Movies are back, baby! The 48th Seattle International Film Festival is going on now and runs until April 24. This year's hybrid lineup, screening in-person and online, includes a modest 262 films.
We know you probably need help weeding down SIFF's offerings, so we've spent weeks sorting through screeners to bring you a handful of must-see picks. Scroll through this list to view some of our favorites, plus additional interviews with directors like Seattle hometown hero Megan Griffiths. You can also see the full schedule and get tickets here.
We'll add more recommendations, reviews, and interviews to this big-ass round-up as we move through the fest, so go ahead and click that bookmark button now. Happy moviegoing!
United Kingdom, 2021, 83 minutes, Directors Lucy Harvey & Danielle Kummer
What an absolute charmer Alien on Stage is. The affectionate documentary centers on a group of small-town theater hobbyists who create a live panto version of the movie Alien, and then, through a twist of fame, have an opportunity to perform their show live on the West End, complete with their delightfully homemade special effects. Comparisons to Waiting for Guffman are inevitable, but this is its own creature with a wonderful, wholesome, and very modest heart. MATT BAUME
Alien on Stage screens at Shoreline Community College on Wednesday, April 20 at 6 pm, and at SIFF Cinema Egyptian on Friday, April 22 at 9:15 pm, and available to stream the entire length of the festival.
USA, 2022, 98 min, Dir. Elisa Levine, Gabriel Miller
Do not miss this documentary. It's Seattle noir at its finest. Raindrops on windows, long nights, dusky downtown, the underworld of Aurora Avenue. The moody documentary is about four women who, for a considerable length of time, sold sex on the street to pay for drugs. We see them walking Aurora, entering cars, shooting up. We also see them exploited by an elderly man who dressed like a hippy but turned out to be a monster. CHARLES MUDEDE
Sweetheart Deal screens at AMC Pacific Place on Monday, April 18, and SIFF Cinema Uptown at Wednesday, April 20, and available to stream the entire length of the festival.
Vietnam, 2022, 105 minutes, Director Ham Tran
A mild-mannered alien-pal movie, Maika is billed as the first sci-fi movie for kids from Vietnam. Though it’s clearly drawing heavy inspiration from E.T., the feel is more like the first season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Cartoonish goofy slapstick, broadly-drawn character tropes, and serviceable child acting lends a distinct direct-to-video vibe. But that may not be a barrier for young viewers who either speak Vietnamese or don’t mind reading subtitles.
Our hero is eight-year-old Hùng, whose mother has recently passed away and left behind a doing-my-best widower dad who struggles to support his son both emotionally and financially. Following a prayer to his mother, Hùng meets a wide-eyed crash-landed alien girl named Maika, who has come to Earth bearing a phone-home plot device. Meanwhile, a greedy and evil tech oligarch is hot on the trail of alien technology, and a beautiful and kindly neighbor who harbors warm feelings for the dad seeks some way to aid the struggling family.
It’s hard not to predict how these deeply familiar plot threads will resolve in the paint-by-numbers story. There is precisely one (1) surprise in Maika, a momentary sight-gag involving a falling dagger that is so violently out-of-place in the otherwise cartoonish mayhem that it made me gasp out loud. I would very much like to be in a theater to hear an audience’s reaction to that moment; I don’t feel a burning need to be present for the rest of it. MATT BAUME
Maika screens at SIFF Cinema Egyptian on Saturday, April 23 at 11:00 am.
USA, 2022, 90 min, Dir. James Morosini
What would you do to reconnect with your son? Call him every day to check in? Send him money? Pose as a hot girl on the internet and unintentionally become his online girlfriend, winning his trust in the most fucked up way possible? I Love My Dad boldly tries to answer that question. Patton Oswalt plays Chuck, a schlubby divorced dad whose son, Franklin (writer and director James Morosini), just returned home from a psychiatric hospital after trying to commit suicide. Franklin has blocked Chuck on all his social media platforms, digitally forming a boundary between his father and himself. Desperate to reconnect, Chuck catfishes his son by pretending to be "Becca," a hot and sexy fake-person whom lonely Franklin immediately falls for. Somewhat incredibly, the movie is based on the true story of Morosini's real-life father catfishing him—the film even opens with the line, "The following actually happened. My dad asked me to tell you it didn’t." A touching mix of comedy and drama, I Love My Dad took home the Jury and Audience Awards in the Narrative Feature Competition at the 2022 SXSW film festival. This strange-but-sweet family dramedy should be on your list. JAS KEIMIG
I Love My Dad screens at SIFF Uptown on Friday, April 22, and Saturday, April 23.
