Monday, May 20, 2013

SIFF, So Far

One of my resolutions for the year was to do more cultural things and one of the biggest things on my list was to make sure that I took advantage of the offerings at the Seattle International Film Festival this year. SIFF runs for 25 days in May-June and it kicked off last Thursday. To force myself to commit to choosing and going to movies, I bought a six-pack of tickets. They work out to $9.50 each, as opposed to the usual single ticket price of $12. I LOVE that you can buy tickets in advance and I've loved the energy of the festival. (I've only ever been to one other film festival, when I happened to be visiting my sister during the Telluride Festival - I think it cost $25/movie if there were even any empty seats after the passholders were admitted. I didn't do much of the festival between spending my time with my adorable nephews and niece, rather than standing in lines, and the price. It was all very industry and the crowd was pretty old, so it just didn't feel all that exciting.)
Film #1: Much Ado About Nothing
This is Joss Whedon's new film, filmed in 12 days right after he finished The Avengers. I really liked it, although there's a full blog post coming about it as soon as I finish re-watching the Kenneth Branagh version. It is absolutely hilarious - Whedon's actors are fantastic comedians, although both roommate and I struggled to understand them. I think this is the film's fault, rather than our ears, since I'm really not having any problem with the Branagh version. More to come, but it was pretty cool that there was a Q&A afterwards with the stars! My friends were super nerdy jealous.
Film #2: Five Dances
I'm a sucker for a dance film. The dancing was incredible. But, you know, I really like structured narratives.  This film didn't have that, although it did have wonderful characters who I enjoyed getting to know. It was very film festival and I did enjoy it. I also enjoyed the Q&A afterwards with the director (BEST thing about film festivals is that people come to talk about their work). I wasn't displeased with my choice, but it wasn't the best thing ever, either.
Film #3: Our Nixon
I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. Yes, I know. Only I would choose to spend my Sunday afternoon with a documentary about Nixon, but I've really enjoyed Nixon/Watergate history ever since I wrote my IB Extended Essay on Watergate press coverage back in high school. (And, frankly, although the details are a bit fuzzier now than they once were, it was really helpful to have some background knowledge going into the film).

Apparently, three of the men who were most important in the Nixon White House and who all ultimately served time for their role in the Watergate cover-up (H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin), obsessively took home movies on their Super 8 video cameras throughout their time on the campaign and in the White House. The tapes were seized by the FBI as part of the Watergate investigation and the producers of this film paid for the restoration and preservation of those films after they were unclassified a few years ago (yay for historical preservation!). All of the footage and all of the dialogue in the film was archival, a combination of the Super 8 tapes, news reports and other television footage, and recordings from the secret taping system. Most, but not all, of the music was also archival.

This was incredible. I loved the stories that it was telling - about life in the West Wing (and it was very reminiscent of The West Wing), the personalities and relationships that made something like Watergate possible, and the rise and fall of the Nixon presidency. I loved seeing the footage: this made the 1970s and Watergate feel so much more real than it ever had before (the footage of the trip to China is absolutely fascinating, in particular). And, frankly, it humanized the three "characters" who were at the heart of the Administration and Watergate in a way that was actually quite tragic. We're so used to these men being the villans that I was quite surprised to feel sorry for them by the end of it. And, finally, it was actually a rather funny film, as well: if the opening credits don't have you giggling, then there might be something wrong with you. A fair warning, however: YOU WILL SEE HENRY KISSINGER IN A BATHING SUIT. BE PREPARED.

Luckily, CNN will be showing Our Nixon sometime in August. Don't forget to watch!