Bird Watching – SIFF 2012 Preview

Being the film festival that bills itself as the largest in the country, it is only right and just that many interesting films by women are showing this year at the Seattle International Film Festival. The most high-profile of these was the film shown last night at the Opening Night Gala, Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister. But if you, like me, sadly could not attend, there are plenty of other opportunities to support female filmmakers during the fest. By my count, 50 of the 273 features showing were directed or co-directed by a woman. While I’d still love to live in a world with a better ratio than that, 50 films is a lot of work to check out, and that’s great. I’ve been able to see a few I can recommend already.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, Kristy Guevara-Flanagan

I’d been eager to see this full documentary since attending a panel on its in-progress journey at GeekGirlCon this past August. The final product is very much worth seeing for anyone interested in the current superhero craze or in the depiction of female characters in the media (or for those who don’t realize that they should be interested in the depiction of female characters in the media…so, everyone). We see interviews with various feminists, pop culture historians, and fans as the film follows the development and evolution (sometimes devolution) of the Wonder Woman character through the years and explores the various strong female characters she’s influenced. From the Bionic Woman to Buffy Summers, the debt to Wonder Woman can’t be denied. So then, if this character has endured so long, why doesn’t she get the same respect (and movie franchises) as her many male counterparts?

This kind of cultural analysis, presented in an accessible and appealing way, is vital. Something as simple as showing the way Wonder Woman comics veered from feminist adventures into romantic dramas in the post-WWII, women-go-back-to-your-kitchens atmosphere provides an effective sort of call to arms against similar themes we still see everywhere today. And it really makes me want to read some Wonder Woman comics from the ’40s!

Wonder Women! screens May 26th-28th, with Guevara-Flanagan and her cinematographer Gabriel Miller scheduled to attend all screenings.

Otelo Burning, Sara Blecher

This South African film takes many of the characterizations and themes from Shakespeare’s Othello and places them in the tense, violent final months of apartheid, with a group of teens playing the various doomed parts. Looking for an escape from the pressures of life in their town, where rebel organizations are clashing, Otelo and his friends New Year and Mandla push boundaries by teaching themselves to surf—at a beach where they ignore the prominent “Whites Only” signs. Otelo and Mandla both show signs of natural talent at surfing—enough to start training for competitions—as well as interest in the same girl. The tensions in their friendship lead to consequences that escalate as the political unrest around them does the same.

While the storyline veers liberally in places from that of the play, the tone of the film embodies the themes of jealousy and betrayal and the sense of dread that make Othello one of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies. The young actors all do good work, and the scenes of them surfing are suitably impressive. The final piece that makes this a solid film is the look of it. The cinematography works well to give a sense of the simmering pressure in the town, with close-up shots of sweaty bodies, while scenes at the beach pull back wider to emphasize the freedom represented by the ocean waves.

Otelo Burning screens May 27th, June 8th, and June 9th, with Blecher scheduled to attend the June screenings.

Kiss Me, Alexandra-Therese Keining

This is another great entry in the genre of Scandinavian melodrama, those beautiful films (like those of Susanne Bier, for example) that make highly dramatic stories work by focusing intently on the emerging emotions of the characters and staying rooted in the unglamorous look and feel of everyday life. Here, the story involves two women, Frida (Liv Mjönes) and Mia (Ruth Vega Hernandez), whose mutual attraction shakes their lives—seeing as they are about to become step-sisters, and Mia is engaged to a man. Great work from both actresses (particularly Mjönes, who reminded me of Mélanie Laurent) and the genuine chemistry between them made their journey a pleasure to watch.

Kiss Me screens May 26th and May 31st.

Watching these few well-executed and creative films has heightened my anticipation for what’s coming this year in SIFF. Films from well-known names include Take This Waltz from Sarah Polley; 2 Days in New York, Julie Delpy’s sequel to the funny 2 Days in Paris; Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights; Lauren Greenfield’s Sundance-winning doc Queen of Versailles; and Maïwenn’s Polisse. From those on the rise, I hear the film not to miss is Seattle local Megan Griffiths’s Eden.

Below, my best attempt at a list of all of the additional feature-length films directed by women showing in the fest. (It is entirely possible that I missed something, though I tried really hard not to.) There are many more that look intriguing than I have room to discuss, which is a very good thing.


The Mirror Never Lies, Kamila Andini
Red Road, Andrea Arnold
Kill Me, Emily Atef
Brave, co-directed by Brenda Chapman
Ira Finkelstein’s Christmas, Sue Corcoran
Future Weather, Jenny Deller
The Most Fun I’ve Had With My Pants On, Drew Denny
My Brother the Devil, Sally El Hosaini
Mosquita y Mari, Aurora Guerrero
My Sucky Teen Romance, Emily Hagins
The Crown Jewels, Ella Lemhagen
The House, Zuzana Liová
Salt White, Keti Machavariani
Camilla Dickinson
, Cornelia Duryée Moore
Found Memories, Julia Murat
, Naoko Ogigami
Simon and the Oaks, Lisa Ohlin
Hemel, Sacha Polak
Nosilatiaj.Beauty, Daniela Seggiaro
Everything and Everyone, Tracy D. Smith


El Gusto: The Good Mood
, Safinez Bousbia
Crulic—The Path Beyond, Anca Damian
Family Portrait in Black and White, Julia Ivanova
The Atomic States of America, co-directed by Sheena M. Joyce
Ethel, Rory Kennedy
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Allison Klayman
Five Star Existence, Sonja Lindén
Dreams of a Life, Carol Morley
Duck Beach to Eternity, co-directed by Laura Naylor
The Revolutionary, Lucy Ostrander
Putin’s Kiss, Lise Birk Pedersen
Pink Ribbons, Inc., Léa Pool
Bull Runners of Pamplona, Aubrey Powell
The Standbys, Stephanie Riggs
Finding North, Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson
Bad Brains: A Band in D.C., co-directed by Mandy Stein
Justice for Sale, Femke van Velzen and Ilse van Velsen
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, co-directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland
The Source, Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos
The Mexican Suitcase, Trisha Ziff


Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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