My SIFF 2019 Watch List

It’s that time of the year in Seattle! Those of us with an affinity for world cinema are clearing out our schedules for the next four weeks to attend screenings of much-awaited new films and talks. I am talking about the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), which starts this week on May 16 and runs through June 9.

Seattle is a city of indie film lovers and we have many film festivals here. SIFF is the mother of them all. There are so many intriguing films from around the globe this year that there are actually too many for me to list here, so I’m only listing the ones on top of my list to watch this year at SIFF.

A shout-out to the team of some 35 programmers involved in putting together this lineup. You’ve done well!

3 Faces
Director: Jafar Panahi, Iran

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A still from Jafar Panahi’s film 3 Faces (2019), premiering in Seattle at the 45th Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) on May 18 with second screening on May 19.

Despite the country’s strict censorship laws, Iran’s cinema is considered avant-garde, in terms of storytelling. Directors use language and metaphors, like poetry, to say all that they are unable to say directly in critique of the social and political milieu in their country.

Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s most prominent directors, has been arrested, jailed, and is, in fact currently under a 20-year ban from writing or directing films or leaving the country. Well, apparently that has not stopped Panahi from doing what he love. ‘3 Faces’ is his fourth film since the ban in 2010.

I had the rare occasion of catching Panahi’s film, ‘Taxi’ (2015), on the big screen in Seattle when it was released. Panahi’s films relay stories from everyday moments in the lives of ordinary people living in Iran. His 1995 feature ‘The White Balloon,’ which he also edited was written by the great Abbas Kiarostami.

More from Iran at SIFF 2019: Cold Sweat by Soheil Beiraghi; Hat Trick by Ramtin Lavafi; Orang Days by Arash Lahooti (Read Below).

3 Faces screens at SIFF on May 18 and 19 – Get your ticket >>

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Anthropocene: The Human Epoch
Directors: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky

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Film still from documentary ‘Anthropocene: The Human Epoch.’ Premieres in Seattle at the 45th Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) on May 20 with second screening on May 23.

According to scientists, climate change is one of, if not, the most dire issues facing our world today. With its expansive cinematography, ‘Anthropocene: The Human Epoch,’ is a documentary with a stunning look at what we are facing. To quote a line from the film: “It is such a fundamental change in the way that the earth is behaving, that we need to communicate that as powerfully as possible to everybody.”

Screening at SIFF on May 20 and 23 – Get your ticket >>

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Centerpiece Gala and Film: Late Night
Director: Nisha Ganatra, USA

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Still from Late Night directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Mindy Kaling, who also stars in it along with Emma Thompson. Premieres in Seattle at the 45th Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) on June 1 (Centerpiece Gala) and June 2.

Let’s face it, the hilarious Mindy Kaling (‘The Office,’ ‘The Mindy Project’) is superbly talented. Pair her up with the veteran actor Emma Thompson—whose work I’ve been a fan of since I first watched her in ‘Howards End’ and so many films since—and I am in!

I simply cannot wait to see these two talents together, in what seems like a very relevant story given the state of television today. I’ve worked in television, where I actually witnessed many shows getting the ax in the quest to serve only, what was decided (rightfully or not) to be, more digestible, bite-sized morsels of content for today’s on-the-go digital audience.

Late Night screens at SIFF on June 1 and 2 – Get your ticket >> 

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SIFF Closing Night Gala: The Farewell
Director: Lulu Wang, USA

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Publicity still for ‘The Farewell’ by Lulu Wang. Screens in Seattle at the 45th Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) on June 9.

OK, I know this may be sort of a sin but I have not yet watched the box office hit and ground breaking film ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ I do intend to, I promise! For now though, that oversight has actually led to an advantage as I plan my attendance for the screening of ‘The Farewell.’ I’ll be able to watch without any preconceived notions or temptations to compare the two films – they are, of course, only related in the fact that both feature all-Asian and Asian-American cast members. Lets’s face it, when there are only two big budget American films comprised of all Asian cast, comparisons are difficult to avoid. In any case, my hopes are high that I’ll be adding another name to my favorite directors list after watching ‘The Farewell.’

