The 44th Seattle International Film Festival kicks off on May 17 with the British drama “The Bookshop” and closes 25 days later, June 10, with Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” starring Joaquin Phoenix as the legendary Portland cartoonist John Callahan.
The marathon will feature upwards of 400 titles, from feature films to shorts, from 90 countries. Many filmmakers will attend, panels will convene, and parties will be staged. Two special events will honor a couple of very worthy actors in mid-career, Ethan Hawke and Melanie Lynskey. For the line-up, set aside plenty of time and visit siff.net.
Looking at this vast array of movies, I’ve selected a few that look especially promising to me, including a couple I’ve already seen — with an emphasis on the “international” part of SIFF’s name.
“Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day.” No filmmaker burned brighter in the 1970s than Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the West German wunderkind who cranked out a lifetime’s worth of movies in the decade. He was so prolific he created this 1972 TV miniseries — all about the joys and sorrows of a group of factory workers — the same year he made four other feature films. “Eight Hours” has been virtually unseen in the U.S., but here’s all 472 minutes of it, which you can see either as separate Wednesday-nights sections, or in one long go (with breaks) on May 19. The latter might not be the best way to absorb it, but speaking as someone who got through eight hours of “Our Hitler” in a single SIFF marathon in 1980, I suspect you’ll probably never forget it. May 19, SIFF Film Center (marathon); May 23, May 30, June 6, SIFF Film Center (sequential).
“The Greenaway Alphabet.” It’s hard to believe this documentary portrait of Peter Greenaway (a past SIFF honoree) is only 68 minutes long; the British filmmaker is known for his ability to hold forth at length on cinematic topics. But maybe the director of “The Greenaway Alphabet,” the artist Saskia Bodekke, knows how to corral her subject; she’s married to him. Bodekke organizes this film according to alphabetical subjects from Greenaway’s life. May 19 and 20, Uptown; June 1, SIFF Film Center.
“Sansho the Bailiff.” From SIFF’s archival section, a restored print of Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1954 masterpiece, a transcendent drama about hardship and redemption. If you walk out of the theater convinced you’ve just seen one of the greatest movies ever made, I won’t argue with you. May 20, Uptown.
“I Am Not a Witch.” A little girl is accused of witchcraft after a minor accident, a situation that takes on shades of magical realism along with social commentary. This Zambian drama garnered strong reviews on the festival circuit, with first-time feature director Rungano Nyoni acclaimed as an important new voice in African cinema. May 21, Egyptian; May 22, Uptown.
“Lemonade.” Romania has been one of the hotspots of international filmmaking in the 21st century, so I’m interested in seeing this title, which takes a common subject for Romanian cinema — the crushing weight of history and bureaucracy — and brings it to the U.S. It’s about a Romanian health-care worker trying to get her green card after she marries an American, a process that gradually becomes nightmarish. Ioana Uricaru makes her feature-directing debut with this title. May 22, Lincoln Square; June 1, Uptown; June 2, Pacific Place.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” Here’s an experiment. Play the trailer for this documentary about Fred Rogers, the host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and see how many seconds it takes before you burst into tears. Prediction: Probably fewer than it took to read that sentence. This film about the beloved TV pioneer, directed by 20 Feet from Stardom Oscar-winner Morgan Neville (slated to attend SIFF), will open for a regular run shortly after it screens at SIFF. Old clips and new interviews (Rogers died in 2003) chronicle how such a decent man could have become a TV success. Expect sales of cardigan sweaters to skyrocket. May 26 and 27, Uptown.
“The Third Murder.” A courtroom saga that begins with murder but spirals into larger philosophical ideas — sounds like a departure for Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Our Little Sister”), whose output in recent years has been consistently top-drawer. The killer is played by Koji Yakusho, a fricking awesome actor. May 25, Egyptian; May 29, Uptown.
“Let the Sunshine In.” Claire Denis is one of the world’s most provocative directors, and she’s teamed here with Juliette Binoche, one of the world’s most adventurous actresses. The film is described as a romantic comedy of sorts, but that term may be woefully inadequate for the sort of tough-minded journey Binoche’s restless character takes here. May 26, Egyptian; May 27, Pacific Place.
“Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts.” I’m cheating here, because I’ve seen this entry, but it’s a good one: a modern Western by way of Indonesia, with a female focus. The film begins with the threat of sexual assault, but our calmly resourceful heroine begins her counter-attack immediately. This frontier-justice yarn is deliberately paced but beautifully shot, and from the opening moments you can tell that director Mouly Surya just flat-out knows how to make a movie. May 28 and June 1, Pacific Place.
“Leave No Trace.” Debra Granik’s terrific “Winter’s Bone” (2010) burrowed deep into the Ozarks backwoods and made a star of Jennifer Lawrence. Not sure why it’s taken so long for Granik to return with another fictional feature, but this one sounds promising, and close to home: In the forests outside Portland, a troubled vet (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Mackenzie) avoid the civilized world as much as they can. It intrudes anyway. Producer Anne Rosellini, a Seattle native, will attend. June 1, Egyptian; June 2, Pacific Place.
“Sorry to Bother You.” The buzz out of Sundance on this indie comedy was giddy, which suggests an ideal piece of non-blockbuster summer programming. Lakeith Stanfield (indelible as a dazed zombie in “Get Out”) stars as a telemarketer who learns that putting on his “white voice” opens up a whole new world. Director Boots Riley (another scheduled SIFF guest) takes a slightly surreal approach to something that might have been a one-joke comedy — not a bad tactic, given the success of “Get Out.” Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer co-star. June 2, Egyptian.
“Sadie.” Seattle director Megan Griffiths (SIFF prizewinner for “Eden” in 2012) returns with a study of an adolescent girl, who plots an unorthodox solution to the long absences of her military father and the wavering fidelity of her mother (played by the great Melanie Lynskey, who’ll be in town as the recipient of a festival tribute this year). June 6, Egyptian.