America's biggest film festival starts tomorrow, and, in case you haven't heard, we have a complete guide to every aspect of the festival in the SIFF Notes section of our Things To Do calendar—from showtimes and ticket links to reviews from Stranger critics and trailers. During the 25 days of the 42nd annual Seattle International Film Festival, there will be screenings of 279 films (many of which will play more than once, and 71 of which are Stranger recommended) and a dozen parties and special events. In case all of those numbers are overwhelming, we've picked the films you absolutely must see throughout the festival (17 of them!) and compiled them here. Click through to each film for ticket links, specific showtimes, and trailers. Enjoy!

Death by Design
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 a small voice in every person's head reminding us that the devices we chuck out every couple of years must have sordid production practices on the other side of an ocean, but that voice gets drowned out by a culture constantly hawking the new iPhone 6. Not here. Death by Design takes viewers from the Yangtze to Silicon Valley, where electronics production once poisoned factory workers, and back to China, where all that work—and all the waste—has been outsourced by major US companies looking to cut corners on labor and environmental practices. Everyone should see this film and learn what a "corporate mortality file" is. (SYDNEY BROWNSTONE)

Presenting Princess Shaw
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 futures) are connected in ways that deserve careful examination and deep discussion. In Presenting Princess Shaw, a young black American woman, Princess, who lives on her own in New Orleans, has a very challenging job, and, for spiritual relief, sings her own songs on YouTube, and is discovered by a musician who lives on a kibbutz in Israel. The musician, Kutiman, brilliantly mixes/loops/chops Princess’s YouTube clip into a dreamy tune that becomes an internet hit. This is not a rags-to-riches story but rags to that one moment in your life that redeems all the other ones, all the pain. Those who can remember Hirokazu Koreeda’s 1998 masterpiece After Life will get my meaning. This is the moment that becomes eternal. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

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 that the answers to questions like these play an enormous role in a person's risk for disease later in life—or even early death. The more kids are subjected to toxic stress, life events that constantly trigger their fight or flight responses, the more that toxic stress will directly impact the structure of a child's growing brain. Our culture spends billions of dollars a year treating addiction and cardiovascular disease, but what would happen if we shifted to focus on preventing it in the first place by making sure our kids feel safe? This documentary explores that question, and it's one we should all be asking. (SYDNEY BROWNSTONE)

Sunset Song
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 description fits Agyness Deyn's Chris Guthrie, the heroine of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 novel, a farm girl in World War I-era Scotland who longs to teach rather than to become a broodmare like her mother. Her father is a brute and war is hell, but the land sustains her like no man can, resulting in Davies's most hopeful film to date. (KATHY FENNESSY)

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 in Congress; the second, his chance of becoming the mayor of NYC. The documentary is about his second and final fall. But the real star of this very entertaining documentary is Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin. Her face, her body, her movements are a ship that crosses the crises of her marriage with admirable steadiness. Her husband has only a poor idea of her greatness; Hillary Clinton, however, knows the real value of this woman, which is why she keeps Huma close to her as she runs for president. In the documentary, we watch Huma dump her husband’s political career for Hillary’s. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

Dead Slow Ahead
I’m still trying to figure out if this is the greatest film I have seen since Carlos Reygadas’s Silent Light (2009). It just might be. I will know for sure in two weeks. At that time, I will look back into my mind and recall all of those stunning images: the slowly swaying ship, the continents of clouds, the unearthly endlessness of the sea. These images were shot and composed by the film’s director, Mauro Herce, who is also a cinematographer. Dead Slow Ahead aestheticizes and even the dehumanizes the mega-machine. Humans made these massive objects. They dwarf us and have a godlike presence. We worship and love our mega-machines. They might save us one day. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

MAY 24
Chimes at Midnight
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 say definitively because it suffers from the same scrappy technical issues that mar all his independent work. Nevertheless, this innovative interpolation of Shakespeare is packed with startling images and heart-rending components. It’s obviously required viewing, especially with the benefit of a top-notch theatrical sound system to aid the grotty sound issues that have plagued every print I’ve ever seen of it. (SEAN NELSON)

MAY 24-28
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 and charismatic characters as well as engaging philosophical commentary, this is one of the few SIFF films sure to please any crowd. (JULIA RABAN)

