Saturday, May 28, 2011

SIFF 2011 Dispatch #3: How to Die in Oregon, Beginners, Hit So Hard, and A Screaming Man

Click here for
SIFF Dispatch #2

I've been at-
tending SIFF
for 23 years,
so it's fair to
say I'm a vet-
eran. For 11
years, I vol-
unteered for
the festival;
for eight
years, I've
written for
the program guide; and for six years, I've covered it for Amazon, in-
dieWIRE, Reel News, The Stranger, and other websites and weeklies.

Through all these years, a pattern has emerged. Come week two: I feel
burned out. After all, freelancers start writing for the guide in early April,
so by late May, I've been steeped in screeners and screenings for weeks.

This year, burn-out hit between days eight and nine, and that's par for the
course. It's not that I get tired of watching films, it's my year-round occu-
pation, but I start to miss the life that lies beyond dark screening rooms.

A morning at home, for instance, feels like a luxury. I can get up when
I want, make my own mocha, fix my own meals, read the news, write
reviews, and catch up with some of the folks unable to attend the fest.

Furthermore, the SIFF press department was unable to accommodate
my interview requests. I could be wrong, but I don't think that's ever
happened before. This year, I was hoping to interview directors Peter
n and Mike Mills, whose films have now come and gone.

I caught Richardson's follow-up to Clear Cut - The Story of Philomath, Oregon last weekend, where he and several individuals featured in the new documentary, including Cody Curtis's family, participated in a Q&A.

In the film, which premiered on HBO last Thursday, Richardson profiles
Curtis, an engaging 54-year-old mother of two who suffered from stage
4 liver cancer, and others who've taken advantage of Oregon's death
with dignity law. He also documents the law's passage in Washington.

It's heartbreaking, but he recounts their experiences with a sure hand,
never overstaying his welcome or exploiting their emotions. The same
could be said of Mike Mills, who directed my favorite film of 2005, an
under-appreciated version of Walter Kirn's 1999 novel Thumbsucker.

For his second
feature, he
draws from his
life in depict-
ing an artist
(Ewan McGreg-
or) navigating
a relationship
with an actress
(Mélanie Laur-
ent) while mourning his
widowed father (Christopher Plummer), who announced he was gay be-
fore finding out he had terminal cancer. It's hardly as grim as it sounds.

If anything, I wish Mills had dug even deeper. I found Beginners charm-
ing, but not as moving as I expected. Still, I would recommend this deli-
cately directed film, which opens at the Harvard Exit on Friday, 6/10.

I had planned to interview Mills, who doubles as a documentarian
(Does Your Soul Have a Cold and Beautiful Losers with Treatment's
Joshua Leonard), for Sean Axmaker's site, Parallax View, where
he and other film critics have been covering the fest in fine style.

Lost interview opportunities aside, those were two highlights from the first
week of SIFF '11. The good news is that I only need a day to get back in-
to the swing of things. Fortunately, I have just three films on deck for this
weekend, including the Patty Schemel documentary, Hit So Hard, which
I caught last night. I was so tired, I almost skipped it, but I'm glad I went.

Afterward, I ran into Tom Kipp, a frequent presenter at the EMP Pop Con-
ference, who felt that there were a few too many scenes that lasted longer
than necessary. He has a point, but we agreed that the film is worth a look.

Raised in Marysville, Schemel went from drumming in local bands, like Doll
Squad, to membership in Hole. Along the way, she came out of the closet,
cavorted with Kurt and Courtney (intimate home-movie footage of the two
is likely to interest even non-fans), drank too much, took too many drugs,
and ended up homeless on the streets of Los Angeles before slowly mak-
ing her way back to sobriety, a second career, and a family of her own.

The second screening of Hit So Hard takes place on Sun., 5/29, at 4pm
at the Neptune. Schemel, director P. David Ebersole, and the producers
will be in attendance. Schemel's brother, Larry, showed up at the Egyptian
and said that he and Patty are making music again, just as they did in the
1980s (her brother provided much of the archival material in the film).

Next, I'm look-
ing forward to
eh Haroun's A
(Un Hom-
me Qui Crie
which has a fin-
al screening at
Pacific Place on
Sun., 5/29, at
10am. In 2007,
SIFF program-
med his mag-
nificent Daratt, which I watched at a sadly underpopulated SIFF Cinema.

Considering the praise which greeted Bye Bye Africa and Abouna, Har-
oun's first features, I was saddened by Seattle's lack of interest in this
masterful filmmaker. By contrast, The Stranger's Charles Mudede has
been a Haroun supporter for awhile now. My friend, Bill, agrees with
him that Man marks another triumph for the Chad-based director, so
I hope the city shows more love this year, though the early-morning
start time will surely scare off a few punters. Plus, it plays opposite
SIFF's perennially popular Secret Festival (11am at the Egyptian).

I didn't get a chance to preview Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Mis-
, but Chris Estey provides an informed preview at Three Im-
aginary Girls. As Chris knows, I've been obsessed with the "Little Man"
phenomenon since I discovered it in the 1980s, and I've always wonder-
ed whatever happened to the booze-sozzled Bay Area bickerers, Peter
and Raymond, as well as the two gents who chronicled their exploits.

As someone who has lived with
and next door to couples who
have, at times, recalled Peter
and Raymond, I appreciate the
reminder that I'm not alone,
though I can't imagine actual-
ly recording conversations
and releasing transcripts.

Instead, I once wrote a short
story for a writing class about
my college roommate and her
boyfriend, but I made certain
to change their names. Separ-
ately, they were nice people. Together: disaster (they ended up dropping out). Shut Up Lit-
tle Man!
plays Sat., 5/28, at 10pm at the Neptune and Mon., 5/30, at 9pm at the Egyptian.

I attended Hit So Hard with Chris Burlingame who'll be interviewing Patty Schemel for his site, Another Rainy Saturday. Click here for his review of Shut Up Little Man! Burlingame has also contributed to Three Imaginary Girls and The KEXP Blog, where you can find even more SIFF coverage.

Click here for SIFF Dispatch #4.

Endnote: Images from indieWIRE, Chad Now, Film Move-
, and Focus Features by way of

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