Opening Night of the series. Whatever.

Everything's Cool (6/8) started filming in 2003, as the filmmakers went cross-country to discuss global warming with the American public. For the upcoming 2004 presidential election, global warming was way at the bottom of the list of causes that people were concerned about. Of course everything changed with Hurricane Katrina and Al Gore's movie. Everything's Cool wraps up at the beginning of 2007, as environmentalists are struggling to keep the message hot, and recruit more interest. The film used a lot of humor, which was welcome considering the topic, plus a lot of simple animation to illustrate ideas. Some of the techniques were a little hokey, making it seem targeted to be shown at high schools, but the information was interesting. Among the many experts interviewed, my favorite featured personality actually turned out to be a fellow named Bish Neuhouser who worked up at Park City as a snowmaker during ski season. He and his pals figure out how to make biodiesel from used vegetable oil from the local pub's fry kitchen. These exerpts are not only hilarious (as he smokes a cigarette while sitting on a tub of methanol), but informative as one regular guy plays mad scientist to help improve the environment.

A night later, I saw the claustrophobic thriller The Last Winter (5/8) which played like The Thing meets The X-Files. A crew of scientists and oil company employees are sharing a small station out in the middle of frozen Alaskan Arctic. The Beast, I mean Ron Perlman, is the oil representative that wants the group to set up roads as quickly as possible so drilling can begin again at an outpost that was abruptly abandoned 20 years earlier. But the permafrost is melting, say James LeGros, and something just ain't right. People going crazy in an isolated place is always a good thing, but The Last Winter makes the mistake of scaring you with an unseen menace, then (oops!) Showing It. Rule number one for horror filmmakers: what is unseen is ALWAYS scarier than settling for bad special effects.

I saw these films at the new SIFF Cinema. I initially felt kind of grumpy about the isolated location, but after a few days of camping out there, I grew to like it. Sure, I was lucky enough to not have to find a parking spot on a night of a basketball game, or the two sold out Police concerts later this week, so that wasn't a bother. But it was great (because the weather was so beautiful this week) to take a break between films and hang out at the Seattle Center fountain (where I saw a one-armed kid skateboarding, and a grown man using the bowl of the fountain as his own personal velodrome... whooosh! whooosh! whooosh! as he sped past me). Also, there are plenty of places walkable enough to get a good cuppa and a bite between screenings. Hooray for the new location!

Oh, I filled in some spaces with another couple screenings at the SIFF Cinema, one of which was Dames in Frames (6/8) an enjoyable collection of women's short films--my favorite being the hilariously bitter Bitch (7/8) (dir. Lilah Vandenburgh), filmed in glorious stark black and white with a very cranky lead character looking for love; and Room 10 (6/8), directed by Jennifer Aniston and starring the awesome Robin Wright Penn as a nurse in the ER. Why Robin Wright Penn isn't used in more films, I have no idea... she is fabulous, plus is getting exponentially hotter as she ages gracefully.

The other screening I caught was the enjoyable documentary The Fever of '57 (7/8), about how the Russian's launch of Sputnik basically launched a worldwide rapture and excitement that morphed into American fear and terror within THREE days. The title is a little misleading, as it belches forth into 1958, culminating with Eisenhower's secret Christmas 1958 message broadcast from a secret US satellite, but it was this October '57 fever that, as presented in the film, launched the arms race that preoccupied the Cold War until the 80s. The film, based on the book Sputnik: The Shock of the Century by Paul Dickson, was not only a fascinating portrayal of the culture of America at the time, but of two leaders, Eisenhower and Kruschev, that younger generations don't really hear about. The amiable and chatty director David Hoffman said this film is searching for a distributor. If the powers that be were smart, they'd realize that The Fever of '57 and In the Shadow of the Moon would be a PERFECT double feature for space and pop history buffs! I say, get on it, studios!

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