Without Name

The closing weekend of the Seattle International Film Festival tends to inspire complicated feelings—about the good and bad films you saw, the ones you missed, and the general sense that you probably could've tried harder to make it to a few more screenings while you had the chance. This year's festival presented a few fewer films (400, down from last year's 421).


Nevertheless, on weekdays and weekends alike, come rain or come shine, whether for fancy studio releases or obscure Kenyan microbudget discoveries, Seattle filmgoers could be seen every day for the past three weeks lining up for their annual dose. Much as I have groaned about waiting in lines all my pampered life, it's always a glorious sight.

If anything, though, the culture at large has raced to catch up with SIFF's daunting programming model, offering more entertainment possibilities in a month than anyone could possibly consume in a year.

My experience of this phenomenon has been both predictable and common: subscribe to everything from Hulu to Mubi, and when it comes time to choose something to watch, become paralyzed by the plenty—spending hours scrolling through various menus, marking hundreds of things for a watch list I will never watch, then wind up digging out my scratched up DVD of My Dinner with Andre or whatever.

SIFF refines this process by confining the deluge to three weeks—an invaluable boundary. If you don't have the luxury of ample time, but you know you're going to be free between 6:30 and 11 p.m. some random Saturday, you can consult the grid, see what's playing, and be reasonably assured that of the dozen or so movies on offer, at least one will be worth the risk.

In the spirit of wanting to maximize the benefits of my press credentials, a more-than-friend and I went to Lincoln Square Cinemas in Bellevue the Sunday before Memorial Day to see Without Name, an Irish "eco-terror" film that dealt with several of my favorite subjects (the profound menace of nature, the dark sorrow of Ireland, the dual character of consciousness) in a truly original, deeply disturbing way.

The real highlight of the experience came—as it often does at SIFF—in line, where we struck up a conversation with a couple who had come up to Seattle from Shelton, as they do every Memorial Day weekend, to binge on SIFF films. They were both teachers, both white, and I'd guess they were in their mid-50s. She taught elementary school, he taught junior high, and both were despairing about the future of their professions, especially in light of the Trump administration.

She related that kids as young as first grade had been caught bringing knives to school. He said that math had long been a reliable framework for introducing the idea that people of different racial and social backgrounds might be able to work together to solve problems—but in the past year or two, the divisions seemed increasingly difficult to surmount.

Regardless, they both remained committed to a teaching philosophy grounded in the precept of inclusion, regardless of how brutal and cold the world had—or would—become. She said her job as an elementary school teacher was to convince her students that they are good enough, smart enough, and strong enough to rise to the challenges their world puts in front of them. Her voice radiated quiet warmth, engagement, and hope—tempered by the realism of having seen your vocation undervalued, undermined, and under attack by the government for decades.

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I came away from this impromptu conversation feeling three things: (1) A deep admiration for the spirit of old fashioned liberalism that prevailed in these two strangers, whom I now thought of, however wishfully, as friends. (2) Surprised by how seldom one encounters reasonable, kind, warm, aware humans like them in reporting about people who live outside the bubble. I don't mean simply because we happened to agree on the broad strokes of America's moral and intellectual trajectory—I mean because the main thing about them wasn't their anger. It was their dauntless goodness in the face of a seemingly impossible job. It was their love. (3) Gratitude for SIFF, without which I might never have found myself in line with these two inspirational people.

Unlike Without Name, I'll probably never see them again, but they were the part of this year's festival I'll never forget.