The 42nd annual Seattle International Film Festival ran from May 19-June 12, 2016. From June 17-23, see highlights at the Best of SIFF series.

SIFF 2016 Films

Action Comandante

World Premiere | South Africa | 2016 | 90m | Nadine Angel Cloete
Stranger Says: Ashley Kriel is to South Africa what Fred Hampton is to the United States. Both died young (Kriel, 20; Hampton, 21), both were killed by law enforcers, both developed a mature political consciousness at a preternaturally early age....

Aisha

Tanzania | 2015 | 112m | Chande Omar
Stranger Says: "Cities are becoming more female," writes Leo Hollis in his book Cities Are Good for You. "...The rise of women in the city is perhaps one of the least-discussed aspects of the urban future." Cities liberate women from...

Alone

North America Premiere | South Korea | 2015 | 99m | Park Hong-min
Stranger Says: There is a moment between life and death, a moment which is, one imagines, the zone of the liberated soul. Here, the ethereal stuff of the body is suspended before slipping into the darkness of nothingness. Alone, a...

Amama: When a Tree Falls

Spain | 2015 | 103m | Asier Altuna
Stranger Says: When a child is born into this Basque farming family, a tree is planted. The grandmother (Amama, in Basque) then paints the trunks of the grandchildren’s trees red, white, and black in a ceremonial tradition—for the chosen son,...

Another Evil

USA | 2016 | 92m | Carson Mell
Stranger Says: What do you do when your weekend house is haunted? Hire a ghost hunter to come in and get rid of the pesky spirits. (One has to wonder if this is a jerky move. Can’t you just try to...

Awaiting

North America Premiere | Spain | 2015 | 96m | Daniela Fejerman
Stranger Says: The couple from a rich Western European country (Nora Navas and Francesc Garrido, in terrific performances) arrive in a poor Eastern European country to choose the child they’ve been preparing to adopt. They look weary, but first thing,...

BANG! The Bert Berns Story

USA | 2016 | 94m | Brett Berns
Stranger Says: If you’re still sad that season one of Vinyl was such a bummer, I heartily recommend this lively, knowing documentary about the intersection of early rock ’n’ roll and organized crime, and the troubling life of the hustler/genius/impresario behind...

Battle of Sevastopol

North America Premiere | Ukraine | 2015 | 122m | Sergey Mokritskiy
Stranger Says: Glossy and gorgeous glorification of the Soviet war machine wrapped up in a feminist package, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the Russian Military-Historical Society, and with support of the Ukrainian State film society....

The Black Hen

Nepal | 2015 | 90m | Min Bahadur Bham
Stranger Says: Two boys in 2001 Nepal try to find a beloved pet chicken as their life swirls around them, upended by a Maoist insurgency. The film’s centerpiece is the frustration and despair of war as experienced by blameless, uninvolved...

Bugs

Denmark | 2016 | 76m | Andreas Johnsen
Stranger Says: Chefs Josh Evans and Ben Reade stand in middle of the Australian bush holding Witchetty grubs—large wood-eating larvae of moths—that Evans will later describe as tasting of “roasted red peppers, garlic, and nuts.” Older Aboriginal women led the chefs...

Burn Burn Burn

U.S. Premiere | United Kingdom | 2015 | 106m | Chanya Button
This film is part of the Best of SIFF 2016 series. Stranger Says: Lady Edith is the homely, lost sister on Downton Abbey, played by Laura Carmichael. But in this female road-trip movie, Carmichael is Seph, the girl who gets...

Cameraperson

USA | 2016 | 102m | Kirsten Johnson
Stranger Says: Ace documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson (Happy Valley, Citizenfour) fashions a memoir of sorts, with subjects ranging from boxing, childbirth, Michael Moore, and pretty much everything in between. The sheer amount of brief, narration-free clips on display is a...

Ceviche’s DNA

North America Premiere | Canada | 2015 | 85m | Orlando Arriagada
Stranger Says: “I’m convinced that the word ‘gastronomy’ will bring to mind fine French cuisine," director Orlando Arriagada says in the film’s opening moments. “It’s unlikely that you’ll think of Peru.” Using ceviche, Peru’s most famous dish, as a starting...

