The thing I almost never like doing is leaving the city without a good reason. Fresh mountain air or the sublime sight of the ocean are not good enough reasons to leave the bars, restaurants, cafes, museums, theaters, and cultural life of my big city. If I need nature, I can get that from our wonderful and plentiful parks. Oscar Wilde once wrote that when one is in a town, one can "amuse oneself." But what's cutting in rural or remote areas?
All of this brings me to Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands. It has a population of about 5,500. A seaplane from Seattle gets you there in 40 minutes. The drive (which includes a ferry ride) takes about three hours if the traffic is merciful. Because the place is outside of my comfort zone, I have never found a good reason to visit it. This year, however, I have. It's the 4th Annual Orcas Island Film Festival (Oct 6-9). And I'm not going there simply because there's a festival (there are plenty of festivals in other rural or remote places), but for the specific films in this year's festival. They are the crème de la crème of the first-tier festival circuit.
Many of these films will end up in our city's theaters. A few were screened at SIFF. Orcas Island Film Festival is clearly on a mission to make its mark by concentrating on notable films or films made by noted directors.
For example, this year's festival will screen Let the Sunshine In, which stars France's A-list actors and is directed by Claire Denis, the woman behind the masterpieces Vendredi soir, Beau travail, and J'ai pas sommeil. There is also Joe Wright's Darkest Hour, which has a much-talked-about performance by the veteran Gary Oldman. Also screening: The Square, which is the latest film by Sweden's rising star Ruben Östlund (he directed the art house hit Force Majeure and the deeply problematic Play—in which white Swedish kids are kidnapped and bullied by the kids of black and Arab immigrants).
There are only 30 features in this festival, but I could go on and on about them. Winnie is a long, deep study of Nelson Mandela's first wife. (Mandela apparently left her because she was too revolutionary.) Agnieszka Holland's Spoor, a film Variety's lead critic, Owen Gleiberman, failed to understand, is trippy, but very much in the tradition of Polish surreal/cosmic cinema (think of Andrzej Zulawski or Krzysztof Zanussi). And if you missed local director SJ Chiro's Lane 1974 and want to catch it on the big screen, you can fly/drive to this island.
As soon as I arrive there, I will find a bar and then head to the theater. If I see the waters that surround Orcas, it will not be by design.