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SIFF preview: Promising films at Seattle festival

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By Robert Horton
Herald Movie Critic
@citizenhorton
Published:
On my first pass through the annual Seattle International Film Festival lineup, it's easy enough to find a few want-to-see titles: a movie by director X, whose previous film was top-notch; a film starring Y, an actor always worth watching; a documentary about Z, some subject of interest.
This year, Z actually stands for "zombie," but we'll get to that. Aside from the obvious, I have a tendency to stay away from things that threaten to conform to a certain kind of feel-good vibe that seems designed for festival success -- anything described in the fest catalog with the words "an unlikely friendship begins to develop," for instance, a phrase used at least a dozen times a year.
You never know -- that formulaic-sounding thing might turn out to be the best movie of SIFF. These titles I'm offering as my eagerly-awaited slate could turn out very wrong, and even contain unlikely developing friendships. Still, here are a few that look promising.
She hasn't had her breakthrough yet, but the Spanish director Isabel Coixet has been quietly doing intriguing work for years, including "My Life Without Me" (2003) and "Elegy" (2008), penetrating movies not at all designed to make the audience comfortable. Her new one is "Yesterday Never Ends," a love-lost story set in a slightly futuristic Barcelona. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 5:30 p.m. June 1 and noon June 2.)
Speaking of "My Life Without Me," that film's star, Sarah Polley, has become a director to reckon with, and her personal documentary "Stories We Tell" arrives with accolades already draped around its shoulders. Polley looks into her own family history, which sounds tangled and difficult and not something her relatives particularly want to talk about. (Harvard Exit: 4 p.m., May 17 and SIFF Cinema Uptown: 5 p.m., May 19.)
Two veteran Scandinavian filmmakers offer new titles this year. Octogenarian Jan Troell, who showed himself in splendid form in his 2008 film "Everlasting Moments," weaves "The Last Sentence" around a real-life Swedish journalist who fought fascism during the Second World War; the excellent Jesper Christensen, whose career includes 007 and Lars von Trier movies alike, stars. (Egyptian: 4 p.m., May 23 and 9:30 p.m., May 28.)
And Bille August, the Oscar-winner for "Pelle the Conqueror," goes the bio route as well: "Marie Krøyer" profiles the wife of Danish painter P.S. Krøyer, a marriage that breaks down through illness and disappointment. (Renton Performing Arts Center: 8:30 p.m., May 29; Egyptian: 4 p.m. May 31 ; and 9:30 p.m. June 4.)
Put the words "Neil Jordan" and "vampire" together, and you've got a reasonably good chance that there'll be something worth looking at on screen. Throw in Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arteton as blood-suckers in an English seaside town, and the possibilities for "Byzantium" begin to expand rather unhealthily. (Harvard Exit: 9:30 p.m. May 17; Pacific Place: 1 p.m. May 18.)
Because he's so prolific, Hong Kong maestro Johnnie To is capable of the occasional dud. But when he's on, he's really on, so let's hold out hopes for the North American premiere of "Drug War," an action picture that likely covers the ground suggested by its no-nonsense title. (Egyptian: 7 p.m., May 25 and 12:30 p.m. May 27.)
If you have an interest in African cinema (and you should, you should), "Finding Hillywood" sounds like a useful behind-the-scenes documentary about Rwandan filmmakers and their entry into the international movie landscape. (Egyptian: 7 p.m., May 29 and 4 p.m. June 5.)
Rwanda offers a narrative film this year, too: "The Pardon," by Joel Karekezi, which examines the aftermath of friends separated by the 1990s genocide. (Pacific Place: 6 p.m. May 26; Renton Performing Arts Center: 3:30 p.m. May 27.)
What were you saying again about how difficult it is to make your indie-film project? Try being the imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi: his latest act of defiance, "Closed Curtain," was somehow completed with the collaboration of co-director Kamboziya Partovi. This docu-drama follows Panahi's extraordinary "This Is Not a Film," and perhaps it sheds light on how he can keep working despite being under arrest for supposed offenses against Iran's government. A North American premiere. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 3:30 p.m. May 17 and 8:30 p.m. June 9; Egyptian: 7 p.m. June 4.)
I've seen a couple of zombie walks in person, and a variety of thoughts arise at such occasions. One such thought is brrraaaaiiinnns; another is: Somebody better be making a documentary about these people. So here's "Dead Meat Walking: A Zombie Walk Documentary," which will explain everything about those who choose to stalk. (Egyptian: midnight May 24; Renton Performing Arts Center: 8:30 p.m. May 25.)
"Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton" is a profile of the experimental filmmaker whose life led him from the heat of the San Francisco literary scene to the quiet harbor of Port Townsend, where he died in 1999. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 6 p.m. May 31; Pacific Place: 1:30 p.m. June 1.)
Experimental artist Abigail Child shot "A Shape of Error" on 16 mm. film, the better to create a "home movie" shot by Percy and Mary Shelley, played here by nonprofessional actors. I know nothing more about this film, which has no listing on the Internet Movie Database yet, but I'm pretty sure I need to see this. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 8:30 p.m. May 19 and 8:30 p.m. May 22.)
On the one hand, "The Bling Ring" sounds like it might feed into the weaker aspects of Sofia Coppola's talents. On the other hand, it's about teenagers who track the comings and goings of celebrities, the better to rob them of their goodies. Hmm, I guess those are the same hand.
Still, the cast is promising (Emma Watson gets a chance to get out of Potter-world, and Taissa Farmiga -- young sis of Vera -- proved herself an intriguing presence in Higher Ground), and this sounds like a chance for Coppola to turn up the oomph factor from her previous work. (Cinerama: 6:30 p.m. June 9.)
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