Checks and Balances

North America Premiere | Algeria | 2015 | 97m | Malek Bensmaïl
Stranger Says: The best film in the festival’s 2014 African Pictures section was certainly Merzak Allouache’s The Rooftops. This year, it just might be Malek Bensmail’s Checks and Balances. Both are set in the beautiful seaside city of Algiers, Algeria’s...

Chicken People

USA | 2016 | 83m | Nicole Lucas Haimes
Stranger Says: This is one of those documentaries that open a window into a whole other way of life: in this case, competitive chicken breeders. These single-minded people are striving to create the ideal bird that will win grand champion...

Chimes at Midnight

Spain | 1966 | 116m | Orson Welles
Stranger Says: Deep Orson Welles nerds like to say this was his greatest film, Citizen Kane be damned. Well, I am a deep Orson Welles nerd, senator, and I say balderdash! Though Chimes might contain his best performance, it’s impossible to...

Concerto - A Beethoven Journey

United Kingdom | 2015 | 92m | Phil Grabsky
Stranger Says: There is a moment in this instructive documentary that struck me forcefully. It happens when the film’s subject, Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, is sitting at a table and signing autographs on his new CD after a performance at...

A Copy of My Mind

Indonesia | 2015 | 116m | Joko Anwar
Stranger Says: A movie-crazy Jakartan salon worker strikes up a romance with a handsome subtitler of cruddy bootleg DVDs. Things take a grim turn, however, when they accidentally watch the wrong clip. The plot proper may take way too long...

Dawn

U.S. Premiere | Latvia | 2015 | 96m | Laila Pakalnina
Stranger Says: Life on a Latvian commune undergoes a major upheaval after a young boy questions his father’s dedication to Soviet ideals. Inspired by an unfinished work of Sergei Eisenstein, this wicked allegory features stunning B&W photography and an amazing...

Death by Design

World Premiere | China | 2016 | 73m | Sue Williams
Stranger Says: At the outset of the film, director Sue Williams takes viewers to a milk-colored Yangtze River, where metallic muck sticks to oars and old women beg for clean drinking water. This is very much our doing. There's probably...

Eye of the Storm

Burkina Faso | 2015 | 101m | Sékou Traoré
Stranger Says: Finally, a film about black African child soldiers that is not predictable or exploitive or reheats themes and images found in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (“the horror, the horror”). And yet, Eye of the Storm has the...

Family Film

North America Premiere | Czech Republic | 2015 | 95m | Olmo Omerzu
Stranger Says: I'm reminded of the 2004 Japanese film Nobody Knows. In it, a mother feels overwhelmed by her responsibilities and flees her home, leaving four children behind to fend for themselves. Family Film raises some interesting parallel questions: Can...

Finding Kim

World Premiere | USA | 2016 | 82m | Aaron Bear
Stranger Says: A touching up-close portrayal of a Seattle transgender man's transition. Kim's story is spliced with footage of Seattle's Trans Pride parade and interviews of some of the most prominent leaders of the local movement for LGBTQ rights, including...

Finding October

World Premiere | USA | 2016 | 77m | Nick Terry
Stranger Says: Have you been watching too many serious, dark dramas about teens in trouble with no hope or no way out? Do you feel a certain hopelessness creeping into your soul as you struggle to find some bastion of...

The General

USA | 1926 | 76m | Buster Keaton
Stranger Says: Every so often I’m reminded that there are lots of people who haven’t seen any Buster Keaton films. The miracle of Keaton’s physical and cinematic gift is a mandatory addition to any cultural education worth a damn, but more...

The Girl Who Saved My Life

Sweden | 2016 | 79m | Hogir Hirori
Stranger Says: The thirtysomething director, Hogir Hirori, leaves peaceful Sweden and his pregnant wife and returns to his homeland, Kurdistan, to make a documentary about the refugee catastrophe caused by the gang called ISIS. At the beginning of the doc, Hirori...

Heaven Can Wait

USA | 1943 | 112m | Ernst Lubitsch
Stranger Says: After a lifetime of wandering eyes, an unrepentant playboy (Don Ameche) tries to talk his way into Hades. The Devil, however, proves to be a hard sell. Director Ernst Lubitsch’s legendary gift for gab was never more on point...

The High Sun

Croatia | 2015 | 123m | Dalibor Matanić
Stranger Says: Two villages sit next to each other—one Serb, the other Croat. The people hold on to old prejudices and resentments even as they must coexist. The young people try to come together but are hindered by years of...