Spain, 2022, 90 min, Dir. Carlota Pereda
A year before the pandemic, director Carlota Pereda earned a lot of attention in Spain after winning a Goya Award for her short film Piggy. It notably starred newcomer Laura Galán, who gave a remarkably tragic and funny performance as Sara, a rural butcher's daughter who the local mean girls viciously mock for her size and lack of confidence. When those mean girls get kidnapped by a different kind of butcher, Sara must decide if and how to help her tormenters. Thankfully, Pereda's now given that short film a startling and squeamish makeover into a feature film, with Galán returning to her role. This full-length Piggy is Carrie-esque, eventually plunging into gory grindhouse territory. (Watch the trailer.) Trigger warnings abound here—rape, murder, fat-shaming, blood blood blood—but that's expected, considering its set-up. It's due for an October theatrical release in Spain, with Magnolia Picture's Magnet Releasing dropping it in North America at a TBA date. After this first Friday, you'll likely never get another chance to see it as a midnight screening. CHASE BURNS
South Korea, 2021, 85 min, Dir. Hong Sang-soo
How does he do it? The South Korean director Hong Sang-soo, an art house and film festival celebrity, makes the same move over and over and over. It's always about a famous director/novelist/poet with an ego and desires that are not honorable, and a beautiful but vulnerable actress/painter/film student; and they always take place in a bar or cafe or near a cinema house or gallery or theater. But despite this repetition, which stretches all the way back to the beginning of this century's first decade, his films never fail to engage (and sometimes even enchant) us.
The same can be said about In Front of Your Face, one of four films he completed throughout this pandemic. It's about a famous middle-aged actress, Sang-ok (Lee Hye-young) and a famous middle-aged director, Jae-won (Kwon Hae-hyo). Sang-ok currently lives in the US, and Jae-won is trying to bring her out of retirement and star in a film that sounds very much like the ones Sang-soo makes (it will not take long to make, he is flexible, all that's needed is the camera in his car).
The director has lots of drinks with her (not surprising), eats with her (not surprising), smokes with her (not surprising), and wants to sleep with her (of course). This is exactly a Sang-soo film. Long takes, dialogue that seems to go nowhere, awkward situations, cafe tables next to large windows, moments in gardens or parks. But when the famous actress in In Front of Your Face drops a bomb on the famous director, he of course reveals himself to be much like the other directors in Sang-soo's films, who, in turn, are much like Sang-soo himself. And yet the movie somehow finds something new and meaningful to say about art and life and the region of shades between the two. How does Sang-soo get away with this all of the time? CHARLES MUDEDE
In Front of Your Face screens at AMC Pacific Place on Tuesday, April 19, and again on Thursday, April 21.
Belgium, 2021, 112 min, Dirs. Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre
This excellent debut feature from writer-directors Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre stars the captivating Adèle Exarchopoulos as Cassandre, a young woman unspooling from a personal tragedy while trying to navigate a capitalist hellscape. Cassandre spends her days in the air, hawking perfumes and cleaning sky-toilets. Her nights on the ground are a blur of heavy drinking and rando hook-ups. The verité-style film balances the absurd and heartbreaking, all grounded by a layered performance from Exarchopoulos. JAS KEIMIG
Playing at SIFF Uptown on Friday, April 15 at 8:30 pm and Monday, April 18 at 3:30 pm, and available to stream the entire length of the festival.
Spain, 2021, 92 min, Dir. Horacio Alcalà
This film about a Spanish fashion designer traveling to Oaxaca to steal designs from Indigenous queer people holds many threads. There's the immediate storyline (the tension between the designer and dress-makers), happening simultaneously against larger, more existential dramas (like a looming, devastating earthquake). Happily, all this narrative threading isn't melodramatic. The final product from director Horacio Alcalà is ornate, lyrical—but also straightforward and direct. It's full of contradictions. (And well-shot sex scenes.) And it's continuously surprising. Very recommended. CHASE BURNS
Playing at SIFF Uptown on Saturday, April 16 at 8:30 pm and Sunday, April 17 at 11:30 am. Director and producer Horacio Alcalà scheduled to attend. It's also available to stream the entire length of the festival.
US, 2022, 93 min, Dir. Sara Dosa
Honestly, what's more erotic—poetically, I mean—than a volcano? Pressure churning below the surface! An explosion into the atmosphere! Magma oozing out crevices in a bright orange river! The Earth spewing molten rock! It's pure, geological, horny DRAMA, baby!!!
Director Sara Dosa plays with the connection between volcanoes and love with her buzzy documentary Fire of Love, recently acquired by National Geographic Documentary Films for a mid-seven figures. Narrated by Miranda July, the film tells the love story of married French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft and their shared passion for exploding rocks. Forgoing any traditional kind of marriage or family structure, the Kraffts made their home on the tops of active volcanoes, alarmingly close to all the spectacular geological action.
Fire of Love is composed purely of archival footage, most of which was shot by Katia and Maurice on their travels to sites like Mount Stromboli in Italy, Nyiragongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mount St. Helens in Washington. With their red caps and space age-lookin' heat suits, the Kraffts resemble characters in a Wes Anderson movie. Or perhaps the French New Wave is a better comparison—the couple's documentation of volcanoes often veered into the poetic and impressionistic, stitched together by Dosa to reflect not only the marvels of volcanoes but the power of love. But not in a cheesy way! JAS KEIMIG
Playing at SIFF Egyptian on Friday, April 22 at 6:30 pm, at SIFF Uptown on Sunday, April 24 at 2:00 pm, and available to stream the entire length of the festival. Fire of Love is also competing in SIFF's Official Competition to win a cash prize of $5,000.
