Nobody could stop talking about the beautiful spring weather Seattle was enjoying for the first two days of the festival (“after five months of rain,” Director of Programming Beth Barrett sighed at dinner last night). But this morning as I start to exit the hotel to trek to the Egyptian Theatre on Capitol Hill, I turn right around to go back upstairs and fetch one of the two umbrellas I packed – the heavy-duty one. There’s evidence of recent rainfall, and the day is gloomy and overcast.
Seattle seems like a perfect setting for film noir, with its rain-slick streets, Art Deco office buildings, and mysterious mid-block alleys...
(though I can’t remember any iconic noirs set here). I’d made a joke at the filmmakers’ dinner that I hadn’t been in Seattle for ten years – except for the eight days I’d spent here recently, courtesy of AMC’s The Killing. Ms. Barrett quickly disabused me of that notion – it seems that The Killing is shot in Vancouver. No wonder Mayor McGinn was so insistent on Opening Night about festival filmgoers contacting their legislators about the Washington State Film Incentive.
I’m thinking noir not just because of the glistening pavement, but because I’m headed towards a neo-noir, A Quiet Life (pictured above), an Italian film by a director named Claudio Cupellini. I chose it from a half-dozen options that include Kung Fu Panda 2 (SIFF is not to be outdone by concurrently-running Cannes!), and a program called 3 Minute Masterpieces, which are winners of a digital filmmaking contest sponsored by the Seattle Times (and all eleven of which can be seen on their website), anyway).
I’m swayed by the first two words of A Quiet Life’s catalogue entry: “Italian chef.” I like food: Eating it, writing about it, watching movies about it. Even though it’s clear from the rest of the blurb that the movie has little to do with food, I’m intrigued when I Google Cupellini and learn that his debut film -- A Quiet Life is his second feature – was a comedy entitled Lessons in Chocolate, set in pastry shops and chocolate competitions. Besides, A Quiet Life stars Toni Servillo, who memorably incarnated the Italian prime minister in Il Divo.
The Egyptian turns out to be a slightly shabby but charming relic, built as a Masonic Temple in 1915, I learn, but now a Landmark Theatre and home to SIFF since the early 1980s. And A Quiet Life is a workmanlike little thriller, not revelatory in its technique, but well-acted and compelling. Servillo, who abandoned a criminal life in Italy for a hopefully quiet and obscure one as a restaurant owner in Germany, is confronted with his past when the son he abandoned suddenly turns up on his doorstep. “A Greek tragedy enacted by Italians becalmed in Germany,” I think, as I watch Servillo march towards his destiny. Unlike many neo-noirs, this one has the courage to end bleakly.
When it’s over, I run into the nice woman who offered to share a cab with me, yesterday, after Venice. She’s sticking around the Egyptian to see Our Life, and I’d love to join her. It’s another contemporary Italian drama, but this time I’m familiar with the director, Daniele Luchetti (festival favorite My Brother is an Only Child), and its star, Elio Germano, won the Best Actor prize in Cannes last year for his performance.
But it’s not to be. I have to trek down the hill to the Experience Music Project for the press event for LOVE. I’m actually happy that I mistakenly showed up there yesterday; Seattle Center looks totally different on a gray day. It’s choked with tourists, today, but the dolce far niente atmosphere that I wandered through has vanished with the sun. I’m given a purple plastic wristband and led upstairs to a small receiving room where I join two other journalists (who both seem to be from the same Seattle paper) in chatting with producer Tom DeLonge, of Blink 182 and Angels & Airwaves fame, director William Eubank, and star Gunner Wright (I’m glad I’m there, if only so that the numbers of filmmakers to journalists are equal). Above their heads a large-screen TV plays a loop of intriguing images, some of which take place in a spaceship; other scenes look like Civil War footage.
The three guys discuss their five-year odyssey of filmmaking, most of which was carried out in Eubanks’ parents driveway and Santa Barbara backyard. He also constructed the sets himself. The three men talk with passion and sincerity about the project, whose theme seems to be “only connect.” I’m swept along by both their enthusiasm and the undeniable beauty of the images glimpsed above. All you need, it seems, is LOVE.
One of the Experimental Music Project’s free weekend concerts starts in the atrium just below us, distractingly; sliding glass doors are shut against the noise. There are a number of young women dressed in full-on astronaut regalia – orange jumpsuits emblazoned with a LOVE logo, opaque helmets – wandering about. Although there is much talk about how little money there was to spend on the film -- $500,000 is mentioned – some money was obviously spent on this event, which is a meet-and-greet with fans, who get a limited-edition signed poster as well as tickets to tonight’s premiere. I ask if I can stick around to glimpse a bit of the interaction.