Home Care

Czech Republic | 2015 | 92m | Slávek Horák
Stranger Says: Home Care is more than its trope: the subversion of vulnerability and power when a nurse becomes a patient. You get glimpses of rural Czech culture (drunk driving and a pregnant woman downing shots!) but more centrally, an...

Horizons

Switzerland | 2015 | 70m | Eileen Hofer
Stranger Says: By interweaving the lives of three dancers, Eileen Hofer’s documentary reveals the mirror structures of classical ballet and Cuban communism, which are provocative to consider. There’s also the plain pleasure of watching the moving bodies of young and...

How Most Things Work

U.S. Premiere | Argentina | 2015 | 93m | Fernando Salem
Stranger Says: Celina is a solemn young woman caring for her sick father while working at a tollbooth that no one comes to in rural Argentina. She wants to change her life, so she takes a job selling an encyclopedia...

Hummus

World Premiere | Israel | 2016 | 70m | Oren Rosenfeld
Stranger Says: Food is more than sustenance; it points to who we are as people—individuals with families and histories. This joyful film, ostensibly about hummus, the Middle Eastern chickpea spread loved around the world, is actually a journey, via some...

Illegitimate

North America Premiere | Romania | 2016 | 89m | Adrian Sitaru
Stranger Says: The fact that lovely old papa was an informer and denied women abortions during the Communist regime is revealed in the first 10 minutes of Illegitimate—and that news is dull compared to the rest of the scandal. With...

Indignation

USA | 2016 | 109m | James Schamus
Stranger Says: While adjusting to life at a Midwestern college during the Korean War, a driven New York Jewish boy asks out a beautiful, worldly Gentile. Since this is based on a Philip Roth novel, things soon get...unlovely. It takes...

The Island Funeral

North America Premiere | Thailand | 2015 | 105m | Pimpaka Towira
Stranger Says: A Muslim brother and sister travel to an unfamiliar section of Thailand with their friend in tow, only to find the landscape becoming less hospitable with every passing mile. While a certain amount of meandering is expected in...

Lamb

Ethiopia | 2015 | 94m | Yared Zeleke
Stranger Says: Every shot in this film, which is the first Ethiopian movie to premiere at Cannes (its director Yared Zeleke attended NYU), is so packed with cultural information that you will lose track of its story, which is not...

Last Cab to Darwin

Australia | 2015 | 123m | Jeremy Sims
Stranger Says: A man in the Australian outback travels to Darwin to take advantage of newly passed right-to-die legislation. He is a white man in love with a black woman, which starts as a secret source of painful shame—but looming...

Long Way North

France | 2015 | 81m | Rémi Chayé
Stranger Says: Attempting to regain her family’s honor, a young Russian girl travels to the frozen wastes on a quest for a lost heirloom. Utilizing a cannily limited animation style reminiscent of the old Zelda: Wind Waker game, this French-Danish...

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

USA | 2003 | 201m | Peter Jackson
Stranger Says: Frodo and Sam head to Mount Doom, Gandalf and Aragorn (SIFF honoree Viggo Mortensen) take the fight to Sauron, and you most likely know all of this already. Peter Jackson’s 2003 Oscar vacuum is the all-too-rare instance of a...

Love & Friendship

USA | 2016 | 93m | Whit Stillman
Stranger Says: Who better than Whit Stillman, who has been flirting with Jane Austen since that brilliant exchange about Mansfield Park in his exquisite debut, Metropolitan, to adapt and extrapolate a story Austen wrote in her teens? (SEAN NELSON) SIFF Says: My...

Marzia, My Friend

Finland | 2015 | 80m | Kirsi Mattila
Stranger Says: This is a different kind of edge-of-your-seat movie. It’s a tragedy in slow, inexorable motion. You lean forward, hold your head in your hands, mutter, “No.” And so does the director. But intervention is impossible, a feeling embodied...

Maya Angelou and Still I Rise

USA | 2016 | 115m | Bob Hercules
Stranger Says: Everyone knows Maya Angelou for her now canonical auto-bio, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but this doc reminds you that there weren’t many major artistic or political post-war movements that Maya Angelou didn’t contribute to in...