US, 2022, 118 min, Dir. Zia Mohajerjasbi
LA/206 director Zia Mohajerjasbi's debut feature Know Your Place is a film that everyone in Seattle (and all other major cities) should (must) watch. It is a packed work, and so unpacking it all is nothing but impossible within the obvious attentional limits imposed on blog posts. But, I will begin by saying the star of this film is, above all, Seattle. But this star has two important and different parts. One: the city that's becoming, class wise, homogenous. This kind of city has less and less space for the working classes. Two: the city that's losing its color. Black Americans were the first to go. Now it's black Africans. Next will be East Asian Americans. Know Your Place takes place in the now.
The story of Know Your Place is profoundly black African. It's the odyssey of a 15-year-old (Robel Haile) who is tasked with hand-hauling, from one end of the city to the other, a huge and heavy suitcase to a family friend who is returning to East Africa. I can attest to the authenticity of this plot. When an African returns home from the States, they not only take their own things but those of relatives and friends. I once recall taking a long bus ride to Shoreline to give a Zimbabwean friend a bag filled with vitamins for a sick family member in Harare. In the case of Robel, the suitcase he pulls around Seattle (on the sidewalk, onto this and that bus, into a Link train or the trunk of a cab) contains, among other things, medicine.
But impressed on this black African American plot, which also involves Robel's best friend (Fahmi Tadesse), and the fact that the former is Eritrean and the latter Ethiopian deserves another level of unpacking, is the narrative sensibility of 1990s Iranian cinema—more specifically, the cinema of the late Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami; more specifically yet, Kiarostami's Where Is the Friend's House?, which is the first part of a trilogy that ends with one of the greatest films of the 1990s, Through the Olive Trees. But where Mohajerjasbi, an Iranian American, parts with Kiarostami and the Iranian New Wave of the 1990s is his commitment to beauty (or aesthetic realism).
Indeed, a part of the sadness that courses through Know Your Place has as its source an unsaid consequence of the raw displacement of POCs by primarily wealthy white Americans: Not only can POCs not afford to live in the city but, more importantly (and spiritually), they can't afford to live in a beautiful city. In the pre-gentrification days, one did not need a tech job or large inheritance to access the darkling light of Seattle, its large population of big and leafy-thick trees, its glorious sunsets, and even the calming music of its rain. In this film, Mohajerjasbi presents something that is entirely new (if not revolutionary): a political economy of urban beauty. CHARLES MUDEDE
Playing at SIFF Egyptian on Sunday, April 17 at 4 pm and at Ark Lodge Cinemas on Tuesday, April 19 at 5:45 pm. Director Zia Mohajerjasbi scheduled to attend. It's also available to stream the entire length of the festival.
France, 2022, 72 min, Dir. Céline Sciamma
Céline Sciamma's Petite Maman ("little mother") follows eight-year-old Nelly, who temporarily moves to the countryside so her parents can clear out her late grandma's home. Unable to deal with the loss, Nelly's mom suddenly leaves, and later that day, Nelly meets an eight-year-old girl who looks just like her in the woods outside her home (*wink wink*). Sciamma's tale of grief holds a quiet, spellbinding magic. It'll make you want to call your mother immediately. JAS KEIMIG
Playing at SIFF Uptown on Monday, April 18 at 9 pm.
Tanzania, 2021, 93 min, Dir. Amil Shivji
Belgium, 2022, 105 min, Dir. Michael Van Ostade
Stranger Things meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Ghostbusters in this delightful kid-friendly romp about ghost-hunters at a boarding school. Lively humor and puppets are a hoot (and often quite gross), and ghosts are a neat metaphor for wrestling with emotional demons of impending adolescence. Copious Dutch puns are valiantly localized with varying levels of success. (Haunted bird: “Poultrygeist.” Haunted refrigerator: “Frightdge.”) Young viewers may balk at having to read subtitles, and parents at the occasional profanity. MATT BAUME
Ireland, 2022, 97 min, Dir. Kathryn Ferguson
Kathryn Ferguson’s documentary Nothing Compares makes several mistakes in its noble mission to recover the mostly unhappy pop career of the Irish-born singer Sinéad O’Connor, who now goes by Shuhada Sadaqat. Its main mistake is to connect O'Connor's cancelation in 1992 for ripping a picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live with the pink pussy hats movement that erupted with Trump's defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016. There is little to almost no live wire between the two forms of protest. In the history of popular movements and pop music, there exists two kinds of challenges: one that the establishment codes as acceptable and indeed benefits from, and one that it codes as unacceptable. Superstar rock, pop, hiphop, and R&B musicians almost never crack the latter code. O'Connor did.
The pink pussy hats movement is not strictly anti-establishment. As The Daily writer Deborah Kwon explained in an October 4, 2021 post, it is predominately an expression of middle-class white feminism. Its goal is a re-coding of power, not the elimination of it. The same can be said about Neil Young's decision earlier this year to challenge Spotify's support of the enormously popular podcaster Joe Rogan. It was not an empty gesture for him to pull his music from a streaming service that distributes lies about a pandemic that's claimed over 1 million American lives (and nor is the pink pussy hats solidarity empty), but it would never have cost him everything. The establishment coded Young's act of protest as acceptable, absorbing it rather than rejecting it.
