Ghosts of SIFF Past

As much as I’ve loved this 80 degree weather we’ve been having, I’m okay that it’s going to go back to normal soon because I’ll be spending a good chunk of my free time over the next three weeks watching movies. While Sundance and Toronto have the buzz and the stars, SIFF, the Seattle International Film Festival, is the largest film festival in North America and it kicks off tomorrow.

As I’ve reviewed the movie guide for this year’s festival, I’ve thought back to some of my SIFF favorites over the years. If you like documentaries (they’re like high brow reality TV for me), consider this a rainy day movie list with some off-the-beaten-path options.

49 Up (documentary) – This was the first film I ever saw at SIFF. It’s the seventh film in a series (of eight so far) that started with “7 Up,” a British TV documentary about a group of 7-year-olds from different walks of life. The series films these kids (now approaching senior citizen status) every seven years, and watching the series is a pretty fascinating slice of these peoples’ lives.

A Cat in Paris (French animated) – Every movie list needs a cartoon. What’s not to love about cats and Paris? This cat assists a (what else?) cat burglar.

Eden (drama) – All I can say is wow. This is based on the true story of a teenager kidnapped into the sex trade. It’s hard to believe this happens around us. Tough to watch, but it’s a great film. It was mostly filmed in Washington by local filmmakers.

The Heart of the Game (documentary) – This is the story of a girls’ high school basketball team at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. I have a soft spot for it because it features my college tax professor as coach of the team, but the story itself is one of those that’s almost too unbelievable to be true. A good inspirational sports doc.

The Hedgehog (French drama) – This follows a young girl as she observes and films the world around her. It may not sound like much, but the characters and story stuck with me a long time after I saw this. It’s based on a book, “Elegance of the Hedgehog.”

In the Shadow of the Moon (documentary) – This is the story of the Apollo space missions, told by the astronauts who flew them. I learned a lot about our space program and the courage it took to truly go where no man had gone before.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (documentary) – This is a feel good movie for children of the 80s. It tells the (current day) story of a Redmond middle school math teacher who sets out to set the world record on Donkey Kong and features heroes and villains – both in the game and outside of it. The teacher and a lot of his students were in the audience when I saw it, which added to the fun.

Life in a Day (documentary) – I loved the concept of this movie. It was put together using footage shot by people all over the world on a single day and submitted to You Tube. If Wikipedia is accurate, there were 4,500 hours of footage in 80,000 submissions from 192 countries. It was a cool movie to watch.

March of the Penguins (documentary) – So I think everyone has seen this at this point, but I first saw it at SIFF and it’s still one of my favorite documentaries of all time.

Marwencol (documentary) – This is the story of a man who suffered a traumatic brain injury and then created an intricate miniature World War II model world as a way of escaping from the real world. Weird but fascinating.

The Other Dream Team (documentary) – Another feel good sports doc – this one about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team. I always like a good underdog story, and the personalities here are great.

The Punk Singer (documentary) – This is about the riot grrrl movement, which exploded in my hometown while I was busy studying so I was pretty much oblivious to it. It focuses on Kathleen Hanna, who formed Bikini Kill, and features talking heads I recognized from Portlandia, the Beastie Boys and my middle school.

Safety Not Guaranteed (comedy/drama) – I saw this one in a sold out theater, and at the end of the movie everyone burst out cheering (spoiler alert?). The story follows a Seattle magazine team looking for a guy who placed a classified ad for a time travel companion, and just thinking about this movie makes me smile. This was filmed in Seattle and on the Washington coast.

SOMM (documentary) – This follows a group of guys studying for the Master Sommelier exam, one of the hardest tests to pass (there are only 214 worldwide). Sort of like Spellbound with adults – the combination of obsession and dedication is incredible. You don’t have to like wine to like this movie, but I’m sure it helps.

Waste Land (documentary) – This is the story of garbage pickers who make their living from the largest landfill in the world and the art that is created from the debris. Amazing.

Die Welle (The Wave) (German drama) – This is about a classroom experiment to demonstrate a dictatorship that quickly takes on a life of its own. This was another one I kept thinking about long after I watched it.

I’m looking forward to finding some new favorites this year.

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