The Memory of Fish

World Premiere | USA | 2016 | 54m | Jennifer Galvin
Stranger Says: No one loved the Elwha River like Dick Goin, a machinist-turned-activist who grew up along its borders. At a time when scientists were busy elsewhere, he kept track of the dwindling salmon population, filling notebooks with his findings. "Dams...

Nakom

Ghana | 2016 | 90m | Kelly Daniela Norris
Stranger Says: I was really surprised to learn that this film, which is about a cosmopolitan Ghanaian medical student who has to return to his village to deal with his father’s funeral, was not made by Ghanaian but American-based filmmakers, TW...

The Night Stalker

World Premiere | USA | 2016 | 89m | Megan Griffiths
Stranger Says: While notorious serial killer Richard Ramirez (Lou Diamond Phillips) languishes on death row, an ambitious lawyer (Bellamy Young) attempts to unravel just exactly what makes him tick. Writer/director Megan Griffiths successfully captures the burbling hysteria of mid-’80s California,...

Other Girls

North America Premiere | Finland | 2015 | 80m | Esa Illi
Stranger Says: Four friends on the brink of independence deal with such hot topics as impulsive relationships, unexpected pregnancies, same-sex attractions, and the perils of playing hockey. Writer/director Esa Illi based the script on actual video diaries from Finnish teens,...

Other People

USA | 2016 | 97m | Chris Kelly
Saturday Night Live writer Chris Kelly's cancer dramedy, Other People, was a hit at SIFF and is lauded for its emotional and layered performances by actors including Molly Shannon and Jesse Plemons. Justin Chang at Variety writes that the film...

Our Kind of Traitor

United Kingdom | 2016 | 107m | Susanna White
Stranger Says: You know you’re hankering for a little more John Le Carré, especially now that you’ve seen the finale of The Night Manager. Throw in a couple of the greatest actors currently drawing breath (Damian Lewis, Stellan Skarsgärd) and one...

Paths of the Soul

China | 2015 | 115m | Zhang Yang
Stranger Says: A small village of Chinese Buddhists decide to travel the thousand-plus miles to Tibet’s holy mountain. On foot. Through sleet and snow. Miraculously, their particular method of on-the-move kowtowing remains strange and wonderful to watch, even after the thousandth...

Presenting Princess Shaw

Israel | 2015 | 80m | Ido Haar
Stranger Says: This documentary must be seen with two others in this festival, Sonita and Marzia, My Friend. These documentaries (which concern young and poor women who live with very difficult pasts and are trying to take control of their...

The Queen of Ireland

North America Premiere | Ireland | 2015 | 82m | Conor Horgan
This film is part of the Best of SIFF 2016 series.Stranger Says: A single speech rocketed Barack Obama to national prominence—his keynote address before the 2004 Democratic National Convention—and that speech would ultimately lead to Obama becoming the first African American...

Rainbow

India | 2015 | 104m | Nagesh Kukunoor
Stranger Says: Chotu and Pari are an orphaned brother and sister living with their stingy aunt and lazy uncle in the rural desert of Rajasthan, India. Chotu is blind, and his sister helps him move through the world. The duo...

Red Gringo

North America Premiere | Chile | 2016 | 67m | Miguel Ángel Vidaurre
Stranger Says: Equipped with excellent bone structure and a serviceable voice, Dean Reed was an aspiring American romantic balladeer whose career was stagnating in the late ’50s and early ’60s. But once the slick crooner moved to Chile, he scored...

Resilience

USA | 2016 | 60m | James Redford
Stranger Says: When you were a kid, did your parents fight? Did you move a lot? Did your parents hit you? Did they hit each other? It's taken science a long time to catch up, but doctors have recently discovered...

A Scandal in Paris

United Kingdom | 1946 | 100m | Douglas Sirk
Stranger Says: Though Douglas Sirk will always be best known for his melodramatic molasses movies, this obscure diamond highlights the stylish wit that bolstered his campier tendencies. It doesn’t hurt that George Sanders, the drollest actor who ever cocked an eyebrow,...

Sonita

Iran | 2015 | 90m | Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
Stranger Says: This documentary must be seen with two others in this festival, Presenting Princess Shaw and Marzia, My Friend. These documentaries (which concern young and poor women who live with very difficult pasts and are trying to take control...