Spotify lost that battle because Young had nothing to lose. He is an old rocker after all. But O'Connor lost her very bright position in the constellation of rock stars by the time she was 26. Meaning, at a time when she had everything to lose. Her protest—unlike, say, those who appropriate Handmaid's Tale imagery to protest the Supreme Court's stark reversal on women's reproductive rights—was way outside of the limits of a form of power that's coded by capital. O'Connor did not just hit a nerve (Neil Young did that while brushing the dirt from his shoulder), she hit the heart of a system (the accumulation of capital) that apparently had Catholicism as one of its core components. As a consequence, O'Connor was canceled almost immediately, and not just by the right, but by centrists.
As the documentary shows, her post-Saturday Night Live appearance at Bob Dylan's Madison Square Garden concert was loudly booed. Dylan, whose music once captured the revolutionary feeling of the turbulent 1960s, was now apolitical, nothing more than a time capsule for much of his generation. His songs had become simply "ours" for fans who only wanted to relive the past that was reduced to catchy melodies and lines. But challenging the Pope in the age of a triumphal neoliberalism—this was completely another matter. In fact, O'Connor's transgression made it clear that Dylan never really cracked the code of power. Nor, for that matter, did Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and Prince and Nirvana and Public Enemy, whose founder, Chuck D, praises O'Connor in the documentary. (It's also important to note that, unlike the local rapper and KEXP DJ Gabriel Teodros, the mainstream has yet to challenge Spotify's raw exploitation of emerging or underground artists.)
Lastly, the documentary fails to fully appreciate the greatness of O'Connor's talent, which did not stop growing after the United States canceled her (she still had a major following in Iceland and, curiously enough, Poland). The music that made her famous in the 1980s, and that got her a history-making spot on Saturday Night Live in 1992, was only a point of departure. For example, what one finds in "What Your Soul Sings," the second track on Massive Attack's 2003 100th Window, is an O'Connor now in the second half of her 30s, whose genius is far from exhausted. Most pop stars have nothing new to say or offer after a few years in the business. This wasn't the case with O'Connor. Late in a career that started when she was barely not a girl, 19, the Irish singer possessed a voice that was more haunting and beautiful and tender and vital than ever before. O'Connor, who lost her son recently, joy still belongs to you. CHARLES MUDEDE
Playing at SIFF Egyptian on Sunday, April 17 at 7 pm, at Shoreline Community College on Monday, April 18 at 6 pm, and available to stream the entire length of the festival. Director Kathryn Ferguson scheduled to attend.
USA, 2022, 104 min, Dir. Jeff Baena
I didn't get a screener of Spin Me Round so I'm making this recommendation based on faith. Also, on the fact that director Jeff Baena's previous film, The Little Hours, was a perverse and hilarious adaptation of The Decameron from 14th-century Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio. Perhaps it is a fault of mine, but I immediately trust a director who can transform medieval plot into a modern-feeling, darkly comedic sex romp. Plus, the plot of Spin Me Round reads like a comedy movie Mad Lib (I mean this in the best way possible): Alison Brie plays a manager of an Olive Garden-like chain restaurant in Bakersfield, CA who gets sent to Tuscany, Italy for an "educational immersion program" where shit immediately starts to go left. And the funny wattage on this film is through the roof—Aubrey Plaza, Alessandro Nivola (hope he's funnier here than in The Many Saints of Newark), Fred Armisen, Molly Shannon, Zach Woods, Tim Heidecker, Ben Sinclair (yes, The Guy!), Rel Howery, Ego Nwodim, and Lauren Weedman. If this movie sucks, I will promise to eat my shoe (don't hold me to it)! But I have a feeling I won't have to. JAS KEIMIG
More top picks:
Call Jane Phantom Project Neptune Frost Riotsville, USA Hit the Road Marcel the Shell with Shoes On The Territory Inu-Oh Daughter of a Lost Bird Warm Blood Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story 107 Mothers Dual The Duke One Second Kaepernick & America
Howdy! Wow! You've read so far. Congrats. Take a little eyeball break. No really. Get up and walk around your room or something. Look out the window and come back.
Good? Good. It's Chase Hutchinson here. Below, you'll find more writing for you to sink your eyeballs into. I've got two interviews with directors of buzzy SIFF features. The first is with Navalny director Daniel Roher, and the second is with I'll Show You Mine director Megan Griffiths. And then Jas Keimig is jumping on to bring you an interview with SIFF Senior Programmer Hebe Tabachnik.
USA, 2022, 98 min, Dir. Daniel Roher
The first time I met director Daniel Roher, he was having a conversation with a quite serious-looking Woody Harrelson. This is because Woody, as well as a small film festival audience in Idaho, had just seen Roher’s documentary Navalny. Focused on Russian opposition leader and Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny, it takes us into his life leading up to when he was poisoned in August of 2020. It then tracks Navalny's recovery over the next five months, culminating in his eventual return to Russia where he was arrested and has been held since.
Sundance showed the documentary as their “secret” film this year, where it then won the documentary audience award and the festival favorite award. It will now be shown on the opening night of the Seattle International Film Festival on April 14, with Roher and producers Melanie Miller, Diane Becker, Shane Boris, and Odessa Rae in attendance.
When talking with the 28-years-old Roher about his film, it's quickly clear that he speaks honestly and bluntly about his experience making it. He also does so while sketching a portrait of me nine times in his notebook, all while keeping up a conversation without missing a beat.
