Last week in these pages, I took our venerable Seattle International Film Festival to task for missing opportunities to educate and enlighten as well as entertain those who flock to Seattle's annual movie marathon. If you don't show SIFF audiences (many of whom don't go to movies for the rest of the year) how to "read" cinema, folks are encouraged to mistake as smart and significant anything that's been shot on film or captured digitally - as long as it's been "selected" for inclusion in the film festival. That criticism came back to me as I talked recently about the history and mission of international film festivals with University of Washington undergrads. I was struck by these young people's highly informed standards when it comes to film, past and present. To a person, they believed that film education should start in first grade. In a world where well nigh everything - reality, art, entertainment - comes to you "framed," visual literacy puts you one step ahead in the epistemological game.
Overwhelmed by SIFFian choices? Take a deep breath. These festival films will open at a theater near you during June and July: "Knocked Up," the multi-director "Paris, je t'aime," "Severance," "Crazy Love," "Black Sheep," "Cashback," "Gypsy Caravan," "Vitus," "Manufactured Landscapes," "Lady Chatterley's Lovers," "Rescue Dawn," "Evening," "Death at a Funeral," "Golden Door," "Eagle vs. Shark," "Red Road," "Angel-A," "Day Watch," "La Vie en rose," "Surf's Up," "Paprika," "Once," "Goya's Ghosts."
Meanwhile, a few recommendations through next Wednesday, May 30:
9:30 p.m. Friday, May 25, Harvard Exit; 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 26, Harvard Exit
Writer-director Andrea Arnold's promising debut is a sharp psychological thriller in the same vein as Jane Campion's way underrated "In the Cut." A Glaswegian surveillance cop, Jackie (Kate Dickie, superb) spies on snatches of other people's street lives on her wall of screens. Expressionless, tightly wound, Jackie's a damaged heroine, locked in a psychosexual deep-freeze - until she becomes inexplicably and dangerously obsessed with one particular ginger-haired, womanizing lout who turns up on her screens. "Red Road"'s the riveting history of a Hitchcockian voyeur who gets too real - and it maps a woman's shattered soul, not in pretty pastels but in darker, erotic hues.
4:45 p.m. Friday, May 25, Neptune; 6:45 p.m. Monday, May 28, Neptune
The slyly genial narrator of Rolf de Heer's gem is David Gulpilil ("The Last Wave," "Walkabout"), a revenant from the Australian New Wave. His story chronicles an Aboriginal tribe's canoe trip, a thousand or so years ago, up river to catch birds. One of the boys, our narrator explains, covets his older brother's youngest wife. So, as they travel, fashion canoes out of bark, rest around campfires, Gulpilil tells their tale - even as elder brother (Peter Minygululu) hearkens back to the beginnings of time for another, older exemplum to enlighten his jealous sibling (Jamie Gulpilil).
De Heer's camera, from a god's-eye POV, sweeps down the curving river as though surfing time itself, and "Canoes"'s gorgeous widescreen landscapes invoke a world still primarily the province of nature, not man. Populated by unaffected, first-time actors, the film slips effortlessly from black and white into color, from recent to distant times, from the elegant art of making a canoe to the communal celebration of a legendary warrior's death, his passing signaled in closeup by the slow stilling of his chest. A funny old man lusts for a taste of honey, while another casually squats to defecate in the middle of a path - and dies by spear.
Telling time, stories and jokes, reading nature and humankind's place in it, human life itself, flow harmoniously in "Ten Canoes"' great cinematic river, moving and charming us in an ageless, democratizing medium.
THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN
7 p.m. Wednesday, May 30, Neptune; 11 a.m. June 2, Pacific Place
Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn helmed 2001's spectacular "Atanarjuat: Fast Runner," and "Journals of Knud Rasmussen" revisits that bygone world of the Alaskan Inuits. But in this less action-driven, more mystical film, time, character and narrative are strangely fluid, afloat in nonlinear memory. Indeed, the film opens in a warmly lit igloo, with a group of Inuits lining up for a photograph in 1912, the camera lingering on their expressive faces and gestures. Slowly color and motion leach away to leave a black-and-white snapshot of a long-lost past.
"Journals" celebrates the Inuits' extraordinary, body-to-body intimacy and innocence, warmed by the golden glow of oil lamps inside crowded igloos, bound by strong community and easy connection with the natural world. Mesmerized by the impassive yet somehow rapt face of a shaman as he shares how he came to his vocation, how he was embraced by his "good spirits," we have plenty of time to notice a woman's striking face, framed in white fur, peering out of the darkness behind our Inuit Merlin. That she embodies one of those "good spirits" - in the flesh - is a shock of recognition that may not come until much later, as does our understanding that a killing snake - the whites' new religion - has slipped into Inuit Eden. "Journals" quietly chronicles the end of an age, the Inuits' way of magically seeing and making poetry of their pristine world.
9:30 p.m. Friday, May 25, Neptune; 1:15 p.m. Monday, May 28, Neptune
In a recent think piece, News-week film critic David Ansen rightly took American animation to task in light of the artistic achievements of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon, the director of a new animé titled "Paprika," after the feisty, red-haired avatar-heroine who quests for "sanity" in the dangerous nightmares of psychologically disturbed dreamers. This brilliantly directed and designed film plays - seriously - with the kind of collective madness spawned when the boundaries separating sleeping and waking reality, dreaming, movie-watching and cyberspacing, dissolve. Drawing on, for starters, "Alice in Wonderland," Buster Keaton, Fellini, film noir, art, myth, science, religion and Japanese monster movies, "Paprika" is a thinking person's animé, a gorgeous cartoon that speaks eloquently about the kind of cultural and psychological dementia that threatens our super-mediated minds.
And don't miss "Bamako" and "Waiting for Happiness," two films by Abderrahmane Sissako, currently jurying at Cannes.
Chosen as one of this year's Emerging Masters at SIFF, Sissako has lived half in, half out of his homeland, and his wise, funny vision of Africa shows an old world invaded, abandoned, unchanging, broken down by and growing into modernity. ("Bamako" shows at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 27, at Pacific Place and again at 4 p.m. Monday, May 28, Pacific Place; "Waiting" plays once only at 1:30 p.m. Monday, May 28, Pacific Place.)