Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) 2021 runs virtually from April 8 to 18 this year and features 220 films from 69 countries! Given its broad range, REDEFINE has done the hard work of sifting through the catalog for you, with a focus on experimental, socially-conscious, art-focused, metaphysically-minded, Indigenous and/or Pacific Northwest offerings. Take a peek at the 23 we’ve landed on, then go peruse the whole festival over at siff.net/festival.
Athanor – The Alchemical Furnace
Czech Republic | 2020 | 118 minutes | Adam Ol’ha, Jan Daňhel
Are you one among the many global weirdos who have been ever been fascinated by the dreamy Surrealist work of Czech weirdo Jan Svankmajer? Enter his hyperreal blended worlds of stop-motion and live-action in this documentary, which connects animation to animism and anima, among other mind-bending concepts. – VIVIAN HUA
Bebia, á mon seul désir
Georgia | 2021 | 118 minutes | Juja Dobrachkous
Presented in luscious black and white, Bebia combines a death ritual and traditions of a rural Georgian hillside town with a modern score and filmmaking approach. Following the death of the family matriarch, a teenage girl is given the task of stringing a thread through sixteen miles of forest — to forge a path between the deceased’s place of death and her coffin. – VIVIAN HUA
Sweden | 2019 | 94 minutes | Amanda Kernell (Sami)
An unconventional family drama, Charter follows a divorced mom on the move, after she decides her best course of action is abducting her two young girls. Though she brings them from their snowy hometown to a sunny beach getaway, what may be good intentions quickly become poor decisions. – VIVIAN HUA
The Earth is as Blue as an Orange
Ukraine | 2020 | 74 minutes | Iryna Tsilyk
The 2014 conflict in Donbass, Ukraine inspired a single mother and her four children to film the unvarnished moments of their lives in a combat zone. The result is The Earth is as Blue as an Orange, a meta, daring documentary that captures both the mundanities and horrors of war. – ALISON SMITH
East of the Mountains
USA | 2021 | 93 minutes | SJ Chiro
Making its world premiere is East of the Mountains, a film directed by SJ Chiro and adapted from the acclaimed novel of the same name, by David Guterson, author of Snow Falling of Cedars. Filmed in Eastern Washington, it stars the inimitable Tom Skerritt as a terminally ill surgeon who readies himself for the end of his life — but faces some unexpected twists and turns along the way. SIFF will also honor Skerritt’s storied career with an award and exclusive interview. – ALISON SMITH
LIVE Q&A – April 9, 8:30pm PT
This film is available to view April 8–18. We suggest watching it on April 9 starting at 6:50pm PT followed by the live Q&A at 8:30pm PT. SJ Chiro (director), Jane Charles (producer), Sebastien Scandiuzzi (DP), and Annie Gonzalez (actor) scheduled to participate.
Ethiopia | 2021 | 119 minutes | Jessica Beshir
This impressionistic documentary weaves together vignettes centered on the Ethiopian plant khat, a psychedelic crucial to the country’s economy. In gorgeous black and white, Faya Dayi follows both users and producers of khat, which has been used in Sufi rituals for centuries and remains legal in Ethiopia. – ALISON SMITH
Screening features a prerecorded Q&A with Jessica Beshir (director).
