Seattle International Film Festival 2012: Documentary Overview

The 38th edition of the Seattle International Film Festival – the US’ largest/longest film festival – kicks off this Thursday and runs for 25 days, closing on June 10. Presenting a staggering 273 features and 187 shorts, the festival boasts more than sixty documentary features in its line-up this year. More than half represent some of the best received films from Sundance, SXSW, and other notable fests, while the remaining include new US and international docs making their premiere here, including a number hailing from the Pacific Northwest. While I’ve never made it to the festival before, what follows are the films I’d be most interested in checking out if I were going this year (the intriguing, strictly hush-hush Secret Festival would definitely also be on my list).

SIFF’s twelve film Documentary Competition includes Hadleigh Arnst, Stephen Frandsen, and Laura Naylor’s Mormon spring break study, DUCK BEACH TO ETERNITY, aptly described as “Mormon Singles Gone Mild;” Sonja Lindén’s FIVE STAR EXISTENCE, a consideration of the pros and cons of our interconnected relationship to technology; Trisha Ziff’s examination of a collection of Spanish Civil War photographs, THE MEXICAN SUITCASE; Elyes Baccar’s ROUGE PAROLE, chronicle of the Tunisian liberation movement; and Stephanie Riggs’ backstage look at the lives of Broadway understudies, THE STANDBYS (pictured).

Local filmmaking is represented in the fest’s Northwest Connections program. Of the six feature docs here, the ones catching my eye are: Kevin Klar and Rick Stevenson’s longitudinal study of a pair of siblings, THE 5000 DAYS PROJECT: TWO BROTHERS; Ivy Drasnin, Lucy Ostrander, and Don Sellers’ THE REVOLUTIONARY, the story of an American who answered Mao Zedong’s call for revolution only to be imprisoned as a spy by the Chinese leader; and Scott Levy’s intimate study of ballet dancers, SHORT LIFE (pictured).

Other interesting titles in Docsfest, the non-fiction umbrella program, include a number of international docs: From the UK, Adam Curtis’ ALL WATCHED OVER BY MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE (pictured), another look at the relationship of man and technology; Aubrey Powell’s BULL RUNNERS OF PAMPLONA, an up-close dissection of the legendary running of the bulls; and Mark Cousin’s 15-hour love letter to cinema, THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY. The Netherlands is represented by sisters Femke and Ilse van Velzen’s JUSTICE FOR SALE, an exposé of corruption in the Congo’s legal system, while France brings SIFF Paul Lacoste’s STEP UP TO THE PLATE, focusing on the transfer of a heralded restaurant from father to son. Rounding out the section for me is a US title, Rob Whitehair’s TRUE WOLF, the story of a wolf raised in captivity.

Finally, one hybrid doc caught my eye in Seattle’s Alternate Cinema program, a space for experimental work: Brent Chesanek’s CITY WORLD, in which a young boy spins a story of a post-apocalyptic future against the backdrop of suburban Orlando’s past and present.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

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