Annie Wagner (Winner):
At first I thought that the enchantment of seeing three movies a day had simply dissipated for this, my second year of full-series pass extravagance. Then I realized that SIFF was recycling one of last year's promotional trailers--Holly Morris' Russian Constructivist-themed montage--not just because it was lovely, but because its only successor was a paltry little animation that recited the festival's biggest sponsors. The shuttle van that had whisked pass holders between venues last year disappeared, transforming Pacific Place into a remote island paradise of perfect sight lines and cushy seats. This year's SIFF was a little grubby, but it got the job done.
Documentaries rarely get the play they deserve, so it was nice to see ABC Africa in the festival's opening lineup. Kiarostami's first pure documentary abounds with the sort of meta-commentary that made the finale of his 1990 film, Close Up, so deliciously weird, but I sorely missed the earlier title's fascinating tension between documentary and narrative. In my estimation, Inner Tour, with its nuanced portrayal of a present-day Israel-bound Palestinian bus tour, beat out even Scorsese's My Voyage to Italy and Makhmalbaf's Afghan Alphabet for best doc at the festival.
In the great-yet-misunderstood category, SIFF brought us two very different narrative features, Pumpkin and Millennium Mambo. Pumpkin will be coming soon to a theater near you, and before you go, you must memorize this simple mantra: "This movie is meant to be funny." If the mixed reaction of the SIFF audience was any indication, the people surrounding you will try very hard to take this movie seriously. Don't let them. Chortle your heart out. Millennium Mambo, Hou Hsiao Hsien's unfortunately titled newest, also made audiences squirm, but Hou's interminable shots bring out with great elegance the fundamental lethargy of despair. The high-energy soundtrack provides a nice counterpoint to the film's pace, pulling together the spare narrative in a way that Flowers of Shanghai never quite succeeded in doing.
But it's not really the movies that make or break a festival. It's the little things, like free ice water and decent eavesdropping. To this end, I'd like to congratulate the Harvard Exit for running the best theater at SIFF, and for the best audience members: a tie between people attending gay- or lesbian-themed films and native speakers of the obscure foreign languages showcased onscreen. You guys make even movies with exclamation points in the titles seem pretty darn okay.
Megan Koester (Loser, But Also a Winner):
I am a winner. I am a champion. I am truly a king among men. And because of this, Sean Nelson, protector and giver of all that is good and true, has given me, Megan Beth Koester, a gift: the gift of complimentary. And oh, Sean Nelson, I am grateful.
As I shoved beer after complimentary beer into my knapsack at the fabulously glamorous SIFF opening night festivities, all the while frantically looking about for a glimpse of gigantic über-stars such as Rachel Miner's ex-husband's younger brother, I gazed into the night sky and silently thanked you, Sean Nelson. As I waited patiently in line for Pumpkin with dozens of balding Caucasian males with laminated passes around their thick necks, I blissfully reminisced about your witty, charming comments as you administered the SIFF trivia quiz that had gotten me this far and this blessed. Oh, Sean Nelson, it felt good. And although I struggled through the (complimentary) 134-minute IKEA commercial that is Gossip, on my way out of the theater I still closed my eyes and softly hummed the chorus to Harvey Danger's 1998 hit single, "Flagpole Sitta." You, Sean Nelson, soothed me.
But all kidding aside, for hours I have racked my brain as to what to say in this article. You see, I've only seen seven movies since the festival began, and none of them were really all that spectacular. I halfheartedly attempted to sell my complimentary pass for much-needed monetary strength, but to no avail: 'Tis easier said than done to pull off a transaction of that magnitude. I drove around listening to Now That's What I Call Music (Volume One) for what seemed like an eternity, hoping to harness the writing strength of the honorable Sean Nelson to provide you, the decent people of the world, with movie reviews that you would be proud to read.
But I failed you. And worst of all, I failed Sean Nelson. I'm sorry, decent people of the world. I'm sorry, Sean Nelson.
Please forgive me. Thank you and good night.