Fly So Far
El Salvador | 2021 | 88 minutes | Celina Escher
In a country with some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, Fly So Far follows “The Seventeen” — a number of El Salvadorean women who were sentenced to jail for miscarriages or similar causes. It documents their collective fight for survival and justice in a country with arcane and patriarchal rules. – VIVIAN HUA
Goddess of the Fireflies
Canada (Québec) | 2020 | 105 minutes | Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette
The coming-of-age film Goddess of the Fireflies is set in a ’90s Quebec full of skateboards and eyeliner. Its 16-year-old protagonist struggles simultaneously with her parents’ divorce and her own escalating drug use in a film that promises to be both exhilarating and sensitive. – ALISON SMITH
Love and Fury
USA | 2020 | 93 minutes | Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muscogee Creek)
An interdisciplinary survey of Native and Indigenous artists and musicians living in the U.S. and abroad, Love and Fury holds its focus on the experimentally-minded and those who convert love into fury; proof that these powerful voices can’t be silenced even despite all they’ve been through. – VIVIAN HUA
United Kingdom | 2020 | 90 minutes | Bassam Tariq
Riz Ahmed, who just nabbed an Oscar nomination for The Sound of Metal, plays Zed, a rapper who develops a rare autoimmune disorder while just on the cusp of mainstream success. Forced to move back in with his conservative Pakistani immigrant family, Zed grapples with his cultural identity and the “business of Britishness” in this drama that was also co-written by Ahmed. – ALISON SMITH
Screening features a prerecorded Q&A with Bassam Tariq (director) and Riz Ahmed (writer/actor).
USA | 2021 | 63 minutes | Larry Powell, Nick Ducassi, Adriana DeGirolami, Kameron Neal, Bianca LaVerne Jones, Shinelle Azoroh, Alex Ander, John MacDonald, Lelund Durond Thompson
It’s a “film quilt”! Mother’s Milk weaves together nine separate short films made by different Black filmmaking teams. Experimental, poetic, and lyrical, they collectively tell the story of one man’s search for himself and his position in the world. – VIVIAN HUA
LIVE Q&A – April 14, 5:00pm PT
This film is available to view April 8–18. We suggest watching it on April 14 starting at 3:50pm PT followed by the live Q&A at 5:00pm PT. Larry Powell scheduled to participate.
My Missing Valentine
Taiwan | 2020 | 119 minutes | Yu-Hsun Chen
In this Taiwanese comedy, two urbanites with “opposing temporal quirks” fall for each other. One is the shy Ah Ta, for whom time has always moved slowly (he was nicknamed “The Turtle” in grade school). The other is Yang Hsiao-Chi, a post office worker who can’t remember Valentine’s Day. If the dance sequences, indie soundtrack, and rendezvous at the seaside are any indication, My Missing Valentine is sure to be a fresh and heartfelt take on the rom-com genre. – ALISON SMITH
Screening features a prerecorded Q&A with Yu-Hsun Chen (director).
The Pink Cloud
Brazil | 2021 | 103 minutes | Iuli Gerbase
The Brazilian film The Pink Cloud comes with the disclaimer “Any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental,” and for good reason. Eerily relevant to our times, the film follows a woman who must quarantine with her casual hookup after a deadly pink haze descends on her city. The couple has to learn to make a life for themselves while anxiously waiting for the world to go back to normal. – ALISON SMITH
LIVE Q&A – April 15, 5:00pm PT
This film is available to view April 8–18. We suggest watching it on April 15 starting at 3:10pm PT followed by the live Q&A at 5:00pm PT. Iuli Gerbase (director) scheduled to participate.
Potato Dreams of America
USA | 2021 | 95 minutes | Wes Hurley
Seattle writer and director Wes Hurley’s feature debut, Potato Dreams, is at once a colorful pastiche of past memories and an unconventional queer coming-of-age tale. Premiering at SXSW 2021, the film is set partly in Vladivostok, Russia, just after the fall of Communism, and partly in Seattle, Washington, after Hurley and his mother eventually immigrate there.
Complete with world-bending elements of magical realism, custom-built sets, musical numbers, and plenty of ensemble cast, Potato Dreams of America manages to squeeze a deeply considered aesthetic and high production value out of a modest budget. It draws on the collaborative expertise of cinematographer Vincent Pierce, lighting designer Robert Aguilar, who has a theater background, and production designer Kristen Bonnalie to push forth a cohesive cinematic vision. – VIVIAN HUA
READ OUR INTERVIEW W/ DIRECTOR WES HURLEY
LIVE Q&A – April 10, 5:00pm PT
This film is available to view April 8–18. We suggest watching it on April 10 starting at 3:20pm PT followed by the live Q&A at 5:00pm PT. Wes Hurley (director), Marya Sea Kaminski (actor), Mischa Jakupcak (producer), and Kristen Bonnalie (production designer) scheduled to participate.
