As in years past, the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival will yield its share of movies with strong connections to the Northwest in general and Seattle in particular.
Many of them skew in a musical direction, starting with SIFF’s Opening Night feature. Jimi: All is By My Side covers the early rise of local boy made legend Jimi Hendrix, and it comes with a tassel of significant names attached, from its star (Outkast’s Andre Benjamin) to its writer/director (Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave scribe John Ridley).
The other big buzz feature with musical as well as local connections, Lucky Them, sees Seattle director Megan Griffiths following up her acclaimed 2012 SIFF hit Eden with a left-field road picture in which a music journalist (Toni Collette) and her documentarian former beau (Thomas Hayden Church) search for an enigmatic Seattle songwriter who’s gone missing for the last decade. Finally, Big in Japan features members of local band Tennis Pro playing lightly-fictionalized version of themselves as they make a stab at success in Tokyo.
Three straight-up documentaries focus on the polar extremes in local music history. Razing the Bar chronicles the life and untimely demise of beloved Seattle punk dive the Funhouse, while one of the bands who played in that club’s grotty halls—Tacoma garage-rock titans Girl Trouble—get the star treatment in Issac Olsen’s new doc, Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble. Seattle director Kay D. Ray shines a welcome light on the contributions of female musicians in the big-band and jazz eras in Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women in Jazz. And local director Ward Serrill follows scientist/shaman/musician Tom Kenyon’s fusion of science and spirituality through music in Song of the New Earth.
Elsewhere on the documentary front, two different non-fiction films tackle the environmental repercussions of the removal of the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha Dam. The Breach covers the effect of Elwha’s excision (and Alaska’s Pebble Mine exploration procedures) on the regional salmon ecosystem and DamNation views the elimination of the Peninsula’s Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams through the eyes of various activists, politicians, scientists and local residents.
Fans of lighter non-fiction fare, meantime, will eat up Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary, which includes Seattleite Alice Finch talking about constructing her award-winning replica of Lord of the Rings’ Rivendell out of those beloved plastic bricks.
Other SIFF 2014 locally-oriented entries draw from fact even as they blur those lines with multiple cinematic tools. Local actor/monologist Matt Smith relates his adventures as a kid in civil-rights era Capitol Hill in My Last Year with the Nuns (previously profiled in this magazine and website). Camano Island teen Colton Harris-Moore, meanwhile, captured the imagination of the nation when he eluded local cops long enough to steal an airplane; Fly Colt Fly: The Legend of the Barefoot Bandit tells his tale with a combination of live-action and animated reentactments. Most intriguingly, the shot-in-the Northwest Desert Cathedral cross-pollenates archival materials, found footage and fictional narrative, inspired by the true-life story of a real estate developer who disappears into the Southwestern desert, leaving only a series of VHS tapes as clues.
Seattle’s been breeding strong character-based dramedy films like rabbits recently, so it’s no surprise that two of the most prominent locally-affiliated narrative fiction features screening at SIFF 2014 fall neatly (or not so neatly) into that niche. Local boy Taylor Guterson found so much comic gold in his 2011 effort Old Goats that he’s gone back to Bainbridge Island (and many members of his Old Goats ensemble cast) for his followup, Burkholder. And several malcontents (a grandpa among them) try to liberate themselves from the hell of an arid suburbia in Shawn Telford’s unique serio-comic sucker-punch, BFE.
Go to SIFF’s website for more details on dates, venues, and times. Photo: Big in Japan