SIFF is big, okay? SIFF is epic. SIFF is undeniably, unironically amazing, with a vast assortment of overworked people hustling their talented asses off to deliver the best possible festival experience. But, man, the thing's just so... huge, you know? Faced with such long-lasting gigantism, it can sometimes be hard for a viewer to adequately decompress, let alone fathom that there may actually be other things of interest showing in town. Hence, a brief guide for those film junkies who may feel the need for a respite from the festival's gravitational pull, however brief.
For starters, beginning on Friday, May 25, the Grand Illusion screens 2002's Ping Pong, a manic, wonderfully overwrought manga adaptation about the fierce competitive drive of dudes with names such as Peco, Smile, and Demon. Not to be outdone, beginning Friday, June 1, Northwest Film Forum serves up the Japanese "pink film" The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, in which a sexpot teacher's assistant gets shot in the head, turning her into a philosophical super-genius—albeit one with occasional lapses into nymphomania. Also, she stumbles into a sinister plot involving the cloned index finger of George W. Bush, played by a guy in a cardboard mask that manages to be even creepier than the real thing. Okay, so it's not quite as awesome in practice as it sounds, but, really, does it have to be?
For a markedly more ambitious form of counterprogramming, however, look to the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, which enters its third year with an absolute vengeance. Now expanded to 10 days and featuring a new focus on live music via its tastefully named STIFF Licks program (check out www.trueindependent.org for the full lineup) it offers an admirably wide look at oodles of virgin talent. The fact that said talent doesn't always know quite what to do with these newfound abilities only adds to the experience, frankly.
Things kick off on the feature front with the psychobilly freak-out Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell (Fri May 25, Rendezvous), in which the self-appointed Vice-King of New America (writer-codirector Kevin Wheatley) wanders the postapocalyptic landscape as he attempts to gain rightful rule over the last remaining subterranean populace. Melding political satire, slasher flicks, and survivalist pulp, it generates an infectious, ungodly thrum untouched by studio hands. The satirical office-shooter drama He Was a Quiet Man (Sat June 2, Seattle Art Museum) benefits mightily from energized appearances by Christian Slater, Elisa Cuthbert, a positively juiced William H. Macy, and one memorably psychotic talking goldfish. Actor-writer-director Greg Lobb's Life with Fiona (Sat June 2, Central Cinema) does the Kevin Smith hyperliterate romantic thing, with a quarter of the smarm. The sprawling L.A. Ecstasy saga Rolling (Fri June 1, Rendezvous) takes a stab at capturing the rave generation, with a game cast and overall energy that compensates for the narrative's occasional slip into drugs-are-bad homily.
And then there's the fairly astonishing Impaler (Thurs May 31, Rendezvous), a documentary about Jonathon Sharkey, the self-professed Satanic vampire who recently ran for the governorship of Minnesota on a platform of love, fairness, and ramming spikes through criminals. Displaying an admirable lack of personal safety, director Tray White captures segments both unexpectedly tender (Sharkey's wife's dentures prohibit her from solo blood-sucking, resulting in some rather urpy joint feeding sessions) and scarily fascinating. The final scene in which the star, just released from prison, kicks back in a room crammed to the rafters with cigars, knives, guns, and Jim Beam feels like a true anything-can-happen moment.
For those still unsure, STIFF's various shorts programs may be the safest initiation. Among the highlights, Rob Perri's monumentally wise-assed I'm Keith Hernandez (Thurs May 31, Rendezvous) recounts the history of the baseball giant and legendary Seinfeld guest (including his brief foray into hardcore porn) in an attempt to explore the larger subjects of drugs in sports, the Iran-Contra affair, and the enduring power of the mustache. Seattle filmmaker Anton Botgaty's Coburn (Tues May 29, Rendezvous) takes a striking, scratchily animated look at the uneasy period between life and death. Best in Show honors, though, may go to Bellingham resident Jimmy Marble's short Nate and Natalie (Fri June 1, Rendezvous), a black-and-white gem that perfectly and unpretentiously captures the awkward, slightly overwrought intensity of college romance. In its brief 29 minutes, it manages to provide all of the burnout therapy that a harried festivalgoer could ever need. Drink deep, take a moment, and then get back in line.