My coverage of the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival begins on GreenCine with a review of the opening night film, Battle in Seattle (and the film’s local reception) and Lynn Shelton’s My Effortless Brilliance:
Whatever you think of the film, it may be the most apropos film in the history of SIFF to open the festival: never has an opening night film been so inextricably tied to the city. You might think that the hometown audience who lived through (and, in many cases, participated in) the WTO protests and the disastrous police response would be the film’s toughest audience for a film about their experience directed by an Irish actor who wasn’t even there. Not just because of our own immediate experiences but because of the use of fictional stories to structure the film (the fictional Seattle Mayor Jim Tobin, played by Ray Liotta, stands in for the real Paul Schell) and Vancouver, BC doubling for Seattle in principle production (there were a few days of Seattle shooting to get key landmarks, but sharp eyes will detect Canadian road signage throughout the film).
Some of the stories are frankly unconvincing (Connie Nielsen gives perhaps the least dimensional performance of her career as a superficial TV reporter transformed by the experience) and others slip into all-too-familiar ruts (the rocky romance between Martin Henderson’s passionate protest organizer and the angry guerilla activist played by Michelle Rodriguez), and the literal gut-punch of the experience of bystander Charlize Theron and the turmoil of cop Woody Harrelson is a messy way to get an emotional reaction from the audience (it works, by the way). But the film pushed all the right buttons in this very liberal crowd, who responded to key scenes and speeches and (rather repetitive) defining lines with cheers and applause.
That sounds condescending, I admit, but I have to hand it to Townsend for not only showing how the protests caught the city by surprise and capturing the chaos within the loose organization of protesters (such as the outbreaks of vandalism that almost derailed the non-violent actions and captured the focus of media coverage for a few news cycles), but also for getting beyond slogans to explain what the WTO was doing and what the protesters stood for, at least to come extent.
Also reviewed: Lynn Shelton’s My Effortless Brilliance:
Where her debut feature, We Go Way Back, was autobiographical and rather tightly structured, Brilliance shifts both style and subject matter. It’s a study of male relationships, specifically the “break-up” of old friends and the desperation with which one man (played by Harvey Danger’s Sean Nelson), a novelist struggling to repeat the success of his first book, attempts to reconnect. His motivations are less out of affection than ego – dude, he was dumped!
Most of my coverage this year will be on GreenCine. Where once the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (my paper) provided the most exhaustive coverage of SIFF, with capsule reviews of every film we could screen by deadline, we are now down to overviews and limited coverage. I’ll still be doing some interviews and maybe a feature or two, but nowhere near the number of reviews I’ve done in the past. Which is a relief in some ways – I don’t feel nearly as stressed out as I have at previous festivals – and a disappointment in others.