Costa Rica | 2020 | 70 minutes | Carolina Arias Ortiz
A troubled relationship between father and daughter is explored through parallels of broken, ancient, and forgotten objects, as anthropologist Carolina Arias Ortiz returns to her childhood home in Costa Rica to try and mend old wounds. – VIVIAN HUA
USA | 2021 | 90 minutes | Albert Birney, Kentucker Audley
In the delightfully strange world of Strawberry Mansion, dreams are taxed by an all-powerful government. IRS “dream auditor” James is on assignment to investigate Bella, an older artist who lives in a candy-colored mansion. As he explores her lifetime of dreams, all preserved on VHS, the two begin to fall in love. Surely one of the most high-concept films playing at SIFF, Strawberry Mansion is ideally suited for fans of auteurs like Charlie Kaufman and Yorgos Lanthimos. – ALISON SMITH
The Song of the Butterflies
Peru | 2020 | 65 minutes | Núria Frigola
In this beautiful documentary centered on Peru’s Uitoto Nation, The Song of the Butterflies follows an Indigenous artist and activist as he uses family memories and oral histories to remember the real truth of his lineage — a people who were once persecuted to the point of near-extinction — so as to know where he is headed. – VIVIAN HUA
USA | 2020 | 95 minutes | Carlos López Estrada
The latest film from the director Carlos López Estrada of Blindspotting, Summertime incorporates the work from 25 Los Angeles spoken-word poets and follows the interlocking stories of a diverse group of the city’s inhabitants. Viewers can expect virtuosic rhymes, piercing commentary on gentrification, and head-spinning twists in this film that is an ode to the “kind of crazy dope magic [that] happens in the city every day.” – ALISON SMITH
New Zealand | 2020 | 86 minutes | David White
This deadpan New Zealand mockumentary follows Sean, who tries to date again after being accused of murder. Sean must maneuver both judgmental neighbors and an ex-cop hot on his trail, all while courting the good-natured Casey. As Casey reminds us in the trailer, “He’s not a murderer, he’s an accused murderer!” – ALISON SMITH
LIVE Q&A – April 10, 8:30pm PT
This film is available to view April 8–18. We suggest watching it on April 10 starting at 7:00pm PT followed by the live Q&A at 8:30pm PT. David White (director) scheduled to participate.
USA | 2020 | 77 minutes | Christopher Kahunahana (Kanaka Maoli)
From Native Hawaiian filmmaker Christopher Kahunahan comes this drama that captures the surreal darkness lurking beneath images of paradise. Kea, a woman working three jobs while healing from an abusive relationship, is nevertheless given no choice but to reckon with her past after accidentally hitting a homeless man with her car. – ALISON SMITH
When I’m Done Dying
Turkey | 2021 | 97 minutes | Nisan Dağ
In this Turkish-German drama, an Istanbul rapper navigates his relationships with his girlfriend, family, and bandmates while becoming increasingly addicted to the potent and cheap street drug bonzai. When I’m Done Dying includes both songs from Turkish hip-hop sensation Da Poet and phantasmagoric animated sequences. – ALISON SMITH
Screening features a prerecorded Q&A with Nisan Dag (director/writer).
USA | 2019 | 97 minutes | Christopher Winterbauer
Wyrm is set in an alternate ’90s world where high schoolers are outfitted with electronic collars until their first kiss (kids call hooking up “getting your collar popped”). The film, with its visceral angst and Napoleon Dynamite-esque protagonist, is sure to appeal to anyone who’s ever felt like a late bloomer. – ALISON SMITH
Youth v. Gov
USA | 2020 | 110 minutes | Christi Cooper
This timely documentary follows 21 intrepid climate change activists who are suing the U.S. government for knowingly allowing carbon emissions to reach catastrophic levels. Perfectly poised for our #March For Our Lives and Greta Thunberg era, Youth v. Gov is both heart-wrenching and inspiring. – ALISON SMITH