Friday May 20, 2011
Opening Night at SIFF: Corporate Speeches, Technical Difficulties, and Another Seattle-Lite Movie
I first went to Opening Night at SIFF, the Seattle International Film Festival, in 1994. Acclaimed Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci had filmed parts of “Little Buddha” in Seattle a year earlier, and now his film, and he, would open the festival. Quite the coup. He spoke beforehand, talked about how much he liked Seattle, and Elliott Bay Books, and Scarecrow Video, where they categorized films by director as God intended. Then we all settled in to watch his movie, in which Chris Isaak and Bridget Fonda play the Seattle parents of a boy who may or may not be the reincarnation of the Lama Dorje. Co-starring Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha. One minute in, the film broke, and the screen went dark. One can imagine Bertolucci wasn't pleased. When the film finally started again, after a five-minute delay, I wasn't particularly pleased. It wasn't that good. But what the hell, it was Opening Night.
Last night, I went to my second Opening Night of SIFF, which they dubbed a “Gala.” (I“ll refrain from the Groucho Marx reference.) I suited up, talked with Nancy Guppy, who was interviewing people for the festivities, ran into a few friends. Then Patricia and I and a thousand-plus people settled in for the Opening Night movie, ”The First Grader,“ a British film about an 84-year-old Kenyan man, a former Mau Mau warrior, who wants to go to school to learn to read, and who, with the help of a kindly teacher, fights all the forces (bureaucratic, neighborhood) that get in his way. I was hoping it would be better, more complex, than the trailer indicated.
Except we didn't get the movie right away. First, the co-directors of SIFF made speeches. Then they introduced others who made speeches: this mucky-muck from Starbucks; that mucky-muck from the Seattle Sounders; the Mayor of Seattle. Everyone talked about how much the arts meant. Everyone congratulated each other and us for doing our part. This went on for 15 minutes, a half hour, 45 minutes. By the time the film started I was exhausted. The film didn't help. Was Gordon Willis the cinematographer? Because, man, it seemed really, really underlit. Ten minutes in, the screen went dark. A second later the movie started again, from five minutes earlier, lit properly. One of these years they'll get it right.
Will they ever get the Opening Night movie right? In ”The First Grader,“ good-looking people are good; scowling people are bad; the good-looking people win. Set it in America and it's Hollywood fluff. Set it in Kenya and it must be important. So the SIFF thinking seems to go.
What the hell, it was Opening Night.
”Let Maruge in." She must be right because she's so cute.