In our conversation in early April, we discussed his approach to asking tough questions, whether he believes Navalny will see a life outside of a jail cell, and what he sees as the future for Russia. CHASE HUTCHINSON
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
HUTCHINSON: I wanted to start by asking you about the documentary you made before this: Once Were Brothers. I had watched it and, even as it was very different in subject matter, wanted to ask if there was anything you had taken from that that you were able to put into practice with Navalny? Or did you have to rethink everything you had learned about documentary filmmaking?
ROHER: I didn’t have to rethink everything I had learned about documentary filmmaking, but each film is different. I think, as a documentary maker, you have to learn to make each film. Having said that, there are certain skill sets and techniques that carry over from film to film. Storytelling is storytelling. Structuring a story is important from one film to the next. But I can’t think of two polar opposite, completely different films to make. The challenge of that is completely exciting and part of the reason why I really love filmmaking.
Because you will always have something new as a challenge for yourself.
Absolutely. I mean, at the end of the day, documentary filmmaking is an exercise in creativity and an exercise in curiosity. What motivates me is an insatiable curiosity. That’s why the work is so exciting.
Did your experience making this film change you or your relationship with your work?
The experience of making Navalny was extraordinarily humbling. You can’t help but be changed by an experience like this. I think it will take me years of reflection and study of myself and my environment and my notebooks and this experience to fully understand how it impacted my worldview and who I am. What I can say, for sure, is that I really think this film is the greatest honor of my life. The opportunity to make a film like this, to make a work of art like this, is truly a privilege and an honor. I have a lot of gratitude for having had this chance.
How much time did you have to pack up and go to where Navalny was to begin this process?
We had about six days to prepare to go and make the trip to actually meet him. I just spent those six days preparing as best as I could.
What did you do to prepare?
I just read as much as I could. I became a little bit more conversationally fluent in contemporary Russian politics and the state of the democratic movement in Russia and Putin’s regime and certainly on Alexei Navalny himself. I was reading profiles and articles, things like that, just so I could sit across the table from him with a shred of credibility. I wanted to be at least fluent in his language, so to speak.
I wanted to ask this early on because it was something you pose as a preliminary question in the documentary itself. You asked Navalny about his connections with far-right, ethno-nationalist movements. What did you think of his response?
Well, I think Alexei exists in a different political context and it was very important in this film to litigate and examine his political background, and his political philosophies in a small way. What he really speaks to, and I think what is really important, is essentially this thought of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Although my personal belief is that that is an unfortunate position to have to take, it is refreshingly honest and I understand it.
On the reception to the film, especially in relation to festivals: Oftentimes, the gems of film festivals are documentaries, which people can spend years working on. What's it like finally hearing from people?
I think what you just spoke to is emblematic of all works of art. The anxiety and the struggle of being an artist is to make things without knowing how the world will receive them. It is about having the courage to make them for yourself in spite of what the world may or may not think. When it comes to making a film like this, you have no idea how the world will perceive it. We won two awards at Sundance. That was beyond my wildest dreams; that was extraordinary. What’s happening in the world right now is remarkable. We made a film that is the ultimate anti-Putin movie, and Putin in the last six weeks has firmly established himself as the most evil, vile, hated man on the face of the Earth. To make a piece of art that contextualizes the moment in a really engaging and meaningful way that people can access is astounding.
The documentary establishes what Putin is capable of doing and shows the detail that went into how he would be willing to do anything to take someone out. Do you ever have any concerns about what impact that could have on you?
Well, first and foremost, I can’t go to Russia. So that’s that. But do I think they’re going to do anything to me? No. Absolutely not. I’m not worried about that.
Do you keep in touch with Navalny or his family in any capacity?
I keep in touch with his staff. We try to be very respectful of the family and their privacy so we make sure the staff facilitates all of the interactions.
I wanted to ask about that idea of privacy. How do you find the balance of wanting to ask an important question that may be difficult for someone to respond to?
Well, that’s a good question. It’s funny—I have no boundaries professionally and personally. I don’t like to have surface-level conversations. At the best of times, I just go straight for the jugular and am just very curious about the world. I think my conversational style and the way I communicate is really predicated on this curiosity which is foundational in my worldview. So I have no problem asking probing questions that sometimes make people uncomfortable. Of course in my work but also just like in my life and it has gotten me into trouble. There are people who are really annoyed by that who don’t like it who write me off and think I’m an asshole. That’s unfortunate, but I am who I am. I think asking questions is critically important to who I am.
When it comes to moments where people have dismissed you as an asshole, was that something you had to navigate in the context of this documentary and work through?
If you annoy somebody because you ask them too many obnoxious questions, I certainly feel bad about that. But in the context of the work, there were certainly moments when I have to make the subject uncomfortable. I had to ask them about things that they may not want to talk about. That’s just part of the job. It’s about putting on your grown-up shoes and doing it. That happened a couple of times in this film.
What were those couple of times?
Well, for example, the film opens with me asking Navalny a question and the question I ask him is ‘what message do you have for the Russian people in the case that you’re killed?’ It’s very uncomfortable to talk with someone that you’re working with about their own mortality and about their potential death. But I think it was important because we understood the historical context of which we were working in and the historic nature of the subject.
There is also a scene in the documentary where you are capturing the moment where Navalny calls one of the people that attempted to kill him, who then confesses to it.
Everyone around you is reacting with amazement and shock. He is obviously having to stay in character, but what was your mind like at that moment?