Southside with You

USA | 2016 | 80m | Richard Tanne
Stranger Says: Thank you, director Richard Tanne, for releasing this presidential rom-com in the midst of one of the ugliest election seasons in recent memory. The film follows a young, chain-smoking Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) and a deeply principled Michelle Robinson...

Sparrows

Iceland | 2015 | 99m | Rúnar Rúnarsson
Stranger Says: Sparrows, set in the dramatic, watery gray landscape of West Iceland, moves at a sluggish, almost somnambulant, pace. The film’s speed seems to be at odds with the topic it explores—masculinity, specifically as seen through the relationship between...

Sunset Song

United Kingdom | 2015 | 135m | Terence Davies
Stranger Says: After making his name with semi-autobiographical tales of provincial life in post-war Britain, Liverpool-born auteur Terence Davies shifted his gaze to literary properties about strong-willed women living in impossible times, like Lily Bart in The House of Mirth. That...

Tag

Japan | 2015 | 85m | Sion Sono
Stranger Says: A Japanese schoolgirl’s no good, very bad day includes bouts of body swapping, waves of heavily armed teachers, and a marriage proposal from a rather well-dressed man-pig. (There’s also some weird stuff.) The very first scene of this...

Truman

Spain | 2015 | 108m | Cesc Gay
This film is part of the Best of SIFF 2016 series.Stranger Says: All I need to say about this softly sad comedy that is set in the capital of the Spanish-speaking world, Madrid, and concerns two middle-aged friends (one of whom,...

Uncle Howard

USA | 2016 | 96m | Aaron Brookner
Stranger Says: A grainy elegy to a great handheld documentarian and a promising filmmaker, Howard Brookner, that makes you jealous of the artistic beehive of the Chelsea Hotel and hate the US’s official response to the AIDS crisis. Rare footage...

Vanity

Switzerland | 2015 | 75m | Lionel Baier
Stranger Says: A cancer patient’s plan to peacefully end it all at a remote Swiss motel hits a snag when he attracts the attention of the Russian male prostitute in the next room. The story may struggle a bit to...

The Violin Teacher

Brazil | 2015 | 100m | Sérgio Machado
Stranger Says: Lázaro Ramos captured the film-world’s attention by way of 2002's Madame Satã, in which he played famed Brazilian convict-turned-drag performer João Francisco dos Santos. He's barely recognizable as the same actor in this reunion with Lower City director...

Warehoused

U.S. Premiere | Mexico | 2015 | 90m | Jack Zagha
Stranger Says: A contemporary Mexican take on Waiting for Godot, but less absurdist and easier to digest. Instead of tackling ideas of God and religion, Warehoused comments on work and labor—the seemingly unquestioned ruler of our time. With deeply funny...

The Weekend Sailor

Mexico | 2016 | 74m | Bernardo Arsuaga
Stranger Says: In 1973, after reading about the first around-the-world regatta in a magazine, Mexican businessman Ramon Carlin decides he wants to race. He had no boat, no crew, and little experience as a captain. He made a crew out of...

Weiner

USA | 2016 | 100m | Josh Kriegman
Stranger Says: As everyone knows, sexts brought Anthony Weiner’s brilliant political career to an end not once but twice. The first time, in 2011, was not fatal; the second time, in 2013, was. The first time cost him his seat...

Where Have All the Good Men Gone

World Premiere | Denmark | 2016 | 93m | René Frelle Petersen
Stranger Says: Sofia (the very fine Julie Andersen), a surly 18-year-old, has a crap life by any standard. She lives in a dreary town and shares a trailer with her half-sister, Olivia (Simone Lykke), on her abusive stepfather's property. The men...

Wiener-Dog

USA | 2016 | 90m | Todd Solondz
Stranger Says: The notion that Dawn Wiener from Welcome to the Dollhouse grew up to be Greta Gerwig is only the least tantalizing element of Todd Solondz’s new film, which promises to continue the postmodern tricks that served him so beautifully...

Zud

North America Premiere | Germany | 2016 | 85m | Marta Minorowicz
Stranger Says: A financially teetering Mongolian family pins their hopes and dreams on their 11-year-old son’s showing in an upcoming horse race. This feature debut of well-regarded Polish shorts director Marta Minorowicz uses its combination of widescreen vistas and mundane...