MAY 24-31
Home Care
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 exploration of the embodied trauma of womanhood; the main character is killing herself with her own kindness. Do keep watching, because the themes of spirituality and alternative medicine are more complex than they initially appear; also, prepare to remember the inevitability of death. The film’s simple ending left me in noisy, embarrassing tears. (JULIA RABAN)

Uncle Howard
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 of the gay dudes in the New York art/lit scenes (Burroughs, Ginsburg, Warhol) plus old stills of a young Spike Lee, and that whole late '80s crew make this one a must-see. The shots of Jim Jarmoush as poof-headed AD behind the the clapper of Brookner’s films are amazing, too, as is everything he has to say in the doc. Unclear transitions between the past and the present make you feel like you’re an eye on the wall in those scenes, which satisfies. (RICH SMITH)

In Sonita, a young Afghan female rapper dreams of becoming famous like Nicki Minaj, of having lots of screaming fans, and of not being forced to marry some old man for money. She lives in Tehran, Iran, and most of her family still lives in war-torn Afghanistan. During a session of drama therapy, we learn how her father and brother were killed right in front of her and her mother. Rapping is all she has got. And when she gets one chance to make a song and a video, she becomes an internet hit. This music video, which is at the center of the documentary, is one of the best I have ever seen in my life. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

The Girl Who Saved My Life
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 interviews both refugees, who are Yazidis (non-Muslims), and ISIS criminals, who are killing Yazidi men who do not convert to Islam. In one scene, a Yazidi young man is killed by an ISIS criminal and his money and Samsung smartphone are taken from his body. The smartphone rings. The ISIS criminal answers the call. It is the mother of the man he has just killed... Though the documentary is not easy to watch, you have to do so. You need to see this chaos and misery that is very much a part of the world you live in. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

Checks and Balances
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 capital. The Rooftops, however, is a feature film, and Checks and Balances is not. It is instead an impressively crafted documentary about El Watan, a French-speaking pro-democracy newspaper. We get to see the reporters argue about their beliefs, editors plan for issues, and editorial meetings where the day’s events are analyzed and opinions exchanged. Everyone who works for a newspaper in Seattle should see this documentary. It will give us all some much-needed perspective. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

JUNE 7-8
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 complicated. It concerns a rural boy and his close relationship to a lamb. This furry animal also loves the boy, who has recently lost his mother. When the boy’s father moves to the city to look for work, he leaves his son with relatives. The rural world of the boy, his family, and animal, which constantly faces the danger of becoming dinner, has no electricity, running water, or any of conveniences of a modern home. What these people have are lots of traditions and rituals. Before a word is spoken on some matter, there is all of this kissing and other formalities that must happen. This is how it’s done in the country. The cinematography, strong performances, and solid direction make this work one of the best in the African Pictures section of the festival. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

Marzia, My Friend
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 by the director, Kirsi Mattila, the Finnish documentarian who follows four years in the life of Marzia, the hopeful Afghan TV journalist. Incremental step by incremental step, Marzia falls deeper and deeper. Her choices narrow. She is threatened with death and acid. She goes from feisty, educated, 19-year-old working woman with a fiancé who supports her drive to work, to unemployed married shut-in with a husband who sometimes hits her (it’s only when he can’t figure out how to express himself, she explains) and a daughter that Marzia knows she won’t be able to do any better for. She may as well be an illiterate woman, she tells Kirsi, because she never leaves home anymore. Every night on TV, she watches her husband. He’s the journalist she wanted to be. Kirsi’s documentary is a love letter to Marzia, with a voiceover script full of sorrow and a rising acknowledgement of outsider naivete. “I don’t understand,” Marzia, a free, working woman, tells Kirsi at one point. It’s an embarrassing admission. There’s nothing to understand, only to mourn. (JEN GRAVES)

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, they joke and have sex; they’re happy. Gradually, they find themselves deeper in the country, facing corruption, deceit, and violence. They begin to unravel. This movie is a thriller, not just a drama. It’s about the lengths we’ll go to when we can’t bear our own children, and about how far is too far. No wonder it rings so emotionally true: Director Daniela Fejerman went through it herself a few years before making this fictional film. (JEN GRAVES)

The General
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 importantly: You won’t see a funnier movie in this festival. (SEAN NELSON)