My reaction in that moment was making sure there is battery in the camera, making sure you keep it steady, and making sure it’s in focus.
That’s good because that would have been the ultimate devastation if you missed it.
Can you imagine? I understood as soon as we were finished that this was the most extraordinary thing I would film in my life. I just knew and I’m glad that we got it. Niki Waltl, the director of photography, and I, thankfully we were on that morning. We did a fine job.
What do you see as the future in Russia for people like Navalny?
In regards to the future of the Russian opposition, I think we’re at a turning point. The last six weeks we’ve crossed into another Rubicon. Putin’s war in Ukraine has changed the calculus and exposed him fully and truly for the tyrant that he is. Vladimir Putin will go down in history as one of the evil men of the 21st century who was made in the mold of the evil men of the 20th century.
I think that the future of Russia is predicated on the future of the Russian people. If the Russian people want to live in a country that is free and democratic where rule of law and justice are foundational values that are real and true, it’s up to those individuals to have agency to change the future. This is what Alexei has been trumpeting and speaking to, a beautiful Russia of the future.
Do you think Navalny will be alive to see that beautiful future?
I do. I hope to see the day that Alexei Navalny is inaugurated as the first democratically elected President of the Russian Federation.
What do you think it will take for him to get there?
A lot of patience, resilience, and his ironclad spirit and resolve. The one thing that I would like to end on is that, for anyone who sees this movie, it’s really important to me and the Navalny family that they tell as many people about it as possible. Alexei is in a very dangerous position right now. He is in peril. He is in the custody of the same men that tried to murder him. The way that we keep him safe, the way that we keep him alive, is by keeping his name in the national, international, global ethos and conversation. Alexei Navalny must be a name that is synonymous with injustice and being a political prisoner. It is only then, if his name remains in the headlines and the consciousness of the globe, that he has a chance of surviving this brutal regime and this terrible ordeal.
You can see Navalny on the opening night of SIFF at the Paramount Theatre on April 14.
USA, 2022, 102 min, Dir. Megan Griffiths
Commenting on Washington's recent investment in the state's film incentive program, Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths told us that the state's filmmaking industry is "in such a better position today than we were even two months ago."
"Build our incentive further than it is right now and watch the ripple effect," she dared.
We sat down (over Zoom) and talked with Griffiths (of Room 104, Sadie, and lots more) in anticipation of her newest film, I'll Show You Mine, having its world premiere at this year's Seattle International Film Festival. Shot over seven days, the film centers on a feminist author named Priya (Poorna Jagannathan) and a pansexual former model (Casey Thomas Brown) as they spend a weekend discussing a potential book. This casual setting quickly evolves as the two dig into past traumas. It's an unsettling but very committed drama.
Before the film's premiere, we chatted with Griffiths about her work, how she approaches storytelling, and what the future of production in Washington state looks like. CHASE HUTCHINSON
We've pruned this interview for length and clarity.
HUTCHINSON: When it comes to I'll Show You Mine, a great title for the film, what drew you to this story?
GRIFFITHS: I was drawn to the story because, for one thing, the script was excellent. It really captured an element of the conversation going on in our lives right now, in this world and this time, about identity and how people express themselves and how accepted that is or not accepted. This felt like an avenue to explore that while, at the same time, I was able to explore trauma and how it plays out over the rest of our lives.
My mom was a social worker and did a lot of work with kids who were survivors of abuse. That's just something that's always been interesting to me, to explore what the effects of trauma are. In this case, it was interesting to do that with characters who were also dealing with conversations around sexuality.
You said you shot this over seven days, but then there's the editing. In talking with filmmakers lately, they've said they collaboratively edited over Zoom. That kind of sounds like a nightmare but also a fascinating creative experience. What was your process like editing this film, and did you have to do so remotely?
Well, I'm always incredibly hands-on editing-wise. I've worked with the same editor for the last four features, including the two I just did, and it's Celia Beasley, who is Seattle-based. She was working while we were working on set, so she got started without me. Then I came in and we continued together.
I've done some remote editing, usually with some sort of screen sharing application and then Zoom just as the way we're talking to each other. It has come a long way. The pandemic really hastened the development of that stuff—I'd been in a position in pre-pandemic times where I had to do remote editing, and it was not nearly where it is now. In this case, I didn't do that. We were in-person for everything except for a lot of prep was over Zoom with the acting rehearsals, meetings, and that sort of pre-production.
You mentioned working with Seattle-based people, and being from Seattle, you have frequently advocated for more film production in the state. Considering the recent film incentive increase in Washington, what's your outlook on the future of local filmmaking?
We are in such a better position today than we were even two months ago. The changes that are happening are so exciting. The fact that there is a sound stage being developed and hopefully launched and then the incentive growing in the way that it just grew. We have a ways to go before we are truly competitive in the way that we could draw the many, many productions that a place like Atlanta might draw. We've still come leaps and bounds.
Now we are a place that could support an ongoing series. That would be really sustainable work for a lot of people, and it potentially would allow me to work at home more often—which I like. [Laughs] I travel all the time for the TV work that I do. It's really exciting to think about where we could go.
I just hope that the legislators and the people who are involved in the progress that we've just made are able to see how much that helps and what kind of return we get in our creative economy. Then go even further with it, build our incentive further than it is right now and watch the ripple effect. But the first domino has fallen, maybe the first two.