The first few fans are brought up by elevator. I intended to wait until somebody brought something truly screwy to be signed. The very first pair of youths offer up a pair of adult diapers and a bright pink bra. Bingo! I ask the young men, still giddy from meeting their idol, how long they’ve waited in line – over an hour and a half – and why they brought what they did. The bra was just for the hell of it, it seems, but when he was in Blink 182, one of DeLonge’s hits was named “Depends.”
I trek back up the hill to the Egyptian – not quite as easy as it was coming down – to catch the 4:00 pm screening of The Pipe (pictured above), an Irish documentary about a small seaside community defying Shell Oil’s plans to put a pipeline through their bucolic countryside. It’s been wending its way along the festival circuit – I just managed to miss seeing it in San Francisco, where the documentary section was unusually strong (but then documentary sections often seem unusually strong, which seems to surprise people at Sundance, for instance, every year).
Before The Pipe we’re told about Annenberg Foundation grants to local non-profits, and shown a 22-minute documentary, Change at the Top of the World, from its Explore Films, about the effects of global warming on Greenland, directed by Charles Annenberg Weingarten. Its disturbing images benefit from being projected digitally; the Egyptian’s film lens seems a bit soft.
The Pipe seems a bit repetitive and long, even at 80 minutes, as the issue pits neighbor against neighbor, to the point of violence. Favorite characters emerge: a cantankerous woman who loves to break up town meetings, a fisherman who loves his work and the son who’ll follow him in the family business. The ending is a trifle abrupt but still thrilling to those who like the little man to beat the big man if the little man is in the right and keeps on a’coming.
Afterwards there’s time to see Another Earth (pictured), a modest, poetic science fiction film that posits the discovery of a planet that looks just like Earth which is promptly named Earth 2. While gazing out her car window at the new planet after injudiciously celebrating her acceptance to MIT, a beautiful young girl smacks into another car, killing a pregnant woman and her young son, and leaving the husband in a coma.
After emerging from four years in prison, the young woman enters into a strange and duplicitous relationship with the widower, while she enters a contest to win a trip to Earth 2, which looms ever-greater in our consciousness, as well as drawing nearer and larger in every shot.
I’m charmed by the film, though eavesdropping proves that not everybody in the audience is of my opinion. I like the performance of the beautiful girl, Brit Marling, who turns out to have co-written the film with its director, Mike Cahill. Nobody that I talk to realizes that William Mapother, who plays the widower, is Tom Cruise’s cousin, which I’m sure would please him, though some recognize him from Lost, a series I quit before he joined it.
I’ve got an hour or so before LOVE begins, downtown in the Pacific Place mall, so I sit at a table and sample four different kinds of chowder (clam, smoked salmon, seafood bisque, and a scallop chowder of the day) from a place called Pike Place Chowder. They’re nothing special, but provide me with an excuse to sit at a table and watch as two different groups of aliens colonize the mall: orange-suited LOVE astronauts, at least a dozen of them, and assorted groups of prom-going kids, the girls in stunning evening gowns of many colors and fashionable cut. They don’t interact with each other, though I do see two astronauts swing-dancing. The astronauts tromp all over the mall, in different formations, and many flash photos are taken.
Excitement runs high in the very-full AMC auditorium. DeLonge is greeted with cheers; a number of young men in the audience are wearing the same kind of pull-down-over-the-ears knit cap that he is. We’re treated to a shorter but equally sincere introduction from DeLonge, Eubanks, and Wright than the one I received earlier today.
The images are indeed beautiful – especially those of the Civil War segment – but time drags during the spaceship segment, which it should for the lone astronaut, but not so much for the audience. At the press conference, both 2001 and a 2009 movie, Moon, were referenced. I never saw Moon, despite my affection for Sam Rockwell (the filmmakers seemed annoyed that its astronaut used a treadmill, but then, so did the guys in 2001), but, yes, there are definite echoes of 2001, even to a long-ago discovery of a mysterious object in the desert.
The various segments don’t seem to hang together, not surprising since the piecemeal shooting described to me never benefited from a complete script. After viewing footage, Delonge said, I’d say “we need a beginning” or “we need an ending.” I still think that William Eubank is both a talented set designer and cinematographer, but a full appraisal of his talents will have to await a subsequent project.
Very few people have left the screening, however, and the Q and A afterwards, while not rapturous, is gratifyingly complimentary. “That’s what makes horse races,” I think, as I trudge home in a downpour, “as well as film festivals.”