SIFF 2010 – Week Two
June 7, 2010

Maria Tomchick

Here’s a few of the better feature films I’ve seen at the Seattle International Film Festival this year:

Crab Trap – a fine little film set in an Afro-Colombian community on the coast. Having just won an electrical hook-up from the Colombian government, the residents find themselves fighting a white developer who wants to turn their beach into a tourist resort. Meanwhile, another outsider, who wants to hire a boat to sneak him out of the country, finds himself caught like a crab in a trap because all the local fishermen have taken their boats far out from shore in search of an ever-dwindling supply of fish. A beautiful film with its own leisurely pace.

Southern District – Set in a wealthy household in the Bolivian capital, this film was remarkable for the director’s use of long, single-scene shots that pan away from the characters to show the house and all its rich possessions. The house eventually becomes the main character of the film. Few films have done a better job of showing how wealth can so effectively create tensions with a family while isolating it from the rest of the world, and even the lower-class servants who also inhabit the house.

Winter’s Bone – A 17-year-old girl is the head of her Ozark mountain family, since her mother’s mental breakdown and her father’s arrest for cooking methamphetamines. Her father puts the house up for his bond to get out of jail and promptly disappears under mysterious circumstances. Not convinced that he disappeared on his own, the daughter goes in search of him. Her search reveals hidden, disturbing secrets about her rural community. This film deserves a wide release, but don’t hold your breath. Look for it on DVD.

Cell 211 – winner of Spain’s Goya Awards, this film is intense, violent, but also contains a critical look at the brutality of prison life. The main character is a prison guard starting his first day of work who gets caught in a prison riot and is forced to pretend he’s an inmate to survive. Eventually, he comes to sympathize with the prisoners.

And these three documentaries were outstanding:

American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi – This film was a fascinating look at who Condoleeza Rice really is and what motivates her. Many folks have been perplexed by how an intelligent, African-American woman could become involved with the Bush neo-cons. This film shows you how.

The Two Horses of Genghis Khan – I found this film particularly moving, maybe because I’ve been reading about the Chinese government’s efforts to suppress its 50 minority populations. Two Horses follows the travels of a Mongolian songwriter and singer who goes in search of the lyrics of a traditional Mongolian song her grandmother used to sing to her. With beautiful cinematography and lots of Mongolian music, it reveals that the Cultural Revolution is far from over.

The Tillman Story – Far better than I expected it to be, this film tells the story of Pat Tillman, the major league football player who gave up a multi-million-dollar career to enlist in the army after 9-11. Expecting to fight in Afghanistan, he was shocked and disillusioned to find himself deployed to Iraq. It tells the story of how the Pentagon and Bush administration used his death for propaganda purposes, and how his family eventually found out the truth.

The film festival continues through Sunday, June 13th, and I hope to see at least six more films. I hope they’re as good as the ones I’ve seen so far.