The Farewell screens at SIFF on June 9 – Get your ticket >>

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SIFF 2019 will present 410 films from 86 countries! View full schedule at siff.net >>

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Sgaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife)
Director: Hassan Fazili, USA (Afghanistan)

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Sgaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife) is the first film to be made in the indigenous Haida language. Screens at SIFF on May 25, 26 and 30.

I don’t know much about the director or the actors in this film, but I value indigenous stories and I am enthralled by the cinematography, sound, voice, and the writing showcased in the trailer (event if it seems to cut out somewhat abruptly).

This film is calling to me, drawing me in, and I am going to answer the call and check it out. It is apparently the first film made completely in the indigenous Haida language of the people of Haida Gwaii, the British Columbia archipelago off the coast in the Pacific Northwest.

Screening at SIFF on May 25, 26 and 30 – Get your ticket >>

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House of My Fathers
Director:  Suba Sivakumaran, Sri Lanka

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‘House of My Fathers’ by Suba Sivakumaran screens at SIFF on May 18, 21, and June 6.

‘House of My Fathers’ is a fantastical tale set during the Sri Lankan Civil War, a conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, that lasted more than 25 years. As the brutal conflict continues, women from both factions have overcome with infertility. A Tamil woman and a Sinhalese man must come together to lift the curse that plagues both sides.

I first learned about the beauty and simplicity of Sri Lankan cinema after watching the films of Prasanna Vithanage. Suba Sivakumaran, director of this film, is apparently a self-taught filmmaker and this is her first feature film. The fantasy aspect of this film gives it a new take on the violent conflict that the country suffered. 

Screening at SIFF on May 18, 21, and June 6 – Get your ticket >>

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Hala
Director:  Minhal Baig, USA (Pakistan)

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Hala is the first feature film by Pakistani-American director Minhal Baig. Screening in Seattle at SIFF on June 1 and 2.

As a Pakistani-American of Muslim heritage, I tread with a natural skepticism whenever I see a stereotyped image of a hijab-clad Muslim woman in the media. Alas, such is the world we live in now.

However, I am intrigued by ‘Hala.’ The film premiered at Sundance this year, where the programmer described it as ‘exquisitely rendered.’ And let’s face it, how could I possibly miss a feature film at SIFF by a Pakistani-American female director, from Chicago no less. (One of my hometowns—yes, I have more than one). ‘Hala’ is Minhal Baig’s first feature film. She has previously directed shorts. [Note: There seems to be no trailer for this film, at least none that I found.]

Screening at SIFF on June 1 and 2 – Get your ticket >>

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Fig Tree
Director:  Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian, Ethiopia

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Still from Fig Tree by Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian. Screens at SIFF on May 19 and May 21.

It is not often that we get to see a poignant Ethiopian film on the big screen in Seattle— in fact, I am wondering if this is the first time SIFF has screened one. This film tells the story of two young people growing up amidst the Ethiopian Civil War—a real life conflict that lasted nearly 17 years and resulted in one million deaths. Inspired by director Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian’s own real-life experiences, ‘Fig Tree’ is the first film for both the director and the actress Betalehem Asmamawe, who plays the lead role.

Screening at SIFF on May 19 and 21 – Get your ticket >>

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The Announcement
Director:  Mahmut Fazil Coskun, Turkey

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‘The Announcement’ by director Mahmut Fazil Coskun screens at SIFF on May 21, June 8 and 9.

I’ll admit that I don’t know very much about Turkish politics, and as far as I can remember, I have never before watched a Turkish feature film. It seems to me those are precisely the reasons to watch this film, and hopefully learn something new (even if from a fictional context). ‘The Announcement’ by director Mahmut Fazil Coskun, is a dark comedy inspired by Turkey’s real-life history of military coups. According to Coskun, the 2016 failed coup attempt, though occurred, coincidentally, after the first draft of the film was already written. The real-life coup was playing out as Coskun was getting ready to shoot the film with uncanny similarities between the real and the imagined. Although I do plan on seeing this film, judging by the trailer, it may be sadly lacking in representation of female characters.

More Turkish films at SIFF: Saf by Ali Vatansever and  Sibel by Cagla Zencirci, Guillaume Giovanetti.