Shifting back to your film: There's a growing conversation around the importance of intimacy coordinators and resources on set for actors. I know this film wouldn't fall directly under that as there aren't any "intimate" scenes, but this story has rather heavy stuff. What was the set environment like in regards to these more serious topics?
I'm such a big supporter of the movement toward intimacy coordinators. When that started popping up five or six years ago, it was a moment of 'why hasn't this always been a thing?' We had one on my film Year of the Fox that we just shot here. On I'll Show You Mine, we had so few crew members. It was such an intimate environment on this production. There were 15 or fewer people on set.
Mainly it was a process of the actors and I doing a lot of trust-building between the three of us over the course of the prep period and these early Zooms. It does deal with very intense conversations and it felt like there was comfort and trust that was established in that way. The actors were such a huge part of creating that environment and only contributing what they were 100 percent comfortable with. Not only in that moment, but having it exist in the movie. They've both seen it and they're both excited to talk about these themes and topics now that it's getting released. So we didn't have an intimacy coordinator on this production but it was definitely something we were taking really seriously and not trying to dig into anyone's trauma and leave them scarred or anything.
When it comes to the animation that broke the film into chapters, was that baked in? Did you have the set points of where you were going to have these interludes?
Yeah, we did. We always had the comic chapter breaks written in. They were part of the script and what the panels looked like were written in. The animation was a little bit more organic. There were certainly moments where it existed in the script and a lot of that was because of the fact that we knew it was going to be such a contained shooting environment. It allowed moments of opening it up. It also allowed for an exploration of memory in this abstract way, which is how traumatic memory works a lot of the time.
Have you ever used animation like this before in projects you've worked on?
No, this was sort of my first foray into animation. I've worked with Neely Goniodsky, a local Seattle animator, who is incredible and I love how emotionally impactful her work is. It's actually still my screensaver on my computer all this time later. [laughs] It's like a frame of the sneeze moment in the first flashback animation. I just think her work is so stunning. I find it really moving. That was a huge part of the process and her style of how things look and move and feel. Then there were the comic panels done separately by nonbinary artist Jem Milton from Glasgow, Scotland that we were connected with via someone in Portland. That was an experience of digging into what was written and finding ways to subvert things or be more inclusive in those drawings. It was fun to have that whole other layer to play with.
It really was a team of people from all over.
It brings me back to working on a film like Your Sister's Sister, where we had such an intimate, small team. It was just very organic in the way that production was run by Lynn Shelton, who this movie is dedicated to. There are a lot of people who worked on this who worked on that movie or other productions with Lynn. So I feel like we were all thinking of the way those productions worked and how invested we felt when a part of them.
You mentioned Lynn, and while that was a devastating loss to those who knew her films, you knew her as a person. I wanted to express my condolences and ask how you've carried on her legacy with the grant in her name?
Yeah, the grant is through the Northwest Film Forum, and that came about because of Mark Duplass reaching out to just say, 'what can we do that's ongoing to support people in the way Lynn would have liked?' We came up with the idea of this grant that specifically supports women who haven't had an opportunity to make a feature who are 39 and older. That was because that was when Lynn made her first feature, We Go Way Back, which was where we first met. We just thought it would be a really good tribute to her. Now it's in its third year and we're trying to make sure it's as inclusive as Lynn would have wanted it to be. It's really beautiful in my mind. There are just so many women and nonbinary filmmakers who have stories to tell who haven't had those opportunities. It's been amazingly rewarding to do that.
Obviously both of your works are distinct visions, but for much of this most recent film, I was thinking of Lynn's film Humpday. Both offer humorous observations that can quickly and seamlessly morph into more serious reflections in messy ways.
Absolutely, I totally see the comparison. I wish I could show the movie to her. I feel like she would have given the best feedback on this project because we were constantly showing each other our work. It was nice to be able to take this approach to a project. It's not usually the way I work. I don't do a lot of very small, improvy projects and this one just felt so good to do it.
I'll Show You Mine has its world premiere on Saturday, April 16, at SIFF Uptown. Director Megan Griffiths, actor Casey Thomas Brown, writers Tiffany Louquet, Elizabeth Searle, and David Shields, producers Ashley Edouard, Mel Eslyn, and Lacey Leavitt Gray, cinematographer Jeremy Mackie, and composer Tomo Nakayama scheduled to attend. You can also catch it on Wednesday, April 20, at AMC Pacific Place.
SIFF Senior Programmer Hebe Tabachnik breaks down what goes into SIFF's Ibero-American Program.
As we begin our first full week of the Seattle International Film Festival, there are a whopping seventeen films from Latin America and Spain to dig into. The Stranger's staff has already recommended some of them, such as Finlandia, which explores the Muxe community in Mexico, and also Piggy, the grisly, violent flick from Spain. To get some more perspective and context on this year's selections from the region, I called up SIFF Senior Programmer Hebe Tabachnik to discuss her approach to piecing together SIFF's Ibero-American Program, and to talk more generally about the surge in new stories and perspectives coming out of Latin American cinema. During our conversation, Tabachnik compared the task of programming to the task of preparing a feast — so let's dig in. JAS KEIMIG
This interview has been edited, condensed, and pruned for clarity.
The Stranger: It’s the first in-person SIFF since 2019—we're back at last! How are you feeling finally seeing SIFF selections back on the big screen?
Hebe Tabachnik: I'm thrilled and ecstatic. I am deeply moved by the resilience of all of us, but, specifically, the staff and volunteers of SIFF being able to navigate this very difficult two years. And being able to survive the devastating time that we lived through, with [SIFF 2020] being canceled a month shy of the festival. [They were able to] sustain the organization for that year and then have the virtual festival last year. So being back is almost like a miracle.
How did you get your start as a SIFF programmer?
I'm originally from Argentina, and I studied cinema in Argentina. I'm a director-screenwriter—I went to the Universidad del Cine, which is now one of the main universities in Latin America. I have a background in dance and theater and some other disciplines.
At some point I moved to LA when I finished my studies, and I started going to the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. A little bit by chance, I started programming for a series they had there, and from that I kept on going, and then eventually I was called to be a programmer at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Then I was called by Sundance—I was there for four years—then Palm Springs International [Film Festival]. And at some point, Seattle was pursuing me, but it was... a little bit how so many things happen in this industry. People see you and you meet people.
What's your point of view when it comes to programming film for festivals?
It wasn't conscious at the beginning, but at some point I felt like I had a little bit of a responsibility to be a bridge coming from Argentina and Latin America. To bring that region and its richness and complexities and the tapestry of stories and geographies here.
I enjoy very much being able to first discover and then bring all these stories [together]. I've been doing programming for more than 20 years. I normally say that it's like preparing a feast, where you prepare different kind of meals and tastes. Maybe you bring something that is more traditional, but then you bring something a little bit more daring. And—having a Jewish background—you're just happy to see people eating! With cinema it's similar. I really feel enthralled when people embrace a story that we bring to the festival, because we create a new narrative....It's clear that we do our best to create this idea of global humanity. By bringing all these different stories and voices and points of view, we keep that idea alive.
How would you define Ibero-American cinema? Who gets included in that designation?
We can define it as films from Latin America—which is basically everything from Mexico down to the rest of the continent—Spain, and Portugal. Most of the countries speak either Spanish or Portuguese. It seems that would make it unified, but you would be amazed at the amount of other languages and dialects and the diversity that we have in this region.
One of the things that we've been doing in Seattle is we always have first- or second-time directors. We bring the up-and-coming storytellers, and they bring stories that a lot of the times are stories from the countryside or populations of areas that haven't been featured before in cinema. And it's been happening more and more, thanks to particular policies to create incentives to nurture and fund the production of films.
Like, government policies and incentives in Latin America are helping produce more films?
Yes. There have been cinema laws that have helped develop the national cinematographies in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia. Some of these countries were the first, but they've been followed by Paraguay, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia. I mean, when you look at the history of the cinema in these countries, for many years, it was really difficult to have the access to the funds or the education or the information for certain things. And now with the growth of film festivals, labs, production meetings, the circulation of information, mentors, et cetera, that has made the whole region thrive. You see it when you look at festivals—there are always films from pretty much all of these countries.
At SIFF's press opening, you mentioned that this year the entrants for the Ibero-American program were particularly strong. What did you mean by that?
One of the things that make them especially strong is a skillfulness in the way that these stories are being told. When you look at some of the first features like Sublime or Lullaby or Utama—they are films that I'm mesmerized by. You look at these fresh new voices, but they have already a sort of mature vision of what they want to say.
I want to demystify [the idea that] Latin American cinema is this [one thing]. We are really large and vast, and the cinema this year is proof of that. When you look at where the stories are landing—you have thrillers, but you have daring kinds of films in WTF Program. There are touching documentaries like 7 Lakes, 7 Lies or, or An Elephant on a Spider Web—which we are actually premiering this film of a director that is over 70 years old. That makes me really proud, because we are not just supporting the young, but we want to support anyone who has an interesting story to tell.
I feel like this year, I'm really proud of the fact that it is a very 360-degree way of looking at the region.
What are your "can't miss" recommendations for films in the program?
Phantom Project from Chile—which is a North American premiere—is very fun, very suitable for millennials. So young people please go, you're gonna have a good time! The same thing with Sublime: it's totally a film for teenagers and up. [Another] film for me is An Elephant on a Spider Web, because the subject is hundred and five years old—and she just got my heart. I admire when someone at that age has that will power, even if she's a little bit frustrated with God himself. In the case of 7 Lakes, 7 Lies, which is a story of a person who has ALS and doesn't give up, I think it's something we can all take from. If you are a mother or if you're not a mother, but you wanna learn a little bit about navigating motherhood, Lullaby is amazing. It's a film that got five or six awards in Malaga last month, and it's a first feature. You cannot believe how well-done and amazing the casting and performances are.
Some audiences might remember José María Cabral in a film called Woodpeckers. [This year,] he's bringing a very interesting and not very well known story—at least for people outside the Dominican Republic and Haiti—called Perejil. It's a very heavy period drama, but boy, my goodness it is something that we have to look at because it happened. And these stories keep happening—genocides or persecutions, et cetera. In this particular story—I'm from Latin America, but I didn't know—is about these killings that were carried out by the Dominican government against Haitians. It's something we can also learn from.