Screening at SIFF on May 21, June 8 and 9 – Get your ticket >>

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Orange Days
Director: Arash Lahooti, Iran

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Hadieh Tehrani stars in Orange Days by Arash Lahooti. Screens at SIFF on May 20, 22, and 24.

Seldom do I miss a chance to watch a film from Iran on a big screen in Seattle. Arash Lahooti’s first feature is a story of a lone woman running an orange farm, with an all female work force, in an industry and country dominated by men.

More from Iran at SIFF 2019: 3 Faces by Jafar Panahi (Read above); Cold Sweat by Soheil Beiraghi; and Hat Trick by Ramtin Lavafi.

Screening at SIFF on May 20, 22, and 24 – Get your ticket >>

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Botero
Director: Don Millar

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Botero, a documentary on the Colombian artist and scultor Fernando Botero. Screening at SIFF on May 18, 24, and 25.

Over the years, I have had a chance to view Botero’s iconic sculptures installed as public art in Seattle, Chicago, and New York. His distinct style of bloated figures made in bronze is easily recognizable. ‘Botero’ tells the story of this world renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

Screening at SIFF on May 18, 24, and 25 – Get your ticket >>

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Yesterday
Director: Danny Boyle, UK

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Danny Boyle’s Yesterday Screening at SIFF on June 9.

OK, I have to admit, from the trailer, my anticipation level for this film is lukewarm. It’s true, I don’t have high hopes. Yet the film is on my list, due mostly to the runaway success of Danny Boyle’s previous film ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ I can’t help it—I am curious.

The reason behind my lack of enthusiasm for this film is that the plot appears to be a rip off. I remember watching an 80s’s sci-fi television series, the title of which I cannot recall, that had an episode devoted to the same premise: couple of young musicians (in the film’s case, there is only one) from our world are transplanted into an alternate reality where everything is the same except the legendary British band ‘The Beatles’ has never existed. So, the struggling musician(s) very conveniently appropriates all of the Beatles’ iconic music in order to achieve the fame and glory they’ve been dreaming about. Ok, I guess, but—I mean, I’ve seen this story already. Still, I am willing to give the lead actor Himesh Patel—a newcomer at least for US audience—a chance. Hopefully, I’ll be pleasantly surprised by this one. (Probably not!).

Screening at SIFF on June 9 – Get your ticket >>

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MUCH MORE TO WATCH…

SIFF 2019 will present 410 films from 86 countries, so clearly what I’ve listed above is only a small portion of this year’s lineup. There are many more films that I’d love to try to catch at SIFF this year but life allows only so many minutes to devote to film watching, and let’s be honest—I am pushing that limit already.

SOME MORE FROM MY SIFF WISH LIST…

The Good Girls
Director: Alejandra Marquez Abella, Mexico
Screening at SIFF on May 17, May 21, and June 1 – Get your ticket

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Widow of Silence
Director: Praveen Morchhale, India
Screening at SIFF on May 23, May 30, and May 31 – Get your ticket

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Patrinell: The Total Experience
Directors: Andrew Elizaga, Tia Young
Screening at SIFF on May 26 and May 27 – Get your ticket

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The Sweet Requiem
Director: Ritu Sarin, Tenzing Sonam, India (Tibet)
Screening at SIFF on May 19 and May 20 – Get your ticket

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Midnight Traveler
Director: Hassan Fazili, USA (Afghanistan)
Screening at SIFF on May 27 and May 29 – Get your ticket

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Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Director: Stanley Nelson
Screening at SIFF on May 29 and May 31 – Get your ticket

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Meeting Gorbachev
Director: Werner Herzog, André Singer, UK
Screening at SIFF on May 27 and May 29 – Get your ticket

Ok – I only want to see this film because of Werner Herzog.

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Work in Progress: Hope’s Journey
Director: Yolanda Cruz, US/Mexico
Screening at SIFF on June 7 – Get your ticket

For a complete schedule of programs at the 45th Seattle International Film Festival visit siff.net >>

Feature image from ‘Blinded by the Light’ by Gurinder Chadha. The film premieres at SIFF